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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The United Nations: Leading Global Purveyor of Anti-Semitism

Filed under: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel, International Law, Israel, Israeli Security, Peace Process, Terrorism
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

No. 31

  • The United Nations discriminates against Israel in several ways. It delegitimizes the self-determination of the Jewish people, denies Israel the right to defend itself and demonizes it in the framework of the international regime of human rights protection. The UN also encourages terorism directed at Israelis.

  • The UN has played a major role in the failure to defeat racism. The organization has become the leading global purveyor of anti-Semitism – intolerance and inequality against the Jewish people and their state.

  • In June 2004 the United Nations organized its first conference on anti-Semitism after almost 60 years of existence. It became just one more element in the organization’s effort to separate anti-Semitism and Jews from Israel.

After 60 Years: First Conference on Anti-Semitism

“The United Nations has become the leading global purveyor of anti-Semitism – intolerance and inequality against the Jewish people and its state,” Professor Anne Bayefsky told participants at the first UN conference on anti-Semitism held in New York in June 2004.1

After almost 60 years of existence the UN had organized this conference on anti-Semitism in order to mitigate increasing criticism of its lack of concern for this scourge. The organizers were ill prepared for Bayefsky’s speech, in which she also stated: “The Nuremberg Tribunal taught us that crimes are not committed by abstract entities. The perpetrators of anti-Semitism are no more abstract today than were the Nazis of yesterday.”

“Today they are the preachers in mosques that exhort their followers to blow up Jews. They are the authors of Palestinian Authority textbooks that teach a new generation to hate Jews and admire their killers. They are the television producers and official benefactors in authoritarian regimes like Syria or Egypt who manufacture and distribute programming that depicts Jews as blood-thirsty world conspirators.”

Bayefsky, who has since become a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, concluded by challenging the Secretary General and the UN to prove that they were serious about eradicating anti-Semitism: “Start putting a name to the terrorists that kill Jews because they are Jews. Start condemning human rights violators wherever they dwell, even if they live in Riyadh or Damascus. Stop condemning the Jewish people for fighting back against their killers; and the next time someone asks you or your colleagues to stand for a moment of silence to honor those who would destroy the State of Israel, say no.”

The conference on anti-Semitism, Bayefsky now concludes, was just one more component of the United Nations’ effort to separate anti-Semitism and Jews from Israel. “To some extent they succeeded. What the UN says is a new version of an old motif. It boils down to: ‘Some of my best friends are Jews, but Israel is still the worst human rights violator in the world today.’ The UN thinks that these things go comfortably hand in hand. It doesn’t recognize anti-Semitism when Israelis and the State of Israel are its victims, and the conference on anti-Semitism was part of that dynamic.”

The Jewish People’s Charge Sheet against the UN

When asked about the main items on the charge sheet of the Jewish people against the United Nations, Bayefsky mentions that several accusations are interconnected. “The first one is that the UN tries to deny the effective realization of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination; that is, the continuity and well-being of the State of Israel.

“Since the creation of the United Nations, the number of member states has multiplied. The essential framework for its growth and membership has been the basic principle of self-determination in international law – which is coupled with statehood if certain conditions are satisfied. The principle applies to peoples with various defining characteristics; a shared history, ethnicity, language, as well as a historical and physical connection to a defined territory.

“The Jewish people satisfy all these criteria in the land of Israel. Yet the UN has, on the one hand, expanded the number of states to which self-determination applies and, on the other hand, done everything possible to delegitimize the self-determination of the Jewish people.”

Denial of Right to Self Defense

“The second accusation is that the UN denies Israel the right to effectively protect itself against the mortal threats which it has faced since its creation. Self-determination is meaningless if a country does not have the right to defend itself against such dangers. The role of the UN has been to attempt to tie the hands of Israeli victims behind their backs, as opposed to affirming their entitlement to protection.

“The right of self-defense means, in simple terms, the legal ability to fight back. The immediate enemy Israel has faced in recent years is not a state entity, although it consists partly of players who act on behalf of states. Prevailing against such an enemy entails certain practical necessities.

“For instance, the Geneva Convention and the laws of war anticipate that civilian populations who are used as human shields by armed combatants may unfortunately suffer harm as states defend themselves against such combatants. This is not because those who attempt to fight back against these combatants deliberately target civilians, but rather because the latter become the inevitable indirect victims of warfare. But who is responsible for those civilian casualties? The answer must be those who use the civilians as human shields and not those attempting, as in the case of Israel, to defend itself against aggression.”

Kofi Annan Discriminates against Israel

“However, the UN response has been to criticize Israel for fighting back, even when there are minimal or no civilian casualties. These criticisms can be heard regularly from Secretary General Kofi Annan and senior representatives such as Peter Hansen, until recently Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) or Terje Roed Larsen, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.”

Bayefsky explains: “When Israel targets terrorists the UN says that Israel is in violation of international law by committing an extra-judicial execution. On the contrary, the terrorists are illegal combatants and this is a war. They are not entitled to judicial process before being targeted. Still, Israel will try to arrest where it can. But in many cases arrest is not possible without the likelihood of many more casualties and unacceptable risks. The local authority, the Palestinian Authority, makes no effort whatsoever to arrest them.

“When Israel killed Hamas terrorist Abdel Aziz Rantisi, though there were no civilian casualties, Secretary General Kofi Annan denounced it as an extra-judicial killing – which it is not. In the last few years there have been three thousand extra-judicial killings in Brazil, people shot in the back by forces connected to the authorities. A UN report on this was presented in 2004 to the Commission on Human Rights. On these executions Annan remained silent.2

“In addition, homes used by terrorists during combat are legitimate military targets. But the Secretary General and his staff criticize Israel for targeting such homes. Most importantly, they and the main UN bodies, including the Security Council, refuse to identify the terrorists by name, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade.”

Security Fence

Bayefsky points out that the United Nations’ even condemns Israel’s use of non-violent means to protect itself. The UN’s International Court of Justice denied the legality of Israel’s security fence. “Among those who voted in favor of the advisory opinion was Judge Rosalyn Higgins from the UK. One reason she gave was that the UN Charter’s rule of self-defense did not apply to non-violent means.

“The Court’s decision makes no attempt to consider the context of terrorism and decides that self-defense in article 51 of the UN Charter does not apply to actions taken against non-state actors. This opinion is problematic for many other democratic nations, not only for Israel.”

UN Demonizes Israel

“The third accusation is that the UN demonizes Israel in the framework of the international regime of human rights protection. The UN turns Israel into the archetypal human rights violator in the world today.

“There have been more resolutions and more meeting time spent on the State of Israel in the history of the UN Commission on Human Rights than on any other country in the world.”

In her lecture at the UN conference on anti-Semitism, Bayefsky said: “There has never been a single resolution about the decades-long repression of the civil and political rights of 1.3 billion people in China, or the more than a million female migrant workers in Saudi Arabia being kept as virtual slaves, or the virulent racism which has brought 600,000 people to the brink of starvation in Zimbabwe. Every year, UN bodies are required to produce at least 25 reports on alleged human rights violations by Israel, but not one on an Iranian criminal justice system which mandates punishments like crucifixion, stoning, and cross-amputation. This is not legitimate critique of states with equal or worse human rights records. It is demonization of the Jewish state.”

The Durban Conference

Bayefsky adds now: “Although the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution was formally repealed in 1991, the United Nations Anti-Racism Conference in Durban in 2001 gave rise to a declaration which says Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism. Israel is the only country specifically called racist.

“The Durban Conference’s influence, contrary to popular opinion, is not past history. It is the centerpiece of the UN’s anti-racism agenda, and now mandates reports, resolutions and conferences all over the world. These ‘follow-up’ activities are paid for through regular UN dues, 22% of which are coming from the United States. This notwithstanding the fact that the United States walked out of the Durban conference and refused to be associated with its Declaration.”

Bayefsky observes that in UN contexts the false analogy between South Africa and Israel is repeated over and over again. “The UN has turned the racism issue on its head, however contrary this is to the facts. Arab states have almost entirely emptied their nations of Jews. In Israel on the other hand one fifth of the population are Arabs, who have full democratic rights. Arabs have more democratic rights in Israel than they have in the Arab world.

“This perversion of the racism issue is particularly grotesque in view of the fact that the United Nations was founded on the ashes of the Jewish people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 acknowledges the debt. In its words, ‘disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.’ But over time, the UN has turned the Jewish victims of the Nazis into their counterparts of the 21st Century.”

Deifying the Palestinians

Bayefsky mentions that while Israelis are demonized, the Palestinians are almost deified. “UN rapporteur John Dugard described Palestinian terrorists as ‘tough’ and said that their efforts were characterized by their ‘determination, daring and success.’ Every year the UN marks November 29th as International Solidarity Day with the Palestinian people, because this was the day the UN partitioned the British Palestine Mandate. The Palestinians call it the beginning of the onset of Al Naqba, the catastrophe. In 2002, Kofi Annan described the 29th of November as a ‘day of mourning and a day of grief.’

“In November 2003, at the front of the room – in the presence of representatives of 100 member states – stood the Secretary General, the president of the Security Council and the president of the General Assembly. To their right was a Palestinian flag, a UN flag on the other, and in the middle a map that pre-dated the State of Israel. All individuals present were asked to rise for a moment of silence in memory of ‘all those who have given their lives for the Palestinian people.’ This thus included suicide bombers.” Bayefsky notes she was the only attendant who did not rise. On 29 November 2004 the exact same scenario took place, except that the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John Danforth, who was president of the Security Council at the time, contrived to walk in only after these opening events had taken place.

“This inseparable bond cemented at the UN between demonizing Israelis and glorifying Palestinians makes it clear that the core issue is not the stated cause of Palestinian self-determination. If concern for the welfare of Palestinians was the UN’s driving force, then its resolutions would decry the practice of the Palestinian Authority and their media to encourage Palestinian children to participate in armed conflict. This is contrary to the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“If the UN were truly concerned about human rights they would also decry the glorification of suicide bombers, or the calculated use of the civilian population by terrorists as human shields, or the refusal by Arab states to integrate long-standing Palestinian refugees into their societies and offer them the benefits of citizenship, which is directly inconsistent with policy for every other refugee around the world.

“The Division of Palestinian Rights within the UN is the only such entity in the whole organization devoted to a specific people and is funded by the UN’s regular budget.”

Encouraging Terrorism

“A fourth accusation concerns the encouragement of terrorism. Resolutions of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights refer, by incorporation, to an earlier General Assembly resolution (1982 A/RES/37/43) which says that all available means including armed struggle are legitimate for fighting against foreign occupation and for self-determination. Though the Commission resolution refers only to Israel, other nations should realize that this kind of a statement is a threat to all countries facing terrorism.”

Bayefsky points out that this attitude is being promoted in a context which encourages people to believe that the root cause of terrorism against Israelis is very different from the terrorism faced by other democratic societies. “It is a UN driven falsehood that the occupation is the root cause of violence in the Arab-Israeli conflict and that if the occupation would end there would be no more terrorism in the Middle East.

“Sometimes that claim even goes further and says that democratic societies everywhere face terrorism because of Israel’s occupation. It is thus stated that Islamic fundamentalist terrorism the world over would disappear if only Israel were to withdraw from the territories. However incredible such a claim appears to be, it has taken hold in the psyche of many in democratic societies.

“In November 2004, the U.S. House International Relations Committee disclosed that money from the United Nations Oil for Food program had helped pay the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. This program was meant to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. This is a further example of UN-related involvement in terrorism directed at Israelis.

“The UN never mentioned the close relationship between Fatah terrorism and Arafat as the head of the Palestinian Authority. The UN doesn’t name entities such as Hamas, Hizbollah or Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations. This inhibits the ability of both states and the UN to take actions against those terrorists through economic and political measures. By exempting them from unequivocal and direct criticism, the UN encourages them.”

Regional Groups

Bayefsky also mentions that Israel is the only state which is not fully a member of a UN regional group. “That means it is denied entry into meetings, important negotiating sessions, in UN organizations and agencies elected outside New York. Many UN bodies are elected in Geneva or elsewhere. This state of affairs is also the case for those which are elected in New York but which meet in Geneva.

“When the UN Human Rights Commission convenes for six weeks every year, each morning from nine to ten, the regional groups meet. Even the PLO representatives are permitted into one of the regional group. Only Israel is left standing in the halls.”


Bayefsky adds a further accusation. “The demonization of Israel amounts in effect to anti-Semitism. The latter, after the creation of the State of Israel, is no longer just about discrimination and demonization of individual Jews, but also about that of the Jewish State. The demonization of Israel is not an abstraction. It fuels terrorism and encourages the enemies of human dignity to target and kill Israelis. It is anti-Semitism of the worst kind because is a violation of the Jews’ right to life.

“Since its creation the United Nations has never, despite its historical indebtedness to the Jewish people and the victims of the Holocaust, had a single solitary resolution of the General Assembly dedicated to the subject of anti-Semitism or a single report focused on this subject. It has omitted mention of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust deliberately in UN treaties and declarations for the past 40 years. Over the past decade, minor references to the one word “anti-Semitism” have been buried in resolutions without being clearly tied to a demand for detailed study and reporting on the subject – in contrast to UN reports on discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.

“The UN has not made any effort to investigate systematically anti-Semitism in all its forms. If one does not do that, one cannot explore and describe it as a global phenomenon and one that is endemic in Muslim societies. Israel’s enemies in the Arab world and the UN play a major role in failing to defeat the racists of our time. On the contrary, they turn racism on its head, blame the victim and fuel intolerance.”

The 2003 General Assembly

“One example of this occurred at the 2003 General Assembly. The issue arose of including the word “anti-Semitism” in a resolution on religious intolerance in a preamble. Ireland, which had been the lead state on the subject of religious intolerance for many years, was determined to keep mention of anti-Semitism out.

“So Israel decided that it would move an amendment to add it from the floor. The Irish were unnerved. Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen and Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom made a deal that Israel would withdraw its threatened amendment to the resolution on religious intolerance. In exchange Ireland would introduce for the first time in UN history a resolution on anti-Semitism.

“Israel was delighted by the prospect. The Irish delegation sat on the third committee, waited for the resolution on religious intolerance to pass through the committee without the mention of anti-Semitism. Then they withdrew their promised resolution on anti-Semitism. Their excuse was the lack of consensus. Among others, Ireland went to the Iranians for their support. They afterwards claimed that they were surprised at the opposition. To sum it up: there was no resolution on anti-Semitism.”

The Dilution of Resolutions

In an article, Bayefsky described developments after the June 2004 conference on anti-Semitism at the UN. She wrote once again that the June conference served the UN’s two track approach: “Put the Jews on one side, Israel on the other, and divide and conquer.”3

Bayefsky observed that for several months there were discussions about a UN resolution dedicated to anti-Semitism. “The battle associated with presenting a new and substantive stand-alone anti-Semitism resolution, however, scared off every democratic UN member state. The next idea was to have the European Union (EU) sponsor a resolution on anti-Semitism modeled on the Berlin Declaration, which was adopted in April 2004 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In that document there was a small reference to Israel, though Europeans could not quite bring themselves to say that terrorism aimed at ethnically cleansing Israel of Jews was also a form of anti-Semitism.

Another failed expectation was that Germany would play a leadership role in presenting a specific resolution condemning anti-Semitism. Writes Bayefsky: “In true gangland style, Germany was given to understand that such a role would jeopardize its hoped-for permanent seat on the Security Council, and any sense of historical responsibility vanished. Nor was any other EU member prepared to confront Arab and Muslim opposition. Ultimately the word anti-Semitism was allowed into the resolution on religious intolerance. But the opposition was public and considerable, and managed to dilute the mention to a minor add-on in the midst of a range of other issues including Islamophobia. On the other hand, there is an annual resolution of the Commission on Human Rights focusing on the defamation of Islam.”

Bayefsky observes: “Besides all this there is also sometimes blatantly overt anti-Semitism. At the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the UN’s major human rights body, Palestinian representatives have claimed that Israel can only happily celebrate holidays like Yom Kippur by shedding Palestinian blood, and have accused Israel of injecting Palestinian children with HIV positive blood. The Algerian delegate at the 2002 and 2003 Commission on Human Rights said that Israeli actions repeat Kristallnacht daily. He also said that Palestinians have numbers put on their arms and wondered how long one was going to wait for the Israelis to commit a massacre like Babi Yar. No state, except for Israel, drew attention to that statement.”

Asking Racists for Opinions on Anti-Semitism

Bayefsky says that in November 2004 one UN special rapporteur – on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance – convened a meeting to gather material for his forthcoming report, and anti-Semitism was on the agenda. “The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNESCO invited experts to Barcelona. They were asked to provide Doudou Di?ne, the UN rapporteur, with advice on anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and Islamophobia.”

Bayefsky, in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, wrote: “From whom did the UN get advice? There was Tariq Ramadan of Switzerland’s Fribourg University, who was denied entry to the U.S. in August on the basis of a law concerning aliens who have used a ‘position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity’ or are considered a ‘public safety risk or a national security threat.’ But apparently the UN thought it was worth listening to the views on racism of someone who said on 25 September 2001, that ‘[Osama] Bin Laden is perhaps a useful straw man, like Saddam Hussein, whose diabolical representation perhaps serves other geo-strategic, economic or political designs.'”4

Bayefsky mentions that among the invitees were also some Israelis at the extreme fringes of the country’s society. “These people are avowedly anti-Zionist and believe that the destruction of the Jewish state would make the world a better place. The UN invited people, who have views that are antithetical to combating anti-Semitism, to a conference that was supposed to be about the defeat of anti-Semitism.”

In her article Bayefsky summarized the message of the draft report of the UN meeting: “According to the draft report it is the perception of unconditional Jewish support for Israel that leads people to attack a Jewish cemetery, and that anti-Semitism was absent from the Muslim world prior to the Arab-Israeli conflict (the mufti of Jerusalem and his ally Hitler notwithstanding). The draft report therefore suggested that the way to defeat anti-Semitism is for Jews to cut loose of the defense of the State of Israel. And anti-Semitism will diminish if jews stop emphasizing the unique horror of the Holocaust.

The same UN rapporteur who convened this conference, Doudou Di?ne, wrote in his October report to the General Assembly that Israel’s actions ultimately contributed to the rise in anti-Semitism. Bayefsky quotes him in her Wall Street Journal article: “‘The cycle of extreme violence triggered by the dynamics of occupation…has fuelled profound ethnic antagonism and hatred…The Palestinian population…is…suffering discrimination. Even if Israel has the right to defend itself…a security wall…constitutes a jarring symbol of seclusion, erected by a people…marked by the rejection of the ghetto. One…effect of this conflict is its…contribution to the rise of…anti-Semitism.'”

Bayefsky identifies the real message as: “Simply put, Jews are responsible for anti-Semitism. Or, if it weren’t for Israel’s insistence on defending itself on the same terms as would be applied to any other state faced with five decades of wars and terrorism aimed at its obliteration, Jews would be better off.”

The Actors Involved

When asked about the actions of specific UN functionaries against Israel, Bayefsky mentions Peter Hansen, the former head of UNRWA. “He recently came to the defense of Hamas members who are employees of UNRWA. He has repeatedly distorted and misrepresented the facts, starting with the Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin. One of the UN press releases said ‘Stop the killing in the camps.’ Another senior functionary who grossly exaggerated events on the ground in Jenin was Terje Roed Larsen.

“Kofi Annan and his close associates fail to denounce terrorism against Israelis by naming the terrorists and those responsible for the terrorism. The way the United Nations deals with terrorism when Israelis are its victims is to issue general statements which say either that the two parties should cease all violence or that the Palestinian Authority should work harder to end the violence. They never say who is specifically responsible for the violence directed at Israelis.

“UN special advisor to the Secretary General Lakhdar Brahimi called Israel – a member state of the United Nations – ‘the great poison of the Middle East.’ Such comments are not about Palestinians. They are about hatred of the Jewish state.”

Commemorating the Liberation of Auschwitz

Bayefsky responds to the January 2005 commemorative session of the General Assembly and corresponding exhibit on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this way: “One week before the session and the opening of the exhibit, the Secretary General went forward with the General Assembly’s plan to create a register of Palestinian damages said to result from Israel’s security fence. If developed, it could have serious political and economic implications. There are no plans to register Israeli damages from Palestinian terrorism.

“One month before the Holocaust exhibit, there was an annual exhibit connected to the UN ‘solidarity day with the Palestinian people,’ long suffering from the catastrophe (Al Naqba according to many UN members) of the creation of the State of Israel. This year the UN displayed a series of photos of Palestinians both real and stylized with clothing revealing their midriffs, the point of which was to establish wanton Palestinian humiliation at Israeli hands. Nothing in the exhibit provided a context for the display. The General Assembly session itself was crafted so as not to have a lasting result; there is, for example, no final document or agreed statement of intent. In short, while the UN may commemorate long dead Jews, the recently deceased or the real and present danger of more Israeli dead – targeted because they are Jews in the Jewish homeland – are not connected to the message of Auschwitz or of serious concern.”

The Paralysis

Bayefsky summarizes her opinion on the UN: “The evil of anti-Semitism today moves through its UN host like an opportunistic pathogen. First, discrimination of Israel followed by its demonization; the deification of the enemies of the Jewish state; the denial of Jewish victimhood; denunciation of the Israeli who fights back; and finally, the refusal to identify the assailants.

“Yet there are many who still deny that this is anti-Semitism. They point to commercial interests, to regional politics, to group identity, to opportunistic solidarity – and the aim to prevent the scrutiny of human rights violations closer to home – or to enhancement of individual careers.

“Political scientists see a hard core of Arab and Muslim states with a political agenda; a network of developing countries which count Arab and Muslim states among their friends or align themselves against a long list of Western interests; liberal democracies that are paralyzed by the critique of colonialism and racism, and collaborators among non-governmental organizations and self-appointed representatives of civil society.

“UN actors and supporters remain almost uniformly in denial of the pathogen and its nature. In the final analysis, however, while the motives of international actors do vary, the terrible consequences of these combined forces of cowardice, of opportunism, of anti-Semitism – mobilized and empowered through the UN – are the same.”

Interview by Manfred Gerstenfeld

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1. Anne Bayefsky, “Perspectives on Anti-Semitism Today,” Lecture at Conference ‘Confronting Anti-Semitism: Education for Tolerance and Understanding,’ United Nations Department of Information, New York, 21 June 2004. “One Small Step,”, Opinion Journal, Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2004,
2. E/CN.4/2004/7/Add.3, 28 January 2004.
3. Anne Bayefsky, “Fatal Failure,” National Review online , 30 November 2004.
4. Anne Bayefsky, “Your Tax Dollars at Work,” Wall Street Journal , 18 November 2004.

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Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute and a visiting professor at both Metropolitan College and Touro Law School. She has also taught at Columbia University Law School and the University of Ottawa. She is currently on leave from York University. In 2001 she published a report in collaboration with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Bayefsky has written extensively on the UN. She has been on several Canadian delegations to the General Assembly and the UN Commission for Human Rights in the 80’s and 90’s.