This weekend, United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon will join Israel’s ambassador and other notables at a service at Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue to mark International Holocaust Memorial Day. Ban is scheduled to speak at the service which should make for some uncomfortable conversations since this comes just a week after he landed in a controversy by saying that the current upsurge of terrorism against Israelis was merely “human nature,” since it was to be expected that Palestinians would rise up against “occupation.” Ban was severely criticized by Israel’s government and others but, rather than back off, he doubled down on his position in a New York Times op-ed in which he claimed his critics were unfairly “shooting the messenger” rather than listening to what he had to say.
Ban will, no doubt, be received politely at the synagogue, whose longtime leader Rabbi Arthur Schneier, has been a leader interfaith work and holds an appointment to a UN group by Ban. Ban is also not without his defenders. Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, sought to downplay the controversy saying that Ban was “basically a nice guy.” According to the Jerusalem Post, Hoenlein said the secretary general was a “captive of the system” and that the offensive address was the work of a “speech writer or someone advising him.”
Hoenlein is right that the issue here is bigger than one man but wrong to let Ban off the hook. The secretary general is a career diplomat and the product of the system rather than its captive. Moreover, as the leader of the UN, he is the spokesperson for it. He may well be a nice guy in his private life. He may even think he is being sincere about wishing to help save Israel from itself. But in this case, sincerity is a highly over-rated virtue. As I noted when dissecting his self-serving op-ed, even if we were to credit him for having good intentions, that would be irrelevant to the discussion about the way the UN singles out Israel for unfair treatment and privileges the Palestinian campaign to destroy it.
Ban and his apologists say that as long as he continues to include language about supporting Israel’s right to exist and condemning terrorism against the Jewish state and its people, it is wrong to condemn him. But the problem here is that so long as he is prepared to rationalize terror as “human nature” while blaming Israel for not making peace, he is perpetuating myths about the situation that provide a rationale for the murder of Jews and a war against the Jewish state.
The system of which Ban is either the captive or the creature is not something about which words should be minced. The UN is and has long been a cesspool of anti-Semitism. The one Jewish state on the planet is continually singled out for discriminatory treatment. Humanitarian crises abound across the globe, but the only problems that can be counted on to get UN attention are the complaints of the Palestinians about Israel. Next door to Israel in Syria, a war rages in which hundreds of thousands die, millions are made refugees, and unspeakable atrocities carried out by the Assad regime and ISIS are a daily occurrence. Yet only the frustration of the Palestinians about the “occupation” is worthy of consistent outrage, endless meetings, and pointless resolutions. That is true of the General Assembly and Security Council over which Ban presides as well as satellite agencies such as the tragicomic UN Human Rights Council.
The Palestinians could have resolved their plight by making peace with Israel and accepting a two-state solution long ago. But to this day, even those of their leaders that are thought to be “moderates,” cannot bring themselves to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Until they do, complaints about Israeli unwillingness to further appease those bent on their destruction or outrage about Jews seeking to live in the West Bank, only serve to reinforce Palestinian intransigence and terror rather than encouraging them to make peace.
It is sometimes the business of diplomats, politicians, rabbis and organizational heads to make nice with each other in order to facilitate their work. But let us dispense with the normal courtesies for a moment to make clear that institutions such as the UN and leaders like Ban cannot be allowed to have it both ways when it comes to Israel and anti-Semitism.
Just as supporters of Israel often make a mistake by soft-pedaling the anti-Semitic nature of the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on Israel, so, too, do we sometimes let others who enable or aid that war to pretend that they are not part of the problem.
The plain truth is that the bias against Israel at the UN is rooted in anti-Semitism, not bureaucracy or mistaken views about the conflict. Until the hate at the core of this bias is uprooted, all pronouncements from its leaders about their good intentions are a waste of their time and ours. Most particularly offensive is the notion that the UN in its current incarnation has any role to play in commemorating the Holocaust. Sympathy for dead Jews is nice but meaningless when it is coupled with discrimination against the living, who are striving to defend themselves.
Just as it is not “human nature” but hate and prejudice that drives Palestinian to slaughter random Jews in the streets, there is nothing normal about having to listen to a man that is willing to play the role Ban embraces pontificate about his sorrow about the Holocaust. On the day when the UN ceases to treat Israel as a pariah state and stops enabling Palestinian terror, then we can speak of its leaders’ fine personal qualities and good intentions. Until then, let us hear no more of that and instead concentrate on voicing our full-throated opposition to a corrupt institution that, despite the grand rhetoric about its purpose, currently plays a deeply destructive role in the Middle East and has provided a foundation of support for a political culture bent on the destruction of Israel and its people.