Michael Kohler

Guterres Must Go

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ comments to the UN Security Council on October 24, 2023, marks a stunning new low for an organization that has miserably failed at its lofty goals envisioned at the time of its establishment. Article 99 of the UN Charter states the Secretary General, “may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” Not surprisingly there is no mention or explanation of what to do when it is the Secretary General, himself, that, “threaten[s] the maintenance of international peace and security;” nevertheless, Israel has called for Guterres to resign over his comments. Some may think that is an overreaction or political theatre. Not me. I think more nations should join in that call and believe one day countries may regret not backing Israel’s demand.

For those unaware, Secretary General Guterres rationalized and justified Hamas’ inhumane terrorist massacre of October 7 by stating, “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum…the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced, and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.”

For a second, let’s forget about the current Israel-Hamas situation. What Guterres did was provide a script going forward for any terrorist organization, in any conflict, in any country, to commit whatever heinous acts they want – though they will be hard-pressed to top Hamas’ barbarism and utter lack of humanity – and simply claim, “look, these things don’t happen in a vacuum,” and proceed to provide their own warped, biased half-truths to explain their actions. If the Secretary General can do it before the UN Security Council to justify Hamas’ terrorism, then certainly others can use that same playbook. Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Shining Path in Peru, Catalan and Basque separatist groups in Spain, the Taliban in Afghanistan – feel free, go ahead, commit whatever terrorist acts you want, because all you need to do is simply state these things, “did not happen in vacuum” and proceed to list your perceived (or even real) political injustices. Is this the lesson we want taught by the Secretary-General?

Guterres has subsequently tried to walk back his comments by tweeting, “[t]he grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the horrific attacks by Hamas” and, “[t]hose horrendous attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.” But the damage was done, his true bias laid bare, and even his attempted retraction equivocates by accusing Israel of a war crime: collective punishment. How about, Mr. Secretary, “[t]he grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the horrific attacks by Hamas, FULL STOP.” Or “terrorism is never OK,” or “while the loss of innocent, Palestinian civilian lives is tragic, the fact remains that every single one of those people would be alive today were it not for Hamas’ acts of October 7.”

Can anyone, for a second, even imagine if Secretary General Kofi Anan in 2001 came to the floor of the Security Council after 9/11 and rationalized, “sure, Al-Qaeda’s actions were horrific, but you know, these things don’t happen in a vacuum, and they do have some legitimate gripes with the US and the West?” I didn’t think so.  So why is it OK for the Secretary General to ever think his original comments were acceptable? Because it is Israel and the Jews, and the United Nations is only becoming more anti-Israel and antisemitic if that is even possible. In 2022, the General Assembly passed 15 anti-Israel resolutions and a total of 13 resolutions criticizing all other countries of the world. Since 2015, there have been 140 anti-Israel resolutions compared to a total of 68 for all other countries. With a population of not even 10 million people in a world of 8 billion, Israel represents approximately 1/10th of 1 % of the world population. How is it possible that with blatant human rights-abusing countries like North Korea, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, not to even mention Russian’s invasion of Ukraine and its atrocities there, that the United Nations be so consumed with Israel? It defies all logic and explanation.

I recently read Daniel Gordis’ new book Impossible Takes Longer: 75 Years After Its Creation, Has Israel Fulfilled Its Founders’ Dreams? which meticulously examines Israel’s Declaration of Independence to help answer the title question. After citing to the 1947 UN Partition Plan calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel (as well as the establishment of a Palestinian State – which they flatly rejected), that paragraph of the Declaration concludes, “[t]his recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.” Gordis comments that while some might have considered that last sentence to be odd or an unnecessary provision, it has proven to be prescient. With that provision, Israel put the world on notice that it’s establishment and rightful place among the community of nations was, and remains just and permanent, and no matter how many biased resolutions are passed at the UN or how many calls to establish a State of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” Israel isn’t going anywhere.

Returning to Guterres, we know that despite his weak attempt to clarify and explain his original comments, those words will be used, quoted and repeated for years to come by anti-Israel activists and Hamas sympathizers. He provided sound bites and talking points to last a lifetime. Stating what he did, as a matter of fact, without context or explanation is simply incorrect and outrageous. Without dissecting each accusation he levied against Israel: yes, Israel occupies Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), but not Gaza (since 2005); yes, there are settlements; yes, there is too much violence; and yes, this has gone on too long. Strong, courageous political leaders on both sides who are willing, once and for all, to face reality and tell their people what they don’t want to hear to compromise and achieve peace, is what is needed. A UN Secretary General who cannot unequivocally condemn terrorism committed against Israel without the slightest hint of rationalization or justification is something that is most certainly not needed. Antonio Guterres therefore must go.

About the Author
Michael Kohler is on the Long Island Regional Board of the American Jewish Committee, is committed to strengthening the relationship between US Jews and Israel, and professionally works as an immigration attorney on Long Island, N.Y. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect those of AJC or any other group or organization.
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