Sitting down with Mary Robinson, the former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, and talking with her face to face, I realized that she is an upright human being. Robinson speaks in an authoritative manner, and having just stepped down from the moral high ground that is associated with her former office, Robinson is well-versed in the lofty language of the international bureaucrat.
Yet while Robinson and her cohorts in the human rights community may expound on the imaginary significance of the United Nations in advancing the cause of freedom, the U.N. has instead lent itself to serve as a forum for delegitimizing Israel. With both Robinson and her former boss, Kofi Annan, visiting Yale in the past two weeks, it is worth giving the United Nations a closer look.
The United Nations has a long and ugly history of anti-Semitism. The most blatant example of this was displayed in September 2001 at the U.N. “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” held in Durban, South Africa. This symposium was dedicated to combating hatred in name only, transforming itself into a cesspit of crude anti-Semitism that would have made Josef Goebbels proud.
Anti-Israel activists dominated the conference, propagating every anti-Semitic myth in the book, chief among them the worn-out canard (which, by the way, was official U.N. policy until 1991) that Zionism is equivalent to racism. Ultimately, the United States and Israel were forced to walk out of the conference, which they realized was nothing more than a forum for Jew-bashing.
I was initially sympathetic when Robinson informed me of her efforts to halt the anti-Semitic rancor which marked the shame that was Durban, yet she immediately went on to heap blame upon the United States and the victim of the whole escapade, Israel. Her faulting of the “American media” for distorting the tone of the conference is suspect, and her criticism of the United States as “having too narrow a mandate” at Durban misses the point. Standing alone in solidarity with the Jewish people against a torrent of virulent bigotry is hardly a “narrow” goal. When the world resorts to such base behavior, the United States has every reason to demonstrate its maturity and walk away.
Robinson was also beaming with delight Tuesday when she described the final document produced at Durban. The anti-Semitic language in that document was, in fact, removed at the last hour, but the world community had already demonstrated its true sentiments by engaging in a protracted argument over whether the Holocaust was a significant event in the history of racism.
Ultimately, the grotesque behavior of the Arab nations and their boisterous supporters in the streets sullied whatever came out of Durban. As to the effectiveness of the resolution itself, if Robinson genuinely believes that the Arab bloc’s lip service to human rights at Durban was sincere, her gullibility is astonishing.
Perhaps the most troubling comment that Robinson made on Tuesday afternoon was her affirmation that upon visiting the Middle East in November 2000, it was “made clear that — the root cause of the conflict was the occupation.” For Robinson to recognize the “horrible anti-Semitism” at Durban, yet ignore it when it arises amidst the actual conflict, is morally inconsistent. Robinson finds it acceptable to blame Israel entirely for the dispute in the Middle East but ignores the true cause of the violence.
The conflict in the Middle East is due to the Arab world’s continued denial of Israel’s basic right to exist. Unfortunately, the vitriol displayed at Durban is everyday fare in the Middle East. If the so-called occupation were the root cause of the conflict, then why was there no Palestinian intifada against Jordan or Egypt, who illegally occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively, for 19 years between 1948 and 1967? If occupation were the root cause of the conflict, then why did the Palestinians refuse statehood out of hand in 2000, instead opting for the mass murder of innocent Jews that continues to this day?
Israel’s military presence in the disputed territories (an unavoidable response to a war of Arab aggression in 1967) is not the cause of the current violence. Surely when Robinson toured the West Bank, she was shown the bomb-making factories as well as the U.N.-funded schools that indoctrinate Palestinian children with the sanctity of jihad and maps without Israel?
Robinson was also enthusiastic in her talk about the United Nations’ potential to mediate the ongoing crisis. Let us step aside for a minute and examine the body which she presided over for the past five years, the High Commission for Human Rights.
The High Commissioner and the Commission are two separate entities, but during her tenure, Robinson was either unable or unwilling to be an influential voice of reason to the council. Last session, while the United States was removed from the council, such human rights luminaries as Libya, Pakistan and Cuba were all instated as members. It should therefore surprise no one that the Commission passed a resolution last April that explicitly endorsed “armed struggle” against Israel. However, it was not just the known sponsors of terror on the committee, such as Sudan and Syria, who sponsored this horrific resolution; Austria, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain and Sweden signed on as well.
I left my interview with Mary Robinson convinced that her desire to help oppressed people around the world is honest. But many good individuals can be duped by foolish ideas. It was apparent Tuesday that she has no conception of how enormously the Arab thugocracies hate the Jewish state, and my final impression of Mary Robinson was that of a woman misled. She aptly represents the folly that is the U.N.
James Kirchick is a freshman in Pierson College.