Extending the smear of injustice
OpinionGuest Columnist

Extending the smear of injustice

"The U.N. hasn’t missed a step in assisting those who seek to make Israel into an international pariah."

The International Court of Justice in The Hague. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The International Court of Justice in The Hague. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On Nov. 10, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution. A baseless canard against the world’s only Jewish state, the resolution charged Israel and all Zionists with one of the darkest contemporary accusations of hatred. Proof that the accusation was entirely without merit came from the General Assembly’s decision in 1991 that the resolution needed to be nullified.

But by the time the General Assembly rescinded the 1975 fantasy of falsehood, the damage was done. The liars had won. Many around the world had already been persuaded that Zionism must be racism because for years the U.N. had allowed the outrageous allegation to stand.

Back then, many thought that the U.N. could hardly sink lower. They were wrong.

A decade after the “Zionism is racism” charge was removed from the books, the U.N. convened a “World Conference Against Racism” in Durban, South Africa. The scene on the streets outside the 2001 Durban conference gave a clear indication of where South Africa was heading. As one reporter described it, “thousands of South Africans were marching, many of them wearing T-shirts with the words, ‘Israel is an apartheid state,’ next to the conference’s official logo. Lots of protesters were holding placards with anti-Israel and antisemitic slogans written on them, and some were even handing out copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

At the Durban gathering, an assembly of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) passed a resolution that was resoundingly adopted, calling Israel “a racist apartheid state.” Not only had the racism label stuck, but now – with the U.N. stamp of approval – Israel had become the only nation in the 21st century to be accused of apartheid.

Clearly, if racism is about discriminatory attitudes and policies, then apartheid is far worse. According to the international definition, apartheid refers to “inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group.”

Never mind that Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel enjoy precisely the same rights, that Israel has repeatedly offered to live side-by-side with a Palestinian state that is similarly peaceful, and that Israelis have never sought to dominate anyone – at UN agencies the truth is seemingly immaterial. Apartheid it must be. And how does one punish an apartheid state? With boycotts, divestments and sanctions. For two decades, the apartheid defamation – never challenged by the U.N. – has dripped its poison into global veins. No wonder that many have come to believe that one of the worst allegations that can be made about any state assuredly applies to Israel.

Back in 2001, many thought that the U.N. could hardly sink lower. They were wrong.

On Jan. 26, 2024, the International Court of Justice, one of the six principal bodies of the U.N., delivered “provisional measures” in the genocide case that South Africa brought against Israel. Some were heartened that the court did not take any practical steps that might have curtailed Israel’s military actions against Hamas, and that it called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of the Israeli hostages.

Small comfort.

In reality, the court provided ample reason for concern because it declined to state the obvious: that Israel is engaged in a legitimate war of self-defense against Hamas and that South Africa failed to show that Israel has any intent whatsoever to destroy the Palestinians in whole or in part. That’s exactly what the brave Ugandan judge, Julia Sebutinde, wrote in her admirable dissent. Instead, the court said the following: “In the Court’s view, at least some of the acts and omissions alleged by South Africa to have been committed by Israel in Gaza appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the Convention.”

If apartheid is considerably worse than racism, then genocide is the “crime of all crimes” – a monstrous transgression that has now been weaponized against Israel. The truth is that in every single decade since 1948 the Palestinian population has expanded dramatically. Notwithstanding the present war, it will be true of the 2020s as well. Yet Israel is in the dock accused of the ultimate crime of genocide. Rather than summarily dismissing South Africa’s ill-conceived charges, the U.N.-sponsored court provided the world with “appear to be capable” language.

Long months, perhaps even years, will pass before the court issues a final ruling. That ruling may be favorable or unfavorable, but the damage will already have been done. Many around the world will believe that Israel is guilty of genocide because a case was brought in a U.N. court and 15 judges said, “appear to be capable.” Yet again, the U.N. will have allowed an outrageous allegation to stand for a protracted period.

First, they gave credibility to the charge of racism. Then to apartheid. And now genocide. The U.N. hasn’t missed a step in assisting those who seek to make Israel into an international pariah.

In this miserable picture, one thing is certain: Long after the U.N. with its disgraceful record of ethical missteps has been forgotten, the Jewish dream of helping to build a more decent and civilized future for humanity will yet prevail. PJC

Rabbi Danny Schiff is the Gefsky Community Scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

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