Jewish World Review:


By Barbara Amiel

A trapped bluebottle circled the conference room, flying lazily towards the tall windows through which New York's East River could be seen. It flew over the chair where the representative for the International Organization for Migration sat fiddling with his UN, Japanese-made, ergonomically designed earpiece, passed over the African Union and Commonwealth Secretariat and settled somewhere by the Holy See's seat.

Outside, it was a cold New York day. Inside, where these members of the UN's Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural matters) gathered, the room was bathed in a comfy buzz of well-being, engendered when like-minded people gather together.

The topic last week in Conference Room 1 of the UN was human rights in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a part of the world where human rights are fulfilled by simply waking up alive and where democratic republics are anything but.

The UN Special Rapporteur found no improvement in Burundi. Children were still being recruited as soldiers; mass rape had increased and now was aimed at young boys as well as girls. The latter was "a new phenomenon", said Rapporteur Ms. Keita-Bocoum.

In neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, where three million people have died in the past five years of fighting, another UN Special Rapporteur described it as the "worst human rights situation in the world". She footnoted a special concern for the unlucky children named as "sorcerers", who were maimed or killed for their witchcraft.

It was business as usual. Before the early break for Ramadan, Burkina Faso, the Congo and Zimbabwe co-sponsored human rights resolutions. Sudan introduced one. The atmosphere remained clubby and cordial as the Ambassador of Israel came to the microphone to present a resolution on behalf of Israeli children.

Ambassadors don't normally present resolutions at committee level, but since Israel had not presented one since 1978 (and that was withdrawn after the Syrians tied its future to negotiations with the PLO), it was a bit of a first. The Israeli resolution was a mirror copy of one sponsored by Egypt and passed (88-4, 58 abstentions) in the General Assembly three weeks earlier, underlining the need to protect the rights of Palestinian children.

That resolution was a bit of a first, too: no other group of children had been singled out for protection by the UN -- not the child soldiers in Burundi, not the raped and mutilated girls and boys of the Congo, nor children in any other of the world's impoverished or warring nations. By tacit agreement, children have always been considered universally at the UN.

The delegates were polite as Ambassador Dan Gillerman spoke. He asked for security for Israeli, Palestinian and all children of the world. He spoke of a "false reality" that pretends one side has a monopoly on victim status. He wished, he said, to prevent the blatant exercise of a double-standard in the UN.

He mentioned the deliberate bombing of discos, pizza parlors and school buses, almost exclusively used by children. When he finished, the session chairman did not ask the names of co-sponsors for the Israeli resolution. Because there were none.

A discussion followed. The Syrian delegate strenuously opposed assistance of Israeli children and said the resolution was procedurally wrong. The Palestinian Authority's lady complained that the Israelis had "copied" their resolution. The situation of Palestinian children was "unique" she said -- which it may well be, since most children of the world are not used as human shields for terrorist camps or encouraged to be suicide bombers so their pictures can be put up in grocery stores as "martyrs".

It is as if British children in the Second World War had not been evacuated to the countryside but rather placed around the War Office and anti-aircraft embankments. Afterwards, the PA lady confered earnestly for 20 minutes with a French delegate over procedurally thwarting the Israeli resolution so it would not come to a vote. The bluebottle returned to the most heated part of the committee room.

The session ended with a report by the Special Reporter of the Commission on Human Rights, John Dugard, on "human rights in the Palestinian territories since 1967". Mr Dugard, who had been a courageous campaigner against apartheid, missed out when jobs were given away in the new South Africa and lost election to the International Criminal Court. Without apartheid to fight, he has demonized Israel to fill the gap. This transference of all ills to Israel's doorstep is a psychiatric condition common in, though not confined to, members of the UN.

Down the hall, in Conference Room 2, the Second Committee (Economics and Finance) was discussing "the permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people over their natural resources", or how to stop thuggish Israel looting them. The Fourth Committee (special Political and Decolonization committee) regularly considers the atrocities of Israelis in their role as imperialist running dogs.

Unesco, Unicef and UNRWA spend much of their time visiting Israel and condemning it. The General Assembly, unable to pass a single resolution condemning Palestinian terrorism, routinely condemns Israel and calls emergency sessions especially for the purpose.

The reality of the Middle East is that the very existence of Israel is considered a nakba -- a catastrophe. This being so, the Israeli Ambassador could present a resolution recommending all people be encouraged to breathe -- and it would be unacceptable to that part of the world. Does the UN matter? Only insofar as the record matters. Certain things must be done not because they will make a difference but to set the record straight. This week, Third Committee delegates will consider deleting anti-Semitism from the new UNHCR resolution on racial and religious intolerance, thus giving new life to old canards.

The UN is not furnished luxuriously, but it is a congenial place. Sitting in one of its lounges, sipping an iced chai latte, one could see the irony of the situation. If the Arab world has any legitimate case against Israel, it is not the occupied territories, which are in Israeli hands only because of wars the Arabs launched. It is what they see as the initial injustice behind the Jewish state's founding.

The world's response to the Nazi holocaust and centuries of European persecution of Jews -- including Tsarist-inspired pogroms and, indeed, French anti-Semitism, whose Dreyfus Affair inspired Theodor Herzl's Zionism - was to give away a slice of Arab Muslim land to the Jews. While one fully appreciates the Jews' historical and religious connection to the land of Zion, it must be said that insofar as the Arab case has any persuasive merit, it is on this initial point.

But the Arabs have had a great revenge. They have taken over the very body that was responsible for this -- the United Nations -- with the hope that the organization that created the injustice may well be the instrument of its undoing. And that, as the bluebottle on the wall could tell you, is a story that has not unfolded yet.

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