June 14, 2024 | Jewish News Syndicate

How António Guterres betrayed the Jews

He has lent his imprimatur to one of the worst antisemitic blood libels to emerge from the halls of the United Nations—and there have been many.
June 14, 2024 | Jewish News Syndicate

How António Guterres betrayed the Jews

He has lent his imprimatur to one of the worst antisemitic blood libels to emerge from the halls of the United Nations—and there have been many.

Back in February, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a speech at the Ohel Jakob synagogue in Munich in which he struck most of the right notes.

Guterres acknowledged what Israel’s most diehard adversaries never will—that the Jewish people are indigenous to the historic Land of Israel. “I was in Masada,” he said. “And I lived the feeling of the Jewish people about the expulsion of the Roman Empire in the first century and how the Jewish community has spread in the Roman Empire but, since the beginning, became in the different areas of the empire, victims of different forms of segregation, discrimination and persecution.”

Antisemitism, Guterres also observed, “was not born with the Nazis and did not die with the Nazis.” Referring to his native Portugal, which expelled its Jewish population at the beginning of the 16th century, the U.N. chief bemoaned this “criminal” and “stupid” act for causing suffering to Jews and impoverishing the country culturally and economically. And, he continued, “antisemitism is unfortunately spreading today. It has had, I would say, a clear acceleration since the horrific attacks of Hamas on the seventh of October, but it was already a central concern for us in the last decades. We have seen how it was multiplying both online and offline with all kinds of manifestations, desecration of cemeteries, personal attacks on people, vicious actions online, and worst, an attempt to rewrite history.”

All of this is in keeping with Guterres’s previous comments on the issue, including his determination in 2017 that the “denial of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism,” which is an enormously significant statement for the head of the world’s most thoroughly and consistently anti-Israel body. Additionally, during the coronavirus pandemic, Guterres spoke out more than once against the antisemitic memes that spread like wildfire in the “covidiocy” camp of anti-vaxxers and allied conspiracy theorists.

Yet there is one aspect of this issue on which he has remained silent. And that is the antisemitism that stains the organization he leads.

When Guterres rightly identified calls for Israel’s elimination as antisemitism—a contention that has been proven ad nauseam in the months since the Oct. 7 pogrom—it would have been natural for him, intellectually speaking, to examine how the United Nations has contributed to legitimizing this demand. In 1975, at the behest of the Soviet Union and its Arab allies, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution decrying Zionism as a form of racism, already established as a staple of Soviet propaganda. In the same year, the United Nations created a Division for Palestinian Rights dedicated to promoting and amplifying the themes in that resolution. Alongside this network is a so-called humanitarian agency, UNRWA, which is solely dedicated to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. No other dispossessed or persecuted people, inside or outside the Middle East, has been handed the same privilege. UNRWA has certainly risen to the occasion, spreading antisemitic ideology in the schools it runs and even employing Palestinians who participated in the Oct. 7 atrocities.

Then you have the U.N. Human Rights Council, which dedicates an entire agenda item to vilifying Israel, and which periodically pushes out ugly, unsubstantiated attacks on Israel through the guise of “independent experts.” One such report was released just last week by a team of three commissioners, one of whom, Miloon Kothari, famously accused the “Jewish Lobby” of controlling social media (if only, eh?)

In an environment like this one, it’s hardly surprising that Israel now finds itself on a blacklist with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, Burma/Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen as states whose militaries systemically abuse children. Yet what is noteworthy here is that this list is provided by Guterres’ own office, which produces the annual “Children in Armed Conflict” report.

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad also made the list, rubbing salt into the wound by equating Israel’s military with a bunch of murderers, rapists and deviants who derive pleasure from mutilating the dead and similarly bestial acts. Again, there is nothing remarkable about the world body drawing such a grotesque comparison. What is noteworthy is that it carries the endorsement of Guterres, who goes out of his way to portray himself as an ally of Jews when he speaks to Jewish audiences, but then doggedly sticks to the anti-Zionist script once he returns to Turtle Bay.

Because if Guterres really did believe in the points he made during his Munich speech, then he would not have assented to Israel’s inclusion on the blacklist. If he really appreciated the centrality of Israel as an anchor of security for Jews the world over, if he really grasped the mass trauma provoked by Oct. 7 for Israelis and Jews around the world alike, if he really knew in every fiber of his being that the Jewish people have only this one country that is currently facing a campaign of deadly violence orchestrated by Iran and its regional proxies, then Israel would not be sharing space with militaries whose sole raison d’être is the murder, torture and wholesale destruction of innocent civilians.

That is why Jews have every right to feel betrayed by Guterres. At least his predecessors, who included the late Austrian Nazi Kurt Waldheim, never raised our expectations and never cheated us into thinking that the United Nations was changing direction on Israel. Guterres dangled precisely that hope and then snatched it away.

Now he has lent his imprimatur to one of the worst antisemitic blood libels to emerge from the halls of the United Nations—and there have been many. The twisted logic that places Israel on such a list could easily be applied to the United States, the United Kingdom and France—all permanent U.N. Security Council members whose militaries have faced war-crime charges in countries like Algeria, Iraq and Afghanistan. But only Israel faces this treatment because targeting the Jewish state has become routinized and normalized in the U.N. setting.

That will only change when a successor to Guterres honestly appraises the world body’s own record of antisemitism and pledges to end it, first of all by dismantling all the elements—the committees, the various “independent” commissions, the anti-Israel agenda items set in stone—that contribute to this institutional bias. Only then can Jews gain any kind of trust in the United Nations. And that, for the foreseeable future, isn’t going to happen.

Ben Cohen, a senior analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes a weekly column for JNS on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics.


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