Israel’s UN Problem

Last month’s Palestinian move at the United Nations has gotten a generally negative reaction from Jews, as it should. Again, the UN has seemingly disregarded Israel and looked the other way at flagrant abuses of the Jewish state and its people. The UN has consistently been there to condemn Israeli policy even when that policy is logical and legal.

Consider for instance the position the UN takes on Jerusalem. Even though the resolution that recommended the partition to create the State of Israel was not accepted by all the parties it addressed, the UN still claims that Jerusalem is an international city according to that resolution, to be administered by the United Nations. Any country’s attempt to annex it would be illegal, but only Israel, and never Palestine, is ever criticized for claiming the city as its own. Never mind the fact that the UN has never asserted its claim and never appointed a committee to actually govern the city.

The United Nations Human Rights Council persistently addresses supposed violations by the Jewish state, but never by its own members (that often include such rights-friendly countries as Sudan, Syria and Saudi Arabia).

And, as an insult to the very concept of fairness in the international system, Israel has never sat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). That fact should be enough to make any resolution the body passes against Israel void no matter what the UN by-laws are, considering Israel cannot represent itself (the Arab League, on the other hand, always has at least one of its 21 members sitting on the UNSC).

Israelis, especially on the right wing, are absolutely right to scoff at the United Nations for its arrogant disenfranchisement of the Jewish state’s rights to representation and fair hearings in international forums.

But should that disdain go so far to keep Israel from ever asserting itself as a major player in international law?

For one, it’s Israeli politicians and advocates like legal professor Alan Dershowitz who claim the Geneva Convention needs to be updated to deal with the realities of terrorism and “asymmetric warfare.” Second, it’s our holy books that have prophesied that “Out of Zion shall come forth the Law and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem . . . Nation shall not lift up sword against nation and they shall not learn war anymore,” and “You shall be a nation of priests.” Third, without asserting ourselves as a people, the reputation our tradition is so proud to mention will be meaningless – that we are known as a wise and advanced people in scholarship throughout the world.

So how will the Jewish people and the Jewish state be able to impart these values, concepts and new laws into an international constitution if they refuse to have anything more to deal with international politics?

Anyone who adheres to Modern Orthodox or Religious Zionist thinking when it comes to his or her Judaism must see the inextricable link between the State of Israel and its intended role as a leader in global politics. It’s our tradition that made Jerusalem so desirable to the nations of the world that they see it as proper that the city fall under international jurisdiction.  The Jewish people are duty-bound to demonstrate the role of Jerusalem not as a side-property for the countries of the world but as the actual capital of international law through its ancient commitment to spirituality, philosophy and justice.

Israel should not have to show reluctance to joining the International Criminal Court, but at the moment it must, as an unfair system dominates global politics and the laws of war.

In the immediate term, the United Nations should consider the imbalance that Israel faces as a member of the organization. The UN should recognize that it has kept a double standard: accusing Israel of illegal occupation of even just West Jerusalem ( while ignoring Palestine’s claims to the eastern half of the city and Bethlehem ( The Arab League, acting as a single body on most votes, especially regarding Israel, shouldn’t be allowed to carry multiple votes in UN committees and especially should automatically be recused when Israel-related cases are brought up for debate. Israel should also be granted years of “back pay” for its preclusion from the UN Security Council.

These things probably won’t happen, but they damn well should. Otherwise, Israel would be justified in ignoring whatever the UN and other bodies say constitutes international law, because the system is absurd and ridiculous.