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February 2, 2015 3:52 am

Getting Anti-Semitism Wrong at the United Nations

avatar by Ben Cohen /

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UN headquarters in New York. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgYou have to hand it to the United Nations, I guess. It’s hard to think of another body that would organize a special meeting on the subject of rising anti-Semitism with anti-Semites not just in attendance, but making speeches as well.

The Jan. 22 meeting on the subject at the U.N. General Assembly, organized in the run-up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, started well enough. The keynote speaker was French philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Levy, who used the occasion to mount a forthright denunciation of what he called “the delirium of anti-Zionism.” That he did so from the same podium where the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution in 1975 was first moved was deliciously ironic, though I can’t say for sure whether anyone else in attendance made that connection, and Levy didn’t point it out.

Levy explained that there were three key aspects to the current upsurge of anti-Semitism: the demonization of Israel as an illegitimate state, the denial of the Holocaust, and what he described as “the modern scourge of competitive victimhood,” whereby Jewish efforts to commemorate the Holocaust are scorned as an attempt to belittle the sufferings of other nations.

For good measure, Levy also expertly dispensed with some of the myths that surround the current debate on anti-Semitism, notably the contention that Jew-hatred would go away if only the Palestinians had a state of their own. “Even if the Palestinians had a state, as is their right—even then, alas, this enigmatic and old hatred would not dissipate one iota,” Levy declared, as the assembled delegates scratched their heads in puzzlement and, one might add, a degree of nervousness.

But did Levy’s message—essentially, that anti-Zionism, the denial of the right of national self-determination to the Jewish people, is the principal pillar upon which today’s anti-Semitism rests—get through?

Sadly, it didn’t. After Levy left the podium, we were treated to a seemingly endless stream of anodyne statements from the various delegations, with a couple of noble exceptions—Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor, who had the guts to say that anti-Semitism “can even be found in the halls of U.N., disguised as humanitarian concern,” and American Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who reminded those delegates sitting in the General Assembly that Holocaust denial remains a staple of official media across the Middle East and North Africa.

The lasting impression, however, was left by Arab and Muslim delegates, most of whom pushed the insidious—and deeply stupid—myth that because the Palestinians are “Semites,” they cannot be anti-Semitic. As far as I’m aware, no one countered these remarks by pointing out that first, there is no such nationality or ethnicity as a “Semite,” and second, that the term “anti-Semitism” was devised by anti-Semites to give their loathing of the Jews scientific respectability.

It got worse, though—much worse. Imagine a meeting about segregation in the Deep South, with one speaker paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and another pointing out that these uncivilized descendants of African slaves bore the lion’s share of the blame for the racism heaped upon them, and you’ll have some idea of what the delegate from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the U.N. Abdallah Al-Moualimi—had to say on the topic of anti-Semitism.

“Occupation itself is an anti-Semitic act, because it threatens humankind and human rights,” he said. “The persecution of the Palestinian people and the denial of their human rights—this is also an example of anti-Semitism.”

In other words, the man from the OIC was saying, why are we talking about hatred directed towards Jews when the real issue is the “anti-Semitic”—his word, definitely not mine—treatment of the Palestinians by Israel? In listening to the denial of the historical nature of anti-Semitism as a form of prejudice targeting Jews, I and everyone else in that room witnessed an act of, well, anti-Semitism.

Nobody walked out or protested (although when I muttered my own disgust, a few people turned around and gave me glaring looks). And this seemed to me to underline Prosor’s point: that not only does anti-Semitism stalk the halls of the U.N., but that we expect nothing else.

Why, then, bother trying to engage the U.N. as a partner in the fight against anti-Semitism? Why agree to meetings in which the imperative of protecting Jews is compromised by the presence of those determined to insult them? Why put up with obligatory mentions of “Islamophobia”—a term that doesn’t refer to bigotry against Muslims, but seeks to silence those who offer theological critiques of Islam as a faith—in order to balance out all these references to anti-Semitism?

Therefore, I want to suggest an alternative tack. While it would be churlish to demean the efforts of Jewish advocacy organizations and the Israeli U.N. delegation in helping to pull off the meeting, it’s important to recognize that our side of the debate doesn’t have full control of the proceedings, and never will. As long as we fail to control the substance of the debate, and as long as we are powerless to weed out anti-Semites like the OIC delegate from these deliberations, we will never properly explain to the world what anti-Semitism involves.

Ultimately, it’s not about trading in discredited stereotypes or being nasty to individual Jews—these are just expressions of a more complex underlying phenomenon. In the era of the Jewish state, anti-Semitism has transformed itself into a reactionary movement in the literal sense of that word. It seeks the restoration of the status quo that prevailed before the Second World War, when there was no Jewish state, and when Jews were by definition a minority at the mercy of others.

That is what we have to oppose. And so, if there is a future meeting about anti-Semitism at the U.N., or at a national parliament, or any similar body, let’s state at the beginning that the movement to destroy Israel—which spans Middle Eastern governments, Middle Eastern terrorist groups, and assorted Western activists brandishing signs in favor of anti-Israel boycotts—is the greatest concern and the greatest threat.

If we can’t say any of those things, then it’s probably not worth holding the meeting to begin with.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Mi Grandin

    Julian Clovelly – are you for real? How can it be racist to want rights for your people? And don’t come dragging with the “you stole the palestinians’ land” because the Jews certainly didn’t. It’s a safe bet that you don’t even know what “Zionism” actually is and means. Your comment shows all the signs of it. There is nothing racist about Zionism – unless of course you have bought all the rubbish spouting from the mouths of Jew-haters, BDS’ers and terrorists. Hamas is racist if anything. Fatah too, for that matter. No Jews will be allowed to live in a country called ‘palestine’ – as if such a country ever existed – and the racists in Fatah and Hamas are all in agreement – there will be no Israel. Just look at their maps. Their aim – spoken and written in their charter – is to kill all Jews. And that’s not racist?

  • Eve

    Comment about the author: I have attended discussions where Ben Cohen has sat as a panelist; I have read many of his columns. He has an incisive, brilliant mind. Always enlightening. Always on point. Thank you, Mr. Cohen.

  • barry panensky


  • Julian Tepper

    First, and as I did on my radio show earlier this century, let us ban all forms of the word, “anti-semite.”

    Let us use instead all forms of the more direct phrases, “Jew-hatred” and “Israel-hatred.”

    Next, let us call meetings of the sort described in this article, “Dealing with Jew-Hatred and Israel-Hatred.”

    And finally, let us Jews feel and recognize a developing Jew-Hatred and Israel-Hatred that will, if we do not organize and take coordinated steps effectively to quell those two enemies of our existence, make “never again” just another unfulfilled hope.

    No one, not even the United States of America, will do this for us.

    Julian Tepper
    Brooklyn, NY

    • READER

      Yes, lets! The world is FED UP with Jewish zionism and perpetual war, along with Jewish usury and warmongering. STOP ALL THAT, and you may STOP anti-semitism. NOT BEFORE!

  • The U.N. is an antisemetic organization
    The U.N. Antisemitism agenda.
    This is all smoke and mirrors.
    The history of the U.N. in relationship to Israel which affects antisemitism worldwide, has been shameful and catastrophic.
    When you have an organization where a substantial part of its members are adamantly anti Israel and promote her destruction.
    Members who spew hate and violence.
    Members who consistently vote against Israel without justification or humane logic.
    An organization that finances terrorism and helps Hamas and its ilk to hide weapons and launch missiles from U.N. facilities against innocent civilians, men, women and children.
    Look at the history of U.N. resolutions against Israel and the resolutions against the terrorists organization confronting Israel.
    The U.N. an organization that is extremely biased against Israel.
    When you put members of states that violate human rights on a daily basis on the Human rights commission, that speaks volumes.
    I can go on and on.
    Need I say more.
    YJ Draiman

  • Americans, Jews, Israelis need to standup for Israel and help the Israel Longhorn Project at

    • Cole

      NO, we don’t. We will NOT stand up for Israel’s perpetual warmongering “using” US taxpayer MONEY and US soldiers. Israel is a PARASITE on the U.S. monetarily and has placed all its dual-citizens at the TOP LEVELS of virtually EVERY federal agency. DETACH YOUR PARSITE SELVES and SUPPORT YOUR OWN SELVES AND YOUR NEVER-ENDING WARS.

  • Isn’t asking the UN to discuss anti-Semitism a bit like calling a meeting of skunks, weasels, foxes and perhaps a chicken or two to discuss the endangerment of chickens?

    • Elle

      Exactly! The meeting only allowed the Un to claim it is addressing the issue of anti-Semitism while the fires of anti-Semitism are stoked at virtually every meeting of this evil organization

  • Mae Rogers

    “I am frequently asked if I have visited Israel, whereas yet, it is simply assumed that I have. Well, I don’t travel. I really don’t, and if I did, I probably wouldn’t visit Israel. I remember how it was in 1948 when Israel was being established and all my Jewish friends were ecstatic, I was not. I said: what are we doing? We are establishing ourselves in a ghetto, in a small corner of a vast Muslim sea. The Muslims will never forget nor forgive, and Israel, as long as it exists, will be embattled. I was laughed at, but I was right. I can’t help but feel that the Jews didn’t really have the right to appropriate a territory only because 2000 years ago, people they consider their ancestors, were living there. History moves on and you can’t really turn it back. (#92 ff.)”

    “• Isaac Asimov, Asimov Laughs Again: More Than 700 Jokes, Limericks and Anecdotes

  • Mae Rogers

    If Israel would stop colonizing land that does not belong to Israel. Then your argument might have a small amount of validity. But they have not, and we know they will not. So It never will. If being anti colonialist. Being anti theft and anti war is anti semite. Whose fault is that?

    • Victor

      I’d bet that Mae Rogers isn’t “anti-colonialist,… anti-theft, or anti-war”, but would eagerly support Muslim imperialism anywhere it takes place (that’s what Boko Haram is doing), theft from Jews and Christians (that’s what the record demonstrates for basically any country in the region where Jews and Christians used to live as minorities under colonialist Muslims) and the jihad against anyone who isn’t on the side of those waging it.

    • Doug Graves

      Ms. Rogers;

      The “fault” you refer to in your comment might rest with
      people such as yourselves. It might safely be assumed
      you have never been to the area in question, nor engaged
      in any form of research on the myriad aspects of the middle east, let alone the hundreds of land sale transactions.

      You seem to believe that the land in question was stolen.
      In the real world, not in the fantasy realm which you
      apparently inhabit, purchase is not theft.

      There are lists of hundreds of landowners that sold land
      to the Jewish National Fund and other related entities.
      Unfortunately, you seem to be unaware of this. Why is that? Is it because you believe What you have heard or are told?

      These individuals and families who sold vast
      quantities of land were the same people that betrayed the fellaheen.

      Similar disenfranchisement took place under the Ottomons
      for hundreds of years. The Fellaheen often refused to
      seek title to land worked due to onerous taxes and forced
      conscription by the Turks. The same Turks, who denied
      (so called) Palestinians their rights for hundreds of years now call for justice for the same people they subjugated. not one iota of evidence has surfaced that
      the Turks were willing or contemplated giving the local
      inhabitants rights, let alone a polity.

      These Sellers of large tracts of land were absentee
      landowners, and many were also major figures within the
      ( so called) Palestinian elite.

      Even more Ironic, after selling out their own people and
      dispossessing them, these same land sellers railed
      against the Jews to distract the dispossessed from the
      true betrayers, i.e, the former owners who sold property.
      These landowners, high officials and Elite, after selling the land, used agent provocateurs to claim, like you, that it was the Jews, not them, that sold out their
      own people. This resulted in deadly riots in the 1920s
      and 1930s.

      The majority of individuals that sold land to the Jews
      were members of the elite Arabs; the fact that these names listed were all notables and members of(so called)
      Palestinian leadership positions makes their actions
      all the more galling.

      As the list of these culprits is far too long to list in
      this venue, I will limit the number, and post other names
      of these illustrious “Palestinian” leaders in future postings.

      Partial list of Palestinian Arab Politicians and Notables
      involved in Land Transfers to Jews, 1918 to 2945.

      Note: The Individuals mentioned below sold land before,
      during, or after their involvement in the Palestine
      natonal movement.

      1) Abu Hantash, Sold 821 dunams at Qaqum
      ‘Abd al-Latif in 1925 for P2,564 in the
      Tulkarm subdistrict (11)
      Village Shaykh
      at Qaqun;

      Participated in attacks
      on Jews in Hadera in 1921.
      helped organize “Farmer’s
      party” in 1924; organized
      opposition to JNF purchase
      of Wadi Qabbani in the 1930s.

      2)Abu-Hantash, Muhammed

      Member of the Palestine
      Arab party.

      Sold lands in Attil and Qaqun in the Tulkarm
      subdistrict. in Qaqun his portion of 143,457
      dunams. (2,3,6)

      3) Abu-Khadra,

      Notable from Jaffa;

      Sold 4,600 dunams to the “Ahuza” Company
      at a rate of 350 piastres per dunam .
      (al-Hayat, 8 July 1931). (2,6)

      4) Abyad, Anis,
      Jemal, Yusef, Adlin;

      Notable family from Haifa
      and environs;

      Sold at least 4,500 dunams
      to Raja Ra’is in Shatta
      village in the Beisan subdistrict
      with the knowledge that Ra’is
      wasa bout to sell the land to the
      JNF; ( Hankin to PDLC, 2 July 1930
      CZA, KKL 5/Box 532).

      5) al-Alami,

      Government advocate;
      private secretary to
      High Commissioner Wauchope.
      member of the Palestine Arab
      delegation to London Conference
      of 1939; brother in law of
      Jamal al-Husayni; in 1946 was a
      member of the Arab Executive Committee.

      Sold 900 dunams of Land in Beisan;
      (minutes oft he eighth meeting of
      St. James Palace Conference, London,
      20 February 1939, CZA, S25/7333 (2)

      6) al-Baytar

      Representative from Jaffa to 4th,
      5th, 6th, and 7th Arab congresses.
      former chairman of the Muslim-Christian
      Association of Jaffa. Member of the
      Arab Executive, 1921 to 1934; several
      tenures as mayor of Jaffa, the last one
      in 1941 to 1945.

      Sold lands at Yahudia in the Jaffa
      subdistrict; sold 3,276 dunams for
      P40,879 in Kheirieh in the Jaffa subdistrict
      ink conjunction with fellaheen; sold an
      unspecified amount of land in Miska in
      the Tulkarm subdistrict; This amount included
      compensation to tenants as well as key money
      for other purposes. ( Criminal Investigation
      Division Reports, 10 March 1933, FO/371/16926).
      (2,6,8,10, 12)

      7) Basiso,
      Khalil Yusuf

      Member of the Arab Executive,
      elected to 7th Congress for Gaza.

      In April, 1942, sold 471 dunams to the JNF
      in Gaza for P1,200 (ISA, Box 3874/file 7,
      Schedule for April 19420. (6)

      8) Bushnaq,
      Ahmed Ali

      Shared in the Sale at Baqa al-Gharbiyah
      in the Tulkarm subdistrict of 21,300 dunams
      transfered between 1920 and 1929; shared in
      the sale price of P70,000. (9,10)

      9) Abd-al-Hadi

      Member of the Syrian Arab
      Congress; served with Emir
      Faysal; legal advisor to the
      Supreme Muslim Council;
      representative from Jenin
      to the 5th and 6th Arab congresses;
      representative to the 7th Arab Congress.
      member of the Palestine Arab delegation
      to London, 1930; leader of the Istiqlal
      party, 1932 and 1933.member of the
      Palestinian Arab delegation to London, 1939

      Acted as legal advocate to the PDLC and JNF
      in the sale of 30,000 dunams at Wadi Hawarith
      in April 1929; received 2,700 pounds as his fee.
      (Hankin to PDLC, 3 December 1929. CZA, Z4/3444/3).
      exchange of corresspondence between Tulkarm District
      Officer and Assistant Director of Development,
      (7 and 12 January 1933, ISA, Box 3372). (2,6)

      10) al-Hajj,
      Ibrahim Shaykh
      ‘Abdul Latif

      Representative to the 3rd and 5th
      Arab congresses from Tulkarm.

      Sold 484 dunams at Taibiyah and
      300 dunams at Kfar Zibad in the
      Tulkarm subdistrict in 1928 and
      1929. (3)

      11) Heykal,

      Sold 8,760 dunams between 1922
      and 1929 for P42,364 at Jalil
      in the Jaffa subdistrict; the sale
      was made with Mahmud Salim al-Omari,
      ‘Abdul Latif al-Omari, Ibrahim al-‘Asi,
      Mustafa Salah al-‘Asi, Sa’ida al-Aswad,
      and Salha Mahmud al-Karim.(3)

      12) al-Husayni,

      Official of the Immigration
      Department of the Palestine
      administration; member of the
      Palestine Arab Party; brother
      of Jamal al-Husayni

      Sold an unspecified amount of
      citrus groves at Wadi Hanin
      in the Ramle subdistrict (6)

      As a small mind rarely expands, I will refrain from
      typing further at this time. Also, the effort may be
      futile in such cases as yours.

      You are neither arab/muslim nor Jew. Leave the issues
      to those that are directly involved, and understand
      it. Find another venue to make cursory and uninformed statements.

      More names of “notables” and “High Officials”, including
      the al-Husayni family,as well as scores of others who sold lands in the area in question, as well as in and around Jerusalem are available to those who are interested.

  • steven L

    The intellectual level of the majority of UN representatives is very very very low. That is why they are there for the majority.

  • Leo Toystory

    It is NOT worth holding the meetings to begin with, in fact, it is counterproductive. There is absolutely no way to deal with the insane and evil countries who wish to see Israel destroyed other than by making turnabout fair play. If a man comes to kill your family kill him first.

  • Julian Clovelley

    Zionism is a problem to the existence of Israel every bet as big as Hamas. It has its own agenda and drags Israel and the Jewish community down into it again and again and then classifies the world’s protests as “antisemitism” which very often they are not

    Jewish leaders recognised that Zionism was dangerous to the Jewish Community a century and more ago. How many more disasters including possibly the loss of Israel – before enough Jewish people recognise their past leaders were always right?

    Zionism is racist – you can’t complain about racism when you stoke such fires yourself

    • Stan

      Zionism is no more racist than any other nationalism. It differs from others primarily in that its stem (Zion) is not the name of the country involved (Israel). For people with any intelligence, this shouldn’t matter at all.

      The concern that Jewish leaders had about Zionism was not that it was racist but that it would lead to nationalism competing with religious orthodoxy. Curiously, those who make the point “Jewish leaders recognised that Zionism was dangerous to the Jewish Community” tend to regard the black hat types as even more evil than Zionists. The unavoidable conclusion is that they haven’t a clue what they’re actually saying, but say it because attacking Jews makes them feel good.