Miriam downunder, Sun Oct 23, 2005
Israel can bank on our support (at the UN)
GREG SHERIDAN, The Australian
October 22, 2005
WHEN people say they want a more independent Australian foreign policy, they generally mean they want a policy that agrees more with them.
The Howard-Downer duumvirate in Australian foreign policy has changed our position on the Middle East at the UN in a way that is wholly remarkable, not only independent but positively brave, utterly politically incorrect and undoubtedly right in principle; and, amazingly, is meeting with success.
Australia has always been a strong friend of Israel. But for most of the past few decades it has taken an understandable, if less than inspiring, refuge in abstaining from most of the plethora of routinely one-sided anti-Israel resolutions and actions at theUN.
But about two years ago the Howard Government decided to change all that. As much as anything, it was watching the international community respond to the wave of suicide bomb attacks on Israel, which elicited muted international condemnation. But when Israel tried to protect itself by building a fence to keep the terrorists out, the fury of the bien pensants, especially at the UN, was boundless.
The UN has a deep structural bias against Israel. To take one of many examples, there has been at the UN Commission on Human Rights a separate agenda item devoted to Israel at every meeting. No other nation gets a whole agenda item, not China, not North Korea, not Iran. It has been impossible even to get up a single resolution about Zimbabwe's recent murderous practices.
For 40 years more than one-quarter of the resolutions passed at the commission have been aimed at Israel. Anyone who believes Israel is responsible for one-quarter of the world's human rights violations needs to get their medication changed.
Similarly, the UN has established a vast bureaucracy dedicated to blackening Israel's name. There is within the UN secretariat a whole division called the Division for Palestinian Rights, while the General Assembly has the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People.
Of course the human rights of Palestinians should be respected and the UN should play a role in this. But no other nation is singled out for the relentless attacks at the UN that Israel has to cope.
All this anti-Israel activity does nothing to improve the Palestinians' lot. It makes the UN worthless in the Middle East because Israel is utterly hostile and distrustful of it, while the Palestinian cause is endlessly inflamed in soaring and worthless rhetoric, taken over by the international bureaucrat class far from the realities on the ground.
And it is in any event simply a grotesque distortion of what the UN is supposed to be about. Most nations that Australians would regard as like-minded, such as the west Europeans, the Canadians and some others, traditionally find this all too hard to deal with and seek a coward's solace in abstaining from most anti-Israel resolutions and activities. Until about two years ago, that was Australia's way as well. But then came the wave of terror attacks on Israel, Israel's fence and the absurd overreaction to it. Alexander Downer and John Howard decided enough was enough.
So Australia voted against referring the fence to the International Court of Justice. The ICJ inevitably ruled against Israel and in July last year the UN General Assembly passed the normal anti-Israel resolution. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised the Government to abstain. The Government overruled the bureaucracy and decided to vote against the resolution. We were one of only six nations to do so, the US, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia being the others.
The Howard Government's position here was not reflexively pro-Israel. The Government criticised parts of the route taken by the Israelis in building their fence. But it wasn't going to go along with the usual Israel bashing. In truth it was a proud moment in Australian foreign policy and certainly one of the deepest independence.
Australia's ambassador to the UN, John Dauth, said at the time: "We remain of the view that the resolution unfairly isolated a single issue in a complex conflict; that it served no purpose, given the nature and content of resolutions already passed by this assembly; that it would politicise the court; and that it would distract the parties - as is happening - from the urgent need to resume negotiations."
Most of the Australian media commentary was mindlessly hostile to the Government and accused it of being Washington's poodle. In fact the US position on this had little to do with Canberra's decision. Australia could easily have hidden in the shadows of abstention, as did even the US's No.1 ally, Britain.
This vote was not a one-off. It has become the pattern of our voting on Israel-related issues. Canberra has attempted to use its influence with Pacific Island nations, and even in Southeast Asia, to try to produce a change. And, get this, it is working. Canada has joined Australia on some critical resolutions and the attitude towards Israel at the UN has begun to change noticeably.
Traditionally, Israel was unique in not even being allowed to join a UN regional grouping; now it is, like Australia, a member of the Western Europe and Others Group.
As The New York Times recently reported, Israel has proposed a UN resolution, its Prime Minister has been received at the UN and it is to stand for a term on the Security Council, all unprecedented moves.
There is still vast and objectionable anti-Israel bias in the UN system, but this is progress and it was much less likely to have come about without Australia's actions.
These moves, though they annoyed the Arab League, have certainly cost us nothing in Arab trade or diplomatic relations. (Syria and Libya have recently opened embassies.)
But they are a sign of taking a position of political principle on an international issue and having an effect. They couldn't be more independent, but of course independence, real independence, is the last thing the serried ranks of the unanimous commentariat want.
This was great to read, thanks. We need to work to peel off some European countries, like Ireland or the Netherlands perhaps, which might also have the courage to back Israel.
I will forward the article to friends of mine who love the UN (well, who love what the UN stands for) but who also love Australia.
I think the UN is changing, slowly. It needs a lot more scrutiny and higher standards in every area. The report on Syrian involvement in the assassination of the Lebanese leader is a start towards holding Arab regimes accountable. This will help Israel without requiring her to do anything!
And the UN recently condemned anti-Semitism for the first time in its 60 year history. Hallelujah.
The U.N. discovers the cause of anti-Semitism: Jews By ANNE BAYEFSKY, Opinion Journal, November 18, 2004
Useful quotes made by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Elie Wiesel on the UN and antisemitism
The UN's Jewish Problem Ruth R. Wisse, Weekly Standard, March 31/02 (04/08/2002, Volume 007, Issue 29)
Israel faces rampant discrimination at the United Nations Julian Schvindlerman, the Miami Herald, November 1, 2002.
A Typical UN Press Release Forum Post by Wendy, Thu Aug 25, 2005
British diplomats push Annan for a 'no excuses' definition of terrorism By Charles Laurence, Sunday Telegraph, 24 July 2005
UN Record on Israel and Arab East Jerusalem Forum Posts by Oboler, Wendy, Aug 25, 2005
Some good news, Dan Gillerman appointment Forum Posts by Wendy Sept 2005 + JPosy article
ADL suggestions for reforming the UN Forum Posts by Wendy Sept 2005
Sharon and Peace at the UN Forum Posts by Wendy Sept 2005 and article New York Times, September 16, 2005 By JOEL BRINKLEY
The UN's Palestinian Problem Forum Posts by Wendy October 2005 and article
Australia for Israel at the UN Forum Posts by Miriam downunder and Wendy October 2005 and article from The Australian
Canada to reject anti-Israel UN resolutions Forum Posts by Wendy visiting Canada December 2005 and article
Bauer on UN antisemitism From lecture notes on antisemitism
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