When foreign minister Julie Bishop announced that Australia would once again support Israel at the United Nations general assembly in order to give “balance” to the debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict, her position was predictably slammed by avowed critics of Israel. Among others Michael Brull, writing on this site, claimed that the shift in Australia’s voting patterns undermined the government’s support for a two-state solution, and constituted a betrayal of the Palestinians.
The need for greater balance in the UN’s treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict recently came to light in the most unexpected of circumstances. Earlier this month, the UN general assembly convened to engage in its annual ritual of passing a series of resolutions condemning Israel. Not a single resolution critical of the Palestinian leadership, or concerning any other global issue for that matter, was adopted during the meeting. The point of interest was the candid reaction of a Spanish-speaking UN interpreter, oblivious to the fact that her microphone remained on as she addressed her colleague:
I mean, I think when you have five statements, not five, like a total of ten resolutions on Israel and Palestine, there’s gotta be something, c’est un peu trop, non? [It’s a bit much, no?] I mean I know… There’s other really bad shit happening [around the world], but no one says anything about the other stuff.
The interpreter’s remarks were amplified throughout the chamber and drew knowing snickers from the delegates. No doubt the embarrassed interpreter wished that the earth would swallow her up at that moment. Yet through her frank admission, the interpreter, unencumbered by rank or protocol, was perhaps the only person in the room who had nothing to be embarrassed about.
She had spoken an inconvenient truth, and the delegates in the chamber knew it. In 2006, the then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan criticised the UN human rights council for its “disproportionate focus on violations by Israel” while neglecting other parts of the world such as Darfur. His successor Ban Ki-Moon uttered similar sentiments the following year. Alejandro Wolff, deputy US permanent representative at the UN, accused the Council of having “a pathological obsession with Israel”.
It was for good reason that Israel’s legendary statesman and one of its founding fathers, Abba Eban, once remarked:
If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.
The consequences of the UN’s one-sidedness against Israel are grave. For one, it is a disservice both to Israel and the Palestinian cause. A complex struggle for national self-determination by two peoples over a territory less than half the size of Tasmania, has seen the Palestinians cast as victims, and Israel depicted as the brute. As a result, the world overlooks the true causes of the conflict, and by logical extension, is unable to see the solutions.
For example, the EU recently found that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah had squandered close to €2bn of aid from European taxpayers; aid intended to build Palestinian institutions, enfranchise the people, elevate their quality of life. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Al-Quds University is reported to have staged a Nuremberg-style rally by members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organisation, replete with black uniforms and Nazi salutes. Yet such issues concerning incitement and mismanagement, which strike at the heart of why the Palestinians’ national goals remain unfulfilled, are routinely overlooked by the UN.
The UN’s one-sidedness has also damaged the larger cause of human rights. So far this year, the UN general assembly has passed 21 resolutions condemning Israel. Four resolutions have been passed against all countries in the rest of the world combined. In the meantime, one can only guess at what truly motivates self-declared supporters of the Palestinian cause who remain relatively silent about the Egyptian blockade of Gaza, or the suffering of Palestinians embroiled in the Syrian conflict.
To echo the sentiments of the UN interpreter, one could be forgiven for thinking that Palestinian human rights are the only rights of consequence. Or perhaps put more accurately, allegations of impropriety against Israel are the only ones worth a look in.
Australia’s support for Israel at the UN is not a commentary on settlements or a denial of Palestinian national aspirations. It is a principled and judicious attempt to wrench the agenda of human rights away from propaganda and vulgarisation and return the community of nations to a sensible, measured and proportionate debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict.