Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: The UN Security Council at Work

Feb 28, 2011 | Tzvi Fleischer

Tzvi Fleischer

The UN Security Council at Work

On Friday, February 18, the Arab world was in turmoil. Libya was in the process of exploding. At least dozens, and possibly hundreds were already reported dead as security forces fired on protesters. The results of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were still unclear and protests were continuing. Bahrain and Yemen and Algeria and Morocco and Jordan were witnessing daily unrest and frequent violence and casualties. Iran’s Green Movement had sprung back to life and the Iranian Government had announced plans to put main opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi on trial for sedition, a capital offence.

So what was the UN Security Council, the international body’s main organ for protecting international peace and security, debating? A one-sided resolution condeming Israeli settlements in the West Bank, of course. Libya was not even discussed by the Council until Feb. 22, after protesters had reportedly taken control of Benghazi, and planes and helicopters were reportedly being used by the regime to suppress the uprising.

Nor has the Security Council shown much leadership in dealing with the wider Arab unrest. The Security Council did not pass a single resolution, or issue a single presidential statement, on Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen or Iran before debating Libya. Not a single meeting was called to discuss issuing either.

But Libya and the Arab revolutions had to play second fiddle to a Palestinian resolution to condemn Israel, which was always likely to fail thanks to a US veto, as in fact happened.

As usual at the UN, Palestinian demands – and condemnations of Israel – come first. At the UN, there are no problems and crises in the Middle East, this vast troubled region – except for Israel.

The Security Council is supposed to be different and more serious, but there is no evidence of that this year.

Of course, Libya has never been much scrutinised at the UN. Despite being one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, it has never been condemned or criticised by the UN Human Rights Council since its foundation in 2006, nor by its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission. In fact, Libya is on the Human Rights Council even as I write this, and was a member of the Security Council from 2008 to 2009. Libya also was president of the UN General Assembly in 2009.

If this situation does not demonstrate to reasonable observers that there is something fundamentally wrong with the UN – including the supposedly “more responsible” Security Council, set up precisely to deal with serious crises like that in the Middle East – it is hard to see what will.

Laws not passed

I am going to tell you something you should know but you almost certainly will not learn from the Australian media. You know that controversial and frankly, ill-conceived, proposal in Israel to hold a parliamentary inquiry into the funding of NGOs involved in the “delegitimisation” of Israel? The one critics of Israel obsessed about to supposedly show Israel was becoming undemocratic? It has been dropped.

Instead, on Feb. 21, a perfectly unobjectionable initiative was passed requiring all NGOs, regardless of ideology, to publicly reveal in quarterly reports any foreign government funding they receive, and to disclose on their websites and in advertisements that they are foreign-funded. The requirements of this law are less stringent than similar laws in many other democracies – for instance, the US Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The original proposal was a bad idea, but it didn’t pass. The same is true of other supposed measures that have recently been highlighted by critics of Israel as supposedly proving Israel has moved away from democracy. These include proposals to fine those commemorating Israel’s foundation as a “naqba” or catastrophe and proposals to limit the use of Palestinians as tour guides in Jerusalem. Neither of these ugly ideas floated by right-wing politicans have even been brought to the Knesset for consideration and probably never will be. Even the much-talked about proposal last year to include a pledge to a “Jewish and democratic state” in Israel’s oath for newly naturalised citizens has never been voted on, much less passed into law.

Yet these never-passed, often never-even-seriously-considered, measures are repeatedly cited by people like Assa Doron (SMH, Jan. 21), Michael Brull (ABC “Unleashed”, Oct. 13), and in stories in the Fairfax papers (Dec. 18), as allegedly proving Israel’s increasingly undemocratic and racist character. It is hardly surprising that it is easy to cite, as these critics often do, Israeli activists who claim the proposed measures are threatening Israeli democracy – sometimes justifiably – as part of the debate about them. This is what activists opposing controversial laws do, including in Australia. Citing their sometimes somewhat hyperbolic but democratically-enabled claims that Israel will become undemocratic if the laws pass as proof that Israel has become undemocratic when the laws did not in fact pass is just bizarre.

For an analogy, let’s look at Australia in the 1990s. Critics of the ugly One Nation phenomenon in this country in the 1990s, including AIJAC, warned of the consequences for Australian democracy of their policies and racist attitudes if the movement became influential. It didn’t. Would anyone now cite these quotes about One Nation to prove that Australia is currently a racist and undemocratic society?

Only if they were never told that One Nation is no longer a significant political force in Australia. Yet the media never tells us that the Israeli measures being criticised never became law. So I’m telling everyone now.



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