It is Holocaust remembrance time at the United Nations. Once a year, Jews from around New York, a dwindling number of Holocaust survivors, occasional celebrities, and precious few friends, file into the General Assembly Hall and grant the U.N. the privilege of appearing to care.
This year’s speakers include Steven Spielberg. When it is over, the year-round ritual censure of the Jewish state will resume.
Characteristic of “International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust” is the scarcity of express emphasis on Israel, save for the remarks of the Israeli ambassador.
Modern Israel, if it had existed, would not have allowed six million Jews or one million children to perish while railway lines delivering human cargo to their final destination were left intact. And yet, the well-being of the only country dedicated to saving the Jewish people is generally peripheral.
At first, the pattern seems odd, given that the U.N.’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and associated activities of its “Holocaust Outreach Programme,” are supposed to be about ‘never again’ and a U.N. commitment to genocide prevention.
Strange also, since the U.N. member state of Iran is openly pursuing the annihilation of Israel, and a repeat of the Holocaust that it denies.
Of course, it is no secret that the U.N. has failed miserably to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity in countries from Africa, to Europe and Asia.
The explanation, however, does not lie with general incompetence. For the organization has managed to devote its energy, time and resources to the denunciation and delegitimization of Israel – the embodiment of Jewish self-determination.
The behind-the-scenes story of the 2005 General Assembly resolution creating a U.N. Holocaust remembrance day sheds light on the connection between Holocaust remembrance and Israel-bashing at the U.N.
Despite the fact that the U.N. was erected on the ashes of the Jewish people, the General Assembly has never adopted a resolution dedicated specifically to anti-semitism. Periodic mentions of the word antisemitism appear in lists. By contrast, for instance, there have been resolutions and reports focusing on Muslims, Arabs and Islamophobia.
In 2004, Israel proposed the adoption of a General Assembly resolution on antisemitism. And off-camera all hell broke loose.
For its initial backing, Germany was given to understand that such a role would jeopardize its hoped-for permanent seat on the Security Council, and its support vanished.
The State Department was content to leave the matter to the Europeans. Arab and Muslim opposition led the European Union to condition support on garnering consensus, thus handing a veto to antisemites. The idea went no further.
Why was an anti-semitism resolution so vociferously opposed?
It would undermine the very agenda being pursued so successfully at the U.N. itself. Modern anti-semitism encompasses the grotesque demonization of Israel, the U.N.’s Jew among nations.
The Holocaust resolution was the consolation prize. Despite the grumblings, it was less politic for Israel’s enemies to oppose.
In the end, the resolution was adopted minus the word “anti-semitism,” though it did mention the Jewish people along with “countless members of other minorities.” Subsequent exhibits have included: "The Holocaust against the Sinti and Roma.”
The current condition is a moral swamp.
Last fall the General Assembly’s criticisms of human rights abuse amounted to 19 resolutions against Israel, one each for five other states (including the United States), and zero for the other 187 U.N. members.
The only country in the world criticized annually by the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women for violating women’s rights is Israel – for violating Palestinian women’s’ rights.
Half of all the emergency sessions of the General Assembly have been on Israel – and not one on the catastrophes of Rwanda, Sudan, or Syria.
On January 20, 2014, the U.N. kicked off its first “civil society” event for the new U.N. Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
U.N. Headquarters hosted a public screening of a film supporting the U.N.’s notorious Goldstone report. Among other things, a young Palestinian is heard to say: “The Israeli soldiers were shooting at the people, as if they were not human, as if they were chickens or mice. For the Israeli army this is something without meaning. But the victims were very precious to us, even though they didn’t consider them human.”
When the film ended, Palestinian speaker Laila El-Haddad told the audience that Israel engages in the “systematic targeting of the Palestinian civilian sector.” In short, it was a typical U.N. afternoon in which Israelis are portrayed as Nazi-like wanton baby killers.
But here’s the kicker. The U.N.’s perceived antidote to criticism of the U.N.’s anti-Israel policies is Holocaust remembrance.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has made attacking Israel a principal feature of her U.N. career. She is the leading champion of the racist “anti-racist” Durban Declaration, which charges Israel alone with racism, and a zealous backer of the Goldstone report.
In an effort to draw attention to U.N. double-standards, last October Israel threatened not to participate in another U.N. Human Rights Council inquest. This particular hearing, known as the “universal periodic review,” was scheduled to take place on October 29, 2013.
Israel’s threat to blow the cover off the universality of the universal review presented a very serious challenge to the UN.
This is how Pillay responded. She scheduled a visit to Auschwitz on October 13, 2013, had photos taken and, unusually, held the photos back from publication.
Suddenly on October 29, 2013 she pasted the photos of herself at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum front and center on the U.N.’s human rights home page, choosing precisely the same moment that Israel might have succeeded in putting U.N. discrimination front and center.
It was pure political theater. Holocaust remembrance activities sponsored by the largest global platform for modern anti-semitism are more than paradoxical.
We will know if the U.N. has learned the lessons of the Holocaust when it does more than remember history’s unique horror and its Jewish victims.
When the General Assembly adopts a resolution dedicated to anti-semitism, commissions a report on its current manifestations, adopts recommendations for combating antisemitism in all its forms, and ensures their implementation.
A strong Israel, supported by the community of nations, is the central remedial lesson of the Holocaust.
Anne Bayefsky is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust. Follow her on Twitter @AnneBayefsky.