The United Nations General Assembly (GA) doesn’t take itself seriously. Unlike U.N. Security Council resolutions, GA pronouncements have no enforcement mechanism and often serve only to permit countries to vent — mostly at Israel. But this travesty helps determine the allocation of general U.N. funds — American tax dollars among them, albeit fewer under the Trump administration. So, it is worth parsing the activity of the GA last week.
Thirty-five resolutions were proposed in the GA by the U.N. Special Political and Decolonization Committee. The Committee, which includes Syria, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Bolivia, and Venezuela, has no North American, Western European, or Scandinavian members. Twenty-seven resolutions used general language and named no specific country; eight targeted Israel.
If you thought this would be a good time for the U.N. to recognize the desperate efforts of the people of Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran to throw off repressive and kleptocratic governments — and specifically, to rid themselves of the destructive machinations of the mullahs of Iran — the GA didn’t agree with you.
If you were waiting for the U.N. to condemn horrific violations against the people of Syria by its own government and aided by Russia and Iran, or to stand up for the Rohingya who have been forced out of Myanmar, or to consider the plight of the Muslim Uighurs of China herded into camps, you’re still waiting.
Slave labor in Qatar; Venezuelans reduced to eating garbage; North Koreans with no discernible human rights; Palestinian-Arab children taught that the highest form of life is death — their own and that of as many Jews as possible; civil war in Libya; increasing repression of the press and of dissent in Russia — all ignored. Turkey, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and Saudi Arabia — ignored.
OK, actually Syria was mentioned — in the context of Israel’s “illegal occupation” of the “Syrian Golan Heights.” Ninety-five countries voted for Israel to stop “repressive measures against the population of the occupied Syrian Golan” and return the territory to Syria. Nine countries voted against and 65 abstained. How many Arab Druze residents of the Golan do you suppose would have voted to be returned to Bashar al-Assad’s rule?
UNRWA, the intergenerational jailor of Palestinians in various countries, was mentioned in four resolutions, one of which extended its mandate until 2023. That passed 167–5 with 7 abstentions. There was no mention of the serious allegations of financial corruption and sexual assault against its inmates.
One resolution related to a “Special Committee” investigation on Israeli human rights practices, one was on houses for Jews where the U.N. doesn’t want them (156–6 with 15 abstentions), and one was on “Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people” (154–8 with 15 abstentions).
There are some “good guys” here. The United States, which changed its vote from “abstain” to “no” on the settlement resolution, and Israel. Then, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and the United Kingdom voted “no” on one or more resolutions. The representative of Brazil expressed support for less biased texts, noting that human resources should not be used to promote biased views.
But what about all those abstentions? Israel has very good relations with Cameroon, Togo, Rwanda and Vanuatu, for example — all of which abstained on at least one resolution and voted for the others. Much of Western Europe abstains and pretends — like the GA itself — that it doesn’t matter. It matters because of the money — but more important, it matters for countries to be honest and honorable, and it matters in the end because GA resolutions can be defeated. The particularly nasty resolution about “Israeli practices affecting the human right of the Palestinian people” passed by a vote of 82–11 with 78 abstentions. If the abstainers had voted “no,” the vote would have been 89–82 AGAINST a U.N. travesty.
The U.N. is a pit. The Trump administration has chosen to deal with it by withdrawing from and withholding money from specific U.N. entities that are particularly awful — the Human Rights Council, UNRWA and the UN Climate Pact, for starters — and stating the American case forcefully within the building.
It is probably the right call.
Israel has been asked an infinite number of times why it doesn’t just throw in the towel and leave, but Ambassador Danny Danon told inFOCUS Magazine in an interview:
There is a gap between the public U.N. and the private U.N. Publicly, they will condemn Israel, but privately they admire Israel … in every bilateral meeting I have with a head of state, I say, “We want to see the great bilateral relations or trade relations that you have with Israel reflected when it comes to a vote in the U.N.”
To the extent Danon is successful, there is a path for America and Israel to persevere and convince abstainers to vote their consciences — and reality.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center and Editor of inFOCUS Magazine.