The United Nations (UN) has long been a source of mixed feelings for the Jewish community. While the UN played a pivotal role in the creation of the State of Israel, the international body has a continuing history of a one-sided, hostile approach to Israel.
After decades of bias and marginalization, recent years have brought some positive developments for Israel to the UN. Nonetheless, the UN's record and culture continue to demonstrate a predisposition against Israel. Israel is prevented from fully participating in the international body. Indeed, in a meeting in April 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged to ADL leaders that Israel has been treated poorly at the UN and that, while some progress has been made, this bias still remains an issue. Secretary Ban stated this view publicly during his visit to Israel in August 2013.
Considering the international body's pivotal role in the establishment of the Jewish State, there is a certain paradox that the UN is often a forum for the delegitimization of the State of Israel. In fact, the UN laid the essential groundwork for the establishment of Israel by passing UN Resolution 181 in 1947, which called for the partition of British Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Following Israel's independence in 1948, the Jewish State became an official member-state of the international body.
Since Israel’s establishment, Arab member states of the UN have used the General Assembly (GA) as a forum for isolating and chastising Israel. With support from third-world nations, particularly the Non-Aligned Movement, and others, the Arab states have had little difficulty passing harsh anti-Israel resolutions through the GA. Even today, the strength of these groups in the world body allows them to continue rebuking Israel. While anti-Israel resolutions are easily passed in the GA, this is not the case in the Security Council, where resolutions are binding in nature, as the United States has consistently used its veto power to prevent the passage of such resolutions.
In the 1970s, the Arab bloc used its power to establish and authorize funding for several UN committees and divisions of the Secretariat which primarily carry out the anti-Israel agenda. Among these are: The Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat, The Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in the Territories, and The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Today, these bodies continue to be deeply engaged in promoting programs and initiatives that are harshly critical of Israel.
Some UN agencies have also exhibited anti-Israel sentiments. For example, between 1974 and 1978 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) instituted financial sanctions against Israel, passed hundreds of resolutions criticizing Israel‘s activities in the West Bank, and denounced Israel's archeological and restoration efforts in Jerusalem.
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which replaced the Commission on Human Rights in March 2006, has continued its predecessor's extreme focus on and biased treatment of issues relating to Israel, particularly in comparison with its mild action on pressing international human rights crises. The permanent agenda of the HRC includes a specific item targeting Israel - Agenda Item #7 – which is titled: "Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories: Human rights violations and implications of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and other occupied Arab territories and the Right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. Israel is the only country to appear on the HRC's permanent agenda, while other countries such as China and Sudan, notorious for their human rights abuses, are included as part of the general debate.
For decades, Israel was the only member state consistently denied admission into a regional group, the organizational structure by which member states can participate on UN bodies and committees. The Arab states continue to prevent Israeli membership in the Asian Regional Group, Israel’s natural geopolitical grouping. As a result, Israel long sought entry into the Western and Others Group (WEOG) and in May 2000 was granted admission in New York, but not in Geneva, the seat of several UN bodies and subsidiary organizations. Israel's participation in the UN, therefore, is still limited and it cannot fully participate in UN Geneva-based activities. For example, Israel is effectively barred from membership on the Human Rights Council.
There have been some recent positive developments at the UN with Israel accomplishing a major first when the UN's Second Committee (Economic and Financial) adopted an Israeli-initiated draft resolution dealing with agricultural technology for development in 2009. In addition, the UN has begun to address other issues of concern to the Jewish community, particularly anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, in a highly visible way.