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Double (and a half) Standard - Israel at the United Nations

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Andrew Keene

Andrew Keene is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees, member of the Executive Board of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and one of the representatives to the United Nations in New York.

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“I personally believe that the organization you’re representing is an anti-Semitic organization.” This comment was uttered by South Carolina State Representative Alan Clemmons at the United Nations this past Wednesday. No, not directed at SJP or the Nation of Islam, this comment was directed at a Jewish student representing J Street U. A solid 90 seconds of simultaneous cheering in agreement and jeering at the J Street U delegation ensued.

For far too long, Israel has been the subject of a double standard in the halls of the United Nations, especially in New York and Geneva. Israel is consistently labeled as an apartheid state, abuser of human rights, and more. Nikki Haley, newly minted US Ambassador to the United Nations, is leading the charge to combat this, having said that “the days of Israel bashing at the UN are over.” Nikki Haley was the opening speaker at Wednesday’s Ambassadors Against BDS Seminar hosted by the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Mission to the UN, also to overwhelming applause.

The double standard of Israel has an important and dangerous wrinkle. Wednesday’s seminar clarified one message: to support Israel at the UN is to reject BDS and deny any notion of occupation. It’s almost binary, and anything short of that is at minimum non-supportive of Israel and at the extreme anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic. Support of Israel at the UN cannot come at any cost and it definitely cannot be monolithic.

With a right-wing Israeli government favoring the support of right-wing organizations such as the World Jewish Congress, it is now more important than ever for liberal Jews who don’t subscribe to this one-dimensional and one-sided support of Israel to raise their voices. We must make clear to the global community and their representatives to the United Nations that as a pro-Israel movement of 1.8 million Jews in 50 countries we:

- detest the double standard shown towards Israel at the UN;

- oppose vehemently the BDS movement wherever it exists;

- fight for a Jewish and democratic state that is inclusive of all its citizens;

- support a two state solution with terms negotiated by the two parties.

Short of becoming an ambassador the United Nations, there are important ways to support Israel in a way that upholds these values at the United Nations. The UN is a very complicated system which on one hand can be intimidating, and on the other allows for numerous opportunities for engagement. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Learn: Learn what the United Nations does on a day-to-day basis, what meetings take place, where Israel is represented, or underrepresented. Follow the UN on social media (@UN) as well as David Roet, Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN (@DavidRoet), Danny Danon, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the UN (@dannydanon), and Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN (@NikkiHaley), as well as UN commentators such as Hillel Neuer’s UN Watch Blog (@UNWatch).

  2. Call: Call your country’s mission to the United Nations in New York, Geneva, and Vienna. Ask for their support of Israel, be specific if you know of upcoming meetings or commissions. Share with them you represent a movement of 1.8M individuals and make clear your stance on Israel.

  3. Advocate: On the other side of the coin, advocate to the Israel Mission to the UN that not all Jews subscribe to a right-wing view of Israeli politics. Just as we petition the Israeli government in Israel, we must ensure that the Israeli government at the UN hears the loud voices of liberal Jews.

  4. Engage: Engage in the UN system through civil society. Many don’t know that dozens of Jewish organizations have formal representation in the UN and at times consultative status, meaning representatives can speak during formal hearings. These include the Union for Reform Judaism, Women of Reform Judaism, and World Union for Progressive Judaism.

While this past Wednesday was not encouraging, it opened the door wide for the Reform movement to speak loudly, act on our values, and ensure the United Nations is a place where Jews come together to support the state of Israel, rather than a place that divides us.