Michael Jackson

Israel, the UN, South Africa and China      

Ezra Klein, a New York Times journalist and podcaster, interviewed a Princeton professor of International Law on his podcast discussing the rules of war in the context of the Israel-Hamas conflict. She pointed out that both Israel and Hamas had violated these international laws. Even though Hamas is not the government of an existing country, she stated that the rules of war still apply. Her main criticism of Israel was its severe restrictions on humanitarian aid, especially since the IDF occupation of the Rafah crossing from Egypt. The indiscriminate bombing was her second major criticism of Israeli actions.

As this article’s title suggests, the argument presented here deals with another aspect of the podcast.  

The law professor pointed out that the UN was designed to ensure peace between the “big” nations, the five permanent members of the Security Council. Although the major powers have fought proxy wars in 3rd-party states, they have not come to open conflict in the nearly 80 years since the end of the Second World War. The UN was not set up to administer justice, but to keep the peace between the major powers.

Ezra Klein stated that between 2015 and 2022 there have been 140 UN resolutions adopted against Israel and only 60 against all other countries combined. Ezra Klein asked her to explain why Israel is treated so differently from other nations. She explained that Israel and South Africa (until the end of apartheid) were the last vestiges of European colonial empires. They were the focus of over a hundred countries that themselves had been liberated from European colonialism. This to her mind justified the disproportionate UN attention to Israel.

There are many problems with that argument. 

The first problem is that resolutions condemning a country do not need to be based on colonialism. The massacres and depravities in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan, Ukraine, Chechnya (by the Russian government), and Cambodia were not directly connected to European colonialism. They were worthy of condemnation. 

Secondly, resolutions could condemn invasions of other countries, e.g. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s annexation and continued occupation of Tibet, Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait, and the recent takeover of the Armenian enclave by Azerbaijan should also prompt resolutions condemning these events. 

Thirdly, the focus on European colonialism ignores the long-term annexation of countries after the Second World War. She sees the last vestiges of colonialism as  South Africa and Israel. This end of apartheid was about the same time that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were freed from Soviet annexation. They were not just Soviet satellites such as Poland and Hungary which were still recognized countries but under Soviet control. There were no resolutions concerning this suppression of nationalities. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are each independent countries. This is more than we can say about Tibet which is still annexed to China. China has been deliberately repopulating Tibet with Chinese citizens. Again, no resolutions condemning this have passed in the UN General Assembly.

Fourthly, the alleged colonialism of Israel by primarily European Jews was very different from the standard colonization by European powers who had their own countries, e.g. Britain and France, as a permanent base country distinct from the ruled colonies. European Jews had no such base. Perhaps this makes little difference to the majority indigenous Palestinian population but it certainly was and is very different for the indigenous Jewish minority. This Jewish minority, present in Palestine in 1880, is regularly ignored by those claiming only Arabs lived there before the Zionist Jews came.

Lastly, there are 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. This organization includes 21 Arab countries. These nations form almost a third of the General Assembly. These nations support and sponsor anti-Israel resolutions.

At its best, the UN has prevented war between the major nuclear-armed powers.  That is in itself a great achievement for humanity. In achieving this it has often overlooked civil wars, coups, murderous ethnic cleansing, invasions, takeovers, and annexations orchestrated by the big powers. The UN stands for peace between nations, not necessarily within nations. Anti-colonialism has become a UN obsession, overriding many human rights concerns. In an organization in which full democracies are greatly outnumbered this is hardly surprising.

About the Author
Born in London in 1949. Studied Maths at Warwick University. Came to Israel (WUJS program at Arad) in 1971. I became a citizen and served in the army in 1973. Returned to the UK in 1974. Worked in Information Systems. Married an American Orthodox woman in 1977 and moved to America. For a few years I have led a retiree philosophy class.
Related Topics
Related Posts