A video of a UN interpreter caught on a hot mic criticising the UN obsession with Israel is going viral since it was uploaded last week. It occurred during a session of the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly, in which nine motions criticising Israel were passed. The blogosphere is abuzz, and commentators are congratulating the interpreter for a rare, and surprisingly candid, statement, even if it was never intended to be made public. She said:
“I mean, I think when you have five statements, not five, like total of ten resolutions on Israel and Palestine, there’s gotta be something, c’est un peu trop, non? [it is a bit much, no?] I mean I know… There’s other really bad s**t happening, but no one says anything about the other stuff.”
The Chair of the session and some of the delegates started laughing, and the interpreter realised that her comment went straight to everyone’s earphones. She quickly apologised, and the Secretary remarked “I understand there was a problem with the interpretation?”
The interpreter apologised again.
Yet, in reality, there was no problem with the interpretation. If anything, the “gaffe” should be seen as a much needed reality check for the UN General Assembly – an accurate observation regarding their own bias and distorted priorities.
The brief moment of honesty took place at the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee, which is attended by all 193 member states. While the delegates were voting on different resolutions on the agenda, a pattern started to appear. That day, nine resolutions condemning Israel were passed and no other resolution about any other country was adopted by the General Assembly.
Judging by the UN’s agenda, one might be fooled into thinking that not only is the Israeli-Palestinian issue the most severe and horrific conflict in the world (which obviously it isn’t), it is also the only one (which, even more obviously, it isn’t).
The spontaneous incident involving the interpreter was quite telling. First of all, one can only wonder how many of the delegates laughing at the interpreter’s indiscretion had actually reached the same conclusion without being caught on an open mic.
Like the child in the “Emperor’s New Clothes” that exposed what everyone knew but were afraid to admit, the interpreter simply put into words what most observers, including many UN delegates, probably knew all along – that there is rampant UN bias against Israel. Delegates and other UN personnel, aware of the bias, still play along.
Secondly, while the problems caused by UN bloc voting, leading to automatic voting patterns and majorities, are well known, this incident shines a not-so-flattering light on another problem – automatic agenda-setting.
When nine resolutions against Israel are almost automatically adopted by the General Assembly, and they are the only state-based resolutions to pass that day, you don’t need to be an interpreter in the room to realise something is wrong.
The broader picture is even more troubling: according to UNWatch, by the end of the year the General Assembly’s annual legislative session will have passed 22 resolutions targeting Israel, and only four resolutions focusing on other countries. Yes, that’s right- 22 resolutions about Israel, and a total of four about the rest of the world.
Who are those four countries, that the UN deems far lesser violators of human rights than Israel, worth only one resolution each? Iran, North Korea, Burma and Syria. Meanwhile, atrocities in Egypt, the Congo, Tibet, Mali, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Bahrain, and the rest of the world, apparently, are not UN business.
As if that is not bad enough, a closer look at those nine resolutions against Israel reveals that the obsession with Israel, much like the old cliché about love, is not only blind, but also dumb.
Among the motions passed was a resolution regarding “the occupied Syrian Golan,” in which Israel was condemned for its treatment of Syrian residents of the Golan Heights, and it was “demanded that Israel, the occupying power, rescind forthwith its decision [to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan].” In case the legalistic convoluted language is too confusing, the UN General Assembly demanded that Israel return the Golan to the Assad regime for the benefit and welfare of its Syrian inhabitants.
Yes, this is the same Israel that takes in Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war for medical treatment. Yes, this is the same Assad regime that is responsible for massive human rights abuses that have led to more than 100,000 deaths in the current civil war.
Needless to say, to carry out such a resolution would be beyond cruel and inhumane and to pass such a resolution is simply immoral. But who cares about morality when it comes to condemning Israel? Hey, at least they passed a resolution regarding Syria!
The automatic agenda-setting means that all other burning issues, all other international crises, all other forms of suffering are neglected as the UN’s precious time is disproportionally wasted on this one intractable issue alone. The topic is automatically on the agenda in every session, and the votes against Israel are also automatic.
Nowhere was this trend more noticeable than at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), where proceedings included the notorious “Agenda Item 7” – a rule requiring that each and every session of the UNHRC would always include a separate discussion on human rights in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, regardless of what is actually happening there or anywhere else. Needless to say, there is no even remotely similar rule regarding any other country or conflict in the world.
Yet even in this UN agency, perhaps the most notorious for its anti-Israel bias, there is a glimpse of hope that, like the interpreter, some sensible players are prepared to stop burying their heads in the sand and publicly acknowledge that what is going on is absurd and must change.
Earlier this month, six nations in the Western European and Other Group (WEOG) at the UN – specifically Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France and the United States – demanded an upgrade of Israel’s status on the UNHCR by accepting it into the WEOG group. In a letter to the current head of the group, the Ambassador of Spain, the six wrote:
“We, the undersigned, would like by this letter to recall Israel’s longstanding request to join the WEOG regional group in Geneva. We are strongly supportive of Israel’s membership at the earliest opportunity.”
Israel was long the only UN member state which was not a member of any five UN regional groups, which set the agenda, present unified negotiating positions, and effectively decide who will fill various UN posts. In 2000, Israel was allowed to join WEOG at the UN’s New York headquarters, but remained barred from WEOG at Geneva where the UNHCR is based.
If Jerusalem was accepted into WEOG in Geneva, it would be better positioned to bring up issues and initiatives of its own, and it would be harder to isolate it. This is especially the case since the six WEOG allies also promised to try to restrict the use of Agenda Item 7 during UNHRC sessions.
The demand to include Israel in the WEOG was made after Israel had agreed for its part to resume ties with the UNHCR after instituting a policy of refusing all cooperation with the UN agency more than a year and a half ago. Two weeks ago Israel even appeared at the council’s Universal Periodic Review on human rights issues.
Australia and the other five members of the WEOG understand that controlling bias and promoting even-handed treatment of all UN members is much more likely to enable the UN to work effectively than politicised and one-sided obsession with a single-issue. They recognise, as also suggested by the hot mic incident, that the UN obsession with Israel is preventing the organisation from doing its job. Other important global issues simply have no chance of being discussed at the General Assembly because it is “more urgent” to pass the umpteen thousandth resolution condemning West Bank settlements.
It is clear to anyone that follows the work of the UN that in order to be effective and fulfil its own mandate, significant reforms are critically needed. These reforms are discussed at lengths in many forums, but agreement is hard to reach, UN procedures make structural change almost impossible, and things are moving very slowly.
That UN interpreter’s suggestion would be a really good place to start – why not try to ditch the automatic agenda-setting and this unhealthy Israel obsession, and say something about the “other really bad s**t happening”?