Many years ago, the Israeli statesman, Abba Eban, said “if Algeria introduced a resolution [to the UN] declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”
The reality of this absurd statement has played out over many years, with Israel disproportionately singled out for condemnation of alleged offences while nations that really abuse human rights are ignored. And New Zealand is complicit in this discriminatory practice that undermines any good the UN does, in contrast to traditional allies like the USA, Australia, and Canada.
The most recent example of an unfair attack on Israel by the United Nations is a resolution at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council that singled out and condemned Israel as the only country in the world that violates women’s rights. All the other focus areas concern global topics such as disaster relief assistance and the use of science and technology for development.
The resolution – just as Abba Eban predicted – was adopted in a 40 to 2 vote, with 9 abstentions and 3 absent. Among the countries voting in favour of the resolution were Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan. Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch, condemned the delegates’ abuse of the UN body as a forum to target Israel.
“The UN reached new heights of absurdity by singling out Israel alone on women’s rights, yet saying nothing on Iran holding women’s rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh behind bars, Saudi Arabia jailing and torturing women’s rights activists, and subjugating women under harsh male guardianship laws, or on Yemen denying women hospital treatment without the permission of a male relative … When you have Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen among the UN council members accusing Israel of violating women’s rights, you are in the theatre of the absurd.” Hillel Neuer
Not only are real abusers of women’s rights standing in judgement and condemning only Israel, but the resolution failed to mention that women are protected by law from discrimination. Israel’s Declaration of Independence grants “all Israel’s inhabitants equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion, race or gender.” and these words have translated into action, with Israeli women progressing in multiple spheres of Israeli life, such as politics, economics, education, and the military.
The latest UN resolution alleged that Israel was the “major obstacle” for Palestinian women “with regard to their advancement, self-reliance, and integration in the development of their society.”, completely ignores how Palestinian women’s rights are impacted by their own governing authorities—the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza—nor does it mention how women are discriminated against within patriarchal Palestinian society.
New Zealand leaders have been outspoken about the need for UN reform but comments have been restricted to reforming the UNSC veto powers. One of the priorities New Zealand signalled when running for a seat at the UN security council was reform by way of trying to restrict or eliminate the veto power held by permanent members. This was followed up again in September 2018, when New Zealand Prime Minister said the veto power of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council has made a “mockery of what the UN stands for”.
It was encouraging that New Zealand signed a letter to the UN Human Rights Council expressing concern about the lack of any resolutions over unlawful detention in “large-scale places of detention, as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang”, especially as New Zealand does not hold a seat on the Human Rights Council.
Will New Zealand also acknowledge the bias against Israel at the UN and take any steps toward projecting Kiwi values of fairness on the international stage or will New Zealand continue to vote against Israel and remain silent about truly egregious incidents that make a real mockery of what the UN should stand for?