Representative Ron De Santis of Florida recently accused the United Nations of anti-Israel bias alleging a high number of resolutions condemning Israel human rights abuses. Citing UN Watch, a non-governmental organization established for the thinly veiled purpose of monitoring and condemning the UN’s concern with Palestinian rights, he lamented, “I don’t know really know what they do other than attack Israel.” In his comment, De Santis claimed that in 2016, "they [the UN] did 24 resolutions and 20 of them were against Israel.” He neglected to mentioned that that UN Watch statistic referred to the last two months of 2016 and that between the Security Council and Generally Assembly the UN passed several hundred resolutions that year and not just 24.
But statistical manipulation aside, there is a more qualitative issue at stake. De Santis claims that the allegedly excessive attention to Palestinian rights indicates anti-Israel bias. Alternatively, we can better understand it as concern regarding the international community’s failure to resolve the Question of Palestine, which the League of Nations and the United Nations together engendered. In fact, during the UN vote denouncing President Trump’s announcement to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, De Santis introduced the Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel Act. He explained, “Instead of addressing ongoing international conflicts and working to uphold human rights, the United Nations is holding an emergency session in order to indulge its pathological anti-Israel bias.” De Santis is not unique, and in fact symptomatic of a trope in justifying Israeli policies and US support for those policies. Below I address the tactic of attempting to vilify, and incapacitate, the UN’s Palestine advocacy by placing its voting pattern in some historical context. I initially shared these comments with a journalist trying to “fact check” De Santis’s claims, and have since expanded upon them.
The theme that the UN singles out Israel has been a recurring one that pro-Israel organizations have propagated for some time in order to delegitimize the UN as a biased institution and therefore deflect attention from its systematic human rights abuses. Notably, the South African Apartheid regime exacted a very similar strategy throughout the 1960s and 1970s when the UN highlighted its discriminatory regime and denial of self-determination to South West Africa (Namibia) and South Africa. These tactics are not new.
That the UN pays disproportionate attention to the Question of Palestine is true - but this is not indicative of bias. Rather it reflects the fact that of all cases of colonialism that have occupied the attention of the League of Nations since 1920 and the UN since its establishment in 1945, Palestine is the single outstanding case to actually not achieve its self-determination. After the First World War- the majority of the 193 states that exist today were under imperial domination. By 1960, only 55 states had achieved independence. The UN established specialized committees to address colonialism and self-determination including one on Namibia, one on Apartheid, and one on Palestine. Namibia achieved independence in 1991 and South Africa ended its apartheid regime in 1994 as well - Nelson Mandela, tried for terrorism and sentenced to life in prison, was released in 1990. Notably, the US was a primary impediment to independence in both those cases in the Security Council as it remains an impediment to Palestinian independence today. So for the UN, the inability to achieve Palestinian independence -largely due to US obstructionism- is a sore an outstanding cause for the majority of the world, or the global south nations that were former colonies of Europe. The only way to stand by a statement that the UN is biased against Israel is to occlude this history and elide the fact that Israel is a colonial power that today singles itself out by its insistence that it remains above the law and an exception to the norm of decolonization and independence.