Commentary and Newsletters

Anne Bayefsky

The Holocaust and the UN: Justifying "Zionocide"

Friday, February 3, 2006

On January 27, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly was filled with more than a thousand Jews who were there to mark the UN's first annual "International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust." Only a month earlier, the same hall had been filled with UN member states repeatedly demonizing the Jewish state. What is going on?

One answer would run something like this: the Secretary-General bought himself and his organization some good will at very little cost; Israel's foreign ministry brought home a deliverable product in contrast to the empty hands most other days of the year; the nave and neglected victims of anti-semitism enjoyed warm feelings about being appreciated and recognized on a global scale.

This answer is suggested by at least one part of the backdrop to the event, the November adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution on "Holocaust remembrance," which authorized the January 27 occasion. The tug-of-war behind the scenes left this resolution without a mention of the word "anti-semitism" or "Israel."

It only managed to include the word "Jewish" in the preamble, without specifying the number of Jews which perished "along with countless members of other minorities." At the same time, the idea of a resolution dedicated to anti-semitism which would have been the first ever in the General Assembly's sixty year history turned out to be a non-starter at the UN yet again.

There is, however, another way of looking at the UN and the Holocaust event. Elderly Holocaust survivors with terrible personal stories and the courage to tell them, surrounded by dedicated educators such as those from Yad Vashem (Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Authority), conveyed their dignity and strength like lifelines to an organization adrift from its original moorings. Israeli Ambassador Danny Gillerman said he had received hundreds of messages from survivors and their families who were comforted by the thought of enlightenment on a global scale. Related events at UN headquarters also brought profound emotion. With a large photograph of Daniel Pearl in the background, his father Judea recounted how he had lost both his son and his grandparents. Daniel's last words were "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish," before being brutally murdered by terrorists professing to be good Muslims. His grandparents had been murdered in Auschwitz 60 years before.

The Jewish people of today are a remnant population. It is possible that some of those wounded souls lightened their load by sharing the burden of remembering with others. Even new spirits might have been touched, with ceremonies held to mark Holocaust remembrance day in other places, such as Germany and Kenya.

But such an outcome did not come without a cost, namely, driving a wedge between Jews and the Jewish state. The UN remains the leading global purveyor of anti-semitism directed at the Jewish state today. Jews who died sixty years ago are easier to mourn than those murdered as citizens of Israel, particularly when justifications for the latter are driven by UN fallacies. According to the United Nations, Israel is the globe's number one human rights violator. Only last month the UN General Assembly adopted 19 resolutions critical of Israel's human rights record, and 12 resolutions critical of human rights in the other 190 UN states combined. A draft General Assembly resolution focusing on the Sudan, where almost 200,000 have been killed in the past three years and 2 million more displaced, was defeated. Thirty percent of all resolutions of the UN Human Rights Commission critical of specific states over four decades have been directed at Israel alone. But there has never been a single resolution condemning human rights violations in places like China, Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe. Such demonization is not an abstraction. Combined with the inability of the UN to define terrorism, it is lethal.

The striking contrast between the events of December and January were no doubt apparent to General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, who did not manage to mention the words "Jew," "antisemitism," or "Israel" in his Holocaust Remembrance Day speech. He referred instead to "the sites where the lives of millions of people were extinguished on political, religious or ethnic grounds." But at least he showed up - or more precisely had the Acting General Assembly President deliver a speech in his name. Representatives of most of the UN member states were nowhere to be found in the largely Jewish audience.

The visitor to the Yad Vashem museum moves from the darkness of the Holocaust memorial to the sun on the Jerusalem hillside. The message is clear without a word being spoken. Not so at the UN.

The truth is that the attempted genocide of the Jewish people has continued for the past 57 years. Since the day of Israel's birth, originally sanctioned by the United Nations, its Jewish inhabitants have faced the constant threat of annihilation. Wars that threatened the Jewish state with extinction occurred in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982, and prolonged assaults from terrorists and their state sponsors have characterized the decades, up to and including February 2006. The 20,000 Israeli dead over this time are the proportional equivalent to 700,000 American victims -- leaving aside the toll of wounded, maimed and constantly frightened. Citizens of a Jewish state have had to endure fifty-seven years of mandatory military service for every young man and woman, with men forced to continue reserve duty every year into their middle age, in order to protect their families and their future.

In this war against the self-determination of the Jewish people, the United Nations is an accomplice. It is the United Nations that has refused to connect anti-semitism against individual Jews and anti-semitism directed at the Jewish state. As the repository for universal equality rights and the principle of non-discrimination, the UN failure to understand and denounce all forms of anti-semitism matters. Instead of recognizing Jew-hatred, the UN foments it. UN conferences, websites and publications regularly provide a mouthpiece for analogizing Israel to Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa. Instead of championing Jewish self-determination, the UN leads the global movement to undermine it. Israel is a second-class citizen at the UN, as the only country not admitted to any one of the UN's five strategic regional groups. Instead of supporting Israel's right of self-defense against its mortal enemies, the UN constantly attempts to tie Israeli hands behind their backs. Defensive actions, from a non-violent security fence to the killing of unlawful combatants, are routinely denounced by the Secretary-General as illegal. Instead of identifying the terrorist enemy of civilized society, the UN gives him sustenance. To this day the UN has no definition of terrorism. On the contrary, it nurtures the fiction that the 1967 Israeli occupation is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and it demonizes the terrorists' Jewish target.

Holocaust survivors are now few in number. Their children often suffer from their parents' nightmares. The Jewish family as a whole lost so many that most of an entire generation suffered direct personal loss. It is therefore important to respect any means by which these mourners can cope with the horrors endured. But continuing the attempted genocide against the inhabitants of the Jewish state and their supporters - "zionocide" - is the current reality. No decent person can afford to ignore it, even if the UN does.

A Holocaust remembrance which does not demand that the UN stop encouraging Zionocide is a cruel smokescreen for UN-based anti-semitism. Such anti-semitism is thriving, regardless of the UN's sudden awakening from a prolonged amnesia about Jewish deaths six decades ago.

A version of this article first appeared in The Jerusalem Post