Ban Ki-moon’s legacy is still up for grabs

The farewell visit of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Israel and the Palestinian territories this week provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the UN and its impact.

The UN has proven itself, after 70 years of existence, as imperative to relations between the nations and people worldwide. Of course, there are the cynics that claim time and again that it is merely a bureaucratic machine with little to no effect on real world politics, or any ability to change the reality we live in. But to those involved in the organization, and to those who take an active part in learning about the various activities and UN agencies, it is clear that the world would be a very different place without it. And not necessarily for the better.

I have been involved in Model United Nations for the last three years, which has enabled me to see another side of the organization than that portrayed in the press. I have had the opportunity to explore, research, and write about its agencies, and participate in simulations of the different UN bodies. This experience has assisted me in constructing an informed view of this incredible, yet at times, challenging organization.

The UN has, throughout its existence, enabled countries to come together and solve their disputes using the wonderful tool that is diplomacy, even when the states involved may not have had diplomatic relations among themselves. It has assisted millions of people with education, healthcare, and peacekeeping missions — all a result of the realization that the approach it takes has the potential to solve the problems of mankind.

Having said that, Israel has, in numerous instances, been singled out and forced to endure an uphill battle to receive similar recognition and treatment from UN bodies and its Member States as they grant other countries. While many countries would admit wholeheartedly that Israel has and continues to have a positive impact on the world — be it technological, ecological or otherwise — when items related to Israel have come to the doorstep of UN discussions, the Jewish state has often received scolding remarks and condemnations, far more often than others with horrendous track records.

It is therefore understandable why much of the Israeli public feels there is an inherent bias against Israel, when so many Israelis are affected by terror acts on a near-daily basis. And that’s in addition to what the media portrays as disproportionate Israeli reactions to terror attacks, which seem to be reflected prominently in UN documents relating to the topic. This bias is even more blatant at the UN Human Rights Council, which has a permanent agenda item dealing specifically with human rights abuses by Israel, unlike any other country in the world. Israelis see themselves as singled out, while other players with much worse records, are ignored. An example close to home is the Gaza Strip’s residents, being held to some extent as hostages by militants with the goal of continuing the battle against Israel, regardless of the impact on civilian lives.

It is towards this type of action that the UN may not be taking a strong enough approach. Take, for instance, when nearly half of the Israeli population was targeted, just two years ago, during Operation Protective Edge. The UN and its Member States know that the actions carried out by the Gaza militants were appalling, highlighted by the fact that many of the attacks came from UN buildings, schools and hospitals in Gaza. Is it then really surprising that the UN is viewed negatively among Israelis?

Many of us see the UN putting more effort into condemning Israel than finding a just solution to its problems. And this is unfortunate because Israel appreciates the organization’s many positive sides, such as its peacekeepers, who have been stationed on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria for decades.

Through Model UN, I have been able to see beyond the words of the documents that are drafted and the headlines the media makes of them. Perhaps the UN and its agencies should try to show the larger picture to the masses as well. And when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the UN could be more constructive in bringing the two sides to directly negotiate with one another instead of dusting the problems under a rug of more resolutions that are unlikely to be implemented. This would be a positive legacy for Ban Ki-moon as he ends his tenure in an organization that has been working to create a better world for almost three quarters of a century.

About the Author
Rafi Weinberg Littman is the chairman of the Tel Aviv University Model UN Society.