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March 31, 2011

Who is embarrassing the United Nations?

Professor Lawrence Davidson

More by this author...

On 23 March 2011 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the United Nations Rapporteur Richard Falk (Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University) told the world organization's Human Rights Council that the "continued pattern of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem combined with the forcible eviction of long-residing Palestinians are creating an intolerable situation."

In fact, he continued, the present process “can only be described in its cumulative impact as ethnic cleansing.”

Falk concluded by asking the UN Human Rights Council to request an investigation by the International Criminal Court into whether Israeli actions in the West Bank amount to “colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing inconsistent with international humanitarian law.”

This is not a particularly startling or rare point of view.

There are many well- versed Israelis, including several reporters for Haaretz (such as Amira Hass and Gideon Levy), who would probably agree with Falk’s position. There are millions of people around the world who are willing to actively boycott Israel due to, in part, its illegal settlement policies. And, the UN Human Rights Council itself has, in the past, repeatedly condemned Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank of Palestine.

Nonetheless, Israeli officials found Falk’s statement highly insulting.

Soon after the Rapporteur made his presentation to the Human Rights Council, Israel’s envoy to the UN mission in Geneva, Aharon LeshnoYaar, labeled Falk an “embarrassment to the United Nations.” He went on to explain that “Israel doesn’t participate (sic) with Falk” and that when Falk speaks in a UN venue he, Yarr, “leaves the room.” (As an aside, Ambassador Yaar does not like a number of Americans. For instance, he does not like the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore because the man makes his money in a capitalist society while being critical of aspects of capitalism. According to Yaar, that makes Moore a hypocrite).

It would seem that in order to be a good diplomat, or a reliable representative of your government, you have to be able to twist facts in a juvenile way. You know, in the way kids manipulate information to excuse some bad act, even when they have been caught at it in real time.

Ambassador Yaar’s behavior is a good example of this.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has passed resolutions condemning Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians over 20 times. Given that record you can safely apply the old saying, “where there is smoke there is likely to be fire.”

Yet, how do loyal diplomats like Yaar react? They often:

1. Yell loudly and repeatedly that the fellow pointing out their sins is bias. So, he is anti-Semitic (alas, Dr. Falk is Jewish), and that is why he keeps pointing fingers in our direction, Or,

2. The other guy made me do it. Those Palestinians (allegedly) hit me first. How come you never yell at them? Or,

3. (Particularly in the case of Israel) God made us do it and so, if you don’t like it, go argue with God. And, finally, when the fellow who has seen you commit the nasty deed over and again insists that you are the culprit, you get up and run out of the room with your hands over your ears.

While Yaar and the rest of the Israeli establishment engage in these practices and complain about the bias of their critics, the consequences of their governmental policies is to institute bias against the Palestinians wherever they exercise authority. In the recent past there has been a spate of such actions.  Thus, the Israeli Knesset has recently passed two bills along these lines.

One, known as the “Nakba Bill,” institutes a fine on “local authorities and other state-funded bodies for holding events marking the Palestinian Nakba Day….” Nakba is the term the Palestinians, who constitute more than 20% of Israel’s citizens, use for the catastrophe that led to their loss of a homeland as a consequence of the creation of Israel.

The other bill “formalizes the establishment of admission committees to review potential residents of Negev and Galilee towns that have fewer than 400 families.” The bill is designed to keep such towns wholly Jewish by preventing Palestinians from taking up residence. As one Arab Israeli noted, “this is a racist law, a law against Arabs.”

Yaar makes no reference to this sort of bias, but only to the alleged bias of those who point out Israeli bias. No doubt, over time, diplomats and politicians come to believe their own excuses. Like naughty children, they don’t know what double standards mean, and end up creating an alternate world of fabrications.

Unlike most children who eventually grow up, professionals like Yaar come to dwell in this alternate world more or less at will. In fact, the ability to do so has been part of the standard job description for a career in diplomacy and politics for a very long time.

Back in 1909 the Austrian satirist Karl Kraus asked “How is the world ruled and how do wars start?” His answer was, “Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read” (Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 2001, p. 445, #18).

Almost at the same time as Ambassador Yaar was describing Richard Falk as an “embarrassment to the United Nations,” Ahmed Tibi, an Arab Israeli member of the Knesset, debating the racist laws cited above, told his Jewish colleagues the following, “You must read Jewish history well and learn which laws you suffered from…Do you need an Arab on the stand to remind you of your history?”

The Knesset’s reaction? Loud and repeated yelling about how biased and insulting Tibi was. “Go back to Ramallah” they told him.

Now, just who is an embarrassment to the United Nations, an organization which began its life by, among other things, the issuance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Is it Richard Falk, a man who has dedicated his entire professional life to the fight for a better world, governed by humane laws? Or is it Aharon LeshnoYaar and the political establishment he represents?

For anyone beyond childhood, and with accurate information, the answer ought to be obvious.

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