When the infamous 1975 United Nations resolution 3379 declared that “Zionism is a form of racism,” 25 nations sponsored the resolution and an additional 47 voted for it. Thirty-two nations abstained from the voted. Only 36 countries voted against it. It was not until 1991 that the resolution was revoked. Certainly, many nations had experienced a change of perspective, significantly because of the passing of the Soviet Bloc, which was, at the time of 3379, at a Zenith of influence over the postcolonial Third World. It was also true that Israel had never slackened in its contempt for the resolution, a contempt symbolized by then Israeli U.N. ambassador Chaim Herzog’s tearing the document in half following his verbal denunciation of it . More practically – playing the world and one’s measure of power in it, as any country, and Israel, must always – Israel refused to participate in the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference without a revocation of 3379. The resolution nonetheless stands as one of the greatest stains on the U.N.’s historical record, alongside the racist 2001 World Conference Against Racism and the historical realities of the defunct U.N. Commission on Human Rights and its successor Human Rights Council. The latter the United States regrettably, foolishly joined under the Obama administration. Some day the U.S. will have to leave the Council, as it did the Commission.
The point here is that it took 16 years to overcome the official declaration of 3379, and not merely through the turned hearts of U.N. member states. The truth won out because of steadfast commitment to it and defense of it. Though 3379 was not itself the cause, that zenith of human rights perversion symbolizes a turning point in the political culture that produced it.
Within that historical context, it is necessary to reach some recognitions about the vote of the Human Rights Council to endorse the Goldstone Report. About the shabbiness of the Goldstone commission’s formation, membership, procedures, and predestination I will say nothing. Others are saying it comprehensively and well; you can find links to some of these actors in the “Wish I’d Said That” box to the right. About the human rights records of the Council members I also will say nothing. They are well known, and any who ignore or excuse these records – in themselves or in the context of judgments against Israel, and the concurrent absence of even consideration of so many other conflicts and systemic violators of human rights – are not subject to reason on the topic anyway.
Consider this: of the 47 countries currently serving on the Human Rights Council, only 9 of them were member states that voted against resolution 3379 in 1975. Six members of the Council were not then U.N. member states, and I cannot, in my quick review, account for the votes of two nations. Of the 47 current Council members, then, at least 30 either voted for resolution 3379 or abstained in the vote. (Twenty-one voted for it, nearly half the Council membership.) Thirteen of them either voted against, abstained in, or were conspicuously absent during the 1991 revocation vote.
This is the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is the historical record.
During the past several years, when it has become de rigueur, in the manner of Mearsheimer and Waltz, to complain that one cannot freely criticize Israel without attack and denunciation from the “Israel Lobby,” the reality is that attack on Israel had already become a prevailing manner and subject of left political discourse. Broadsides, campaigns of disinformation, boycotts, openly anti-Semitic blogs and writers dedicated to the termination of a Jewish state, anguished cries, now, from some liberal Jews themselves (and Yaacov Lozowick’s deft dismissal) about the quicksand upon which the reclamation of a Jewish nation now is perceived to stand – all fill the air. So much so that even well-known NGOs and human rights organizations have been long swept up in the current. We have achieved a new Zenith in anti-Israel sentiment, bias, and impassioned obsession and demonization. Read England’s Guardian and its comments and then draw yourself a bath with an abrasive cleanser.
But as the anti-Semitic achievement of 1975 was revealed to be, over time, the signpost to a different destination from what was then believed, I think 2009 may come to be seen in the same way. The utter bias of the Goldstone Report, in its very conception, will stand out over time. Consider that while Goldstone accuses Israel of war crimes, British Colonel Richard Kemp, appearing before the Human Rights Council, declares
The IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
As during the Soviet era, one must ask, who is Winston Smith and who Big Brother? Who seeks to live in peace and who serves the big lie that for Palestinians to live every day at war is better than to live in peace? Who looks for the truth and who into the looking glass?
The voices and forces in opposition to the hatred, as the growing resistance to Goldstone reveals, only increase in reason and steadfastness. Netanyahu’s speech before the U.N. – separated from any predisposition against him, greater for some than any dislike for Ahmadinejad – will increasingly be noted for its own modern commitment to the future and old verities, as well as for its courage sanely to speak the truth in the face of the modern form of an ancient lie.
The courage of Robert Bernstein in denouncing the bias of the organization he founded and led for twenty years – Human Right Watch – is a critical moment in the history of the human rights movement, which has been derailed, partly by its obsessive focus on Israel and an ideological loss of bearings. And much of the unreason in current considerations of Israel derives, aside from the deep well of anti-Semitism from which there are always those ready to draw, from ideologically misdirected conceptions of human rights.
Wrote Bernstein in his New York Times Op-ed:
At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform….
When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.
Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.
Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.
Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective….
Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world. If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.
About that credibility and its undermining, next time…