Presenting itself as anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism has pervaded various United Nations commissions and councils for several decades. In 1975, for instance, the UN General Assembly adopted (by a vote of 72 to 35, with 32 abstentions) Resolution 3379, which “determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” One of the most vocal proponents of this resolution was the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who openly called for Israel’s expulsion from the UN and its extermination as a political and geographic entity. In response to the passage of this Resolution, Reverend Benjamin Nunez, a UN delegate from Costa Rica, commented:
"What a tragic paradox, that the Jewish people, with its ideal of Zion, the greatest victim of racism and racial persecution throughout history, is now, by virtue of a draft resolution of the ‘petro-majority,’ a racist people and movement."
After 16 years of strenuous efforts by the United States and other democratic nations, the “Zionism is Racism” resolution was revoked on December 16, 1991, by a vote of 111-25, with 13 abstentions.
United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)
In recent years, there has been a significant trend in the UNGA to adopt resolutions condemning traditional forms of anti-Semitism, including Holocaust denial. However, in contrast to these efforts, the UNGA -- led chiefly by countries from the G-77 and the Non-Aligned Movement -- has created bureaucracies whose mandate is to single out Israel as a human rights violator: the Division for Palestinian Rights (established in 1981); the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (1975); and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (1968). No other Member State is singled out in this fashion.
Between 2001 and September 2006, the UNGA’s plenary and main committees (not including the former Commission on Human Rights or its successor, the Human Rights Council) together adopted more than 120 human rights-related resolutions focused on Israel. During that same period, only 10 resolutions were adopted by these bodies regarding the situations in North Korea, Burma, and Sudan.
In fall 2006 the UNGA adopted, by overwhelming majorities, two resolutions that solely blamed Israel for its then-current military conflict with the Palestinians -- making no mention of Hamas shelling Israeli civilians, or Hamas and Hezbollah having kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR)
Between 2001 and 2006 (when it was disbanded), the UNCHR passed 26 resolutions and one decision that were critical of Israel. By contrast, the situations in North Korea, Myanmar, and Sudan warranted a combined total of just 11 resolutions and decisions during the same period.
For many years before its abolition, the UNCHR had a separate agenda item focusing solely on alleged violations by Israel — namely, Item 8, “Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.” This agenda item allowed multiple resolutions to be directed against Israel. No other country had an agenda item exclusively scrutinizing it; thus no more than one resolution could be run against any other nation in a given calendar year.
United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
Since replacing the Commission on Human Rights in March 2006, this new body has proven to be even more prolific in its criticism of Israel than was its predecessor. Within its first 16 months of activity, UNHRC adopted 15 anti-Israel resolutions or decisions. In June 2007, it established the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” as a permanent agenda item—the only single-country item on the permanent agenda.
By contrast, UNHRC has taken little significant action against other coun tries, including the world’s most notorious human rights violators, with the exceptions of Sudan (one resolution, one decision, and one special session resulting in one decision) and Myanmar (one special session resulting in one resolution). Instead, the Council decided to end the predecessor Commission's traditional scrutiny of such egregious violators as Belarus and Cuba, while while expanding its scrutiny of Israel.
Additional United Nations Forums
Other UN forums display a similar penchant for singling out Israel for scrutiny or criticism. In the wake of the 2006 conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, polemical resolutions and statements critical of Israel were introduced in the International Telecommunications Union; the World Health Organization; the International Labor Organization; and the UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Each of these resolutions was one-sided (not even mentioning the other party involved in the conflict) and outside the mandate of the respective organization. Israel remains the object of far more investigative committees, special representatives, and rapporteurs than any other state in the UN system.
World Conference Against Racism
At the September 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa under UN auspices, anti-Israel rhetoric was pervasive enough to cause the event, as South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad put it, to be "hijacked and used by some with an anti-Israel agenda to turn it into an anti-Semitic event.”
The WCAR consisted of three parts: a youth summit, a meeting of NGOs, and the main conference itself. To the exclusion of most other issues involving racism around the world, speakers and panel moderators at the opening of the NGO Forum issued strongly worded anti-Israel accusations and equated Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with apartheid in South Africa. (This marked the beginning of the campaign to depict Israel as a perpetrator of apartheid.) Arab activists joined each subgroup of the NGO Forum's drafting session, arguing that the Holocaust should be equated with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and that anti-Semitism be re-labeled as “anti-Arab sentiment” since Arabs are Semites.
The main conference, comprised of delegates from UN Member States, culminated in the Durban Declaration in which Israel was the only country criticized specifically. Though the Declaration received the support of most participants, the U.S. and numerous other Western countries decried the effort to single out the state of Israel. Eventually the American delegation walked out of the conference in protest.
Adapted from "Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism: A Report Provided to the United States Congress," by The U.S. Department of State (2008).