February 25, 2006
The Jewish community throughout the US and around the world was involved in and supportive of the United Nations as it arose from the conflagration of World War II, promising a new way of engaging countries, multilaterally, in preventing future wars. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs remains fully committed to the founding and noble purposes and principles of the UN.
Unfortunately, the world body has too often failed to live up to the principles enshrined in its Charter. Inefficiency, lack of accountability, and an absence of moral responsibility impede the UN from carrying out its core missions. Programs and activities face little scrutiny and continue long after they outlive their usefulness. The world’s worst human rights violators sit on – and even chair – the UN Human Rights Commission. Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, has been singled out for censure and institutional bias for decades, preventing it from fully participating in the operations of the world body.
As the Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change (UN document A/59/565) suggests, the UN faces new challenges, unforeseen by the founders of the organization 60 years ago. Today, entire countries and continents are ravaged by poverty, and by the AIDS pandemic and other diseases – with severe human, political and security consequences.
International peace and security are imperiled by the rise in global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Terrorism, as evidenced in the recent attacks in London, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan – as well as the horrific attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 – is one of the greatest challenges facing the international community, and must be rejected in all its forms and manifestations, irrespective of the declared cause. The General Assembly should adopt a comprehensive convention (international treaty) on terrorism during its next session, to be held in the fall of 2006, which would define terrorism as violence intentionally targeted against innocent civilians and non-combatants, regardless of one’s cause. Similarly, the world body must redouble its efforts to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the danger that such weapons would fall into the hands of rogue states and terrorist organizations.
Nowhere is the UN’s deviation from the fundamental principle of universality more evident than in the manner in which the organization treats the State of Israel. As long as the lofty principles enshrined in the UN charter are violated with regard to one member state, they remain unfulfilled. For more than three decades, the UN has displayed what can only be described as an obsession with Israel, singling it out and, at one point, even calling into question its right to exist (resolution 3379 of 1975, equating Zionism with racism, which was revoked in 1991). Despite some positive changes in recent years, such as the admission of Israel as a full but temporary member of the West European and Others Group in New York, the institutional bias against Israel persists.
Perhaps most egregious are the entities within the UN where the specific mandate is to promote the Palestinian cause against Israel, thereby perpetuating the conflict and undermining peace-making efforts. These entities expend precious UN resources that could be dedicated to the real needs of Palestinians, such as the improvement of living conditions in areas under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.
We recognize the complexities of UN reform, and the possibility that even substantial alterations in the architecture of the world body will not eliminate the natural obstacles to efficiency and harmony inherent in a diverse assembly of political systems and national interests and perspectives. However, to break down those obstacles and forge a common purpose from diversity and competing interests requires a stronger and more credible, transparent, and efficient United Nations. These are the ultimate goals of UN reform as the world body marks its 60th anniversary, and they have the support of the JCPA.
The JCPA believes that:
- The Security Council should be reformed to enhance its legitimacy as the organ responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, and to make it more representative of new international realities;
- The General Assembly should undergo changes that would rationalize and streamline its agenda, in order to enable it to reclaim its validity as the main deliberative organ of the organization;
- The Economic and Social Council should be subject to changes, both structural and conceptual, that would enhance its relevance and effectiveness;
- The Commission on Human Rights should be replaced by a smaller Human Rights Council, which would consist of member states that have a verifiably positive track record on human rights issues;
- The Secretariat needs to undergo a reform that would ensure accountability, transparency, and good governance;
- Redundant resolutions and entities within the UN system should be streamlined and disbanded;
- There can be no real reform unless the pervasive and corrosive institutional bias against the State of Israel is rectified;
- In particular, the UN should terminate the mandates of the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinians, and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, entities that serve only to perpetuate the conflict and undermine peace efforts;
- The principle of sovereign equality of all member states must be upheld; and that,
- Member states of the UN should adopt a clear and comprehensive definition of terrorism that condemns it in absolute terms, irrespective of cause and grievance.
The community relations field should:
- Educate members of the Jewish community as to the UN’s founding principles, the community’s interests in the world body and what reforms are needed to make it a more effective institution; and,
- Work in coalition with like-minded groups and leaders in the general community to mobilize support for substantive UN reform, including through engagement with the administration, Congress, and key UN member states in other parts of the world.