Once Again, NGOs Are at the Center of a UN Blunder
The close alliance between United Nations frameworks that demonize Israel and politicized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) keeps coming to the surface. The latest case materialized on March 15, 2017, when a little known agency — the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) — published a report alleging that beyond “reasonable doubt” Israel is an apartheid regime. The report, authored by the notoriously anti-Israel Richard Falk (also a 9/11 conspiracy theorist) and Virginia Tilley (author of The One State Solution), was subsequently revoked by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, prompting the resignation of the head of UNESCWA.
The decision by Guterres showed more moral spine than the UN is accustomed to, but significant damage was already done. Indeed, the infamous 1975 UN “Zionism is racism” resolution, revoked in a motion supported by 111 member states in 1991, is still cited today as if it were international writ. Groups like “Students for Justice in Palestine” and “Jewish Voice for Peace” at Columbia University, for example, hosted a February event this year entitled “Zionists are Racists” referring to the revoked 1975 UN resolution.
The ESCWA report is the latest example of how anti-Israel activists exploit UN frameworks and rely on biased NGOs to invent “legal” accusations against Israel.
Many of the 90 citations in the ESCWA document reference Tilley’s own book, Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (So much for the pretense of objectivity.) One footnote acknowledges that an entire section of the UN report, “Apartheid through fragmentation,” is largely a cut and paste from Chapter 4 of her book, titled “Review of Israeli Practices Relative to the Prohibition of Apartheid.”
In that chapter, 167 of the footnotes (~25%) rely on claims from well known anti-Israel political advocacy NGOs, including Al-Haq, Addameer, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P). These four organizations have direct or indirect ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization – designated as such by the US, EU, Canada, and Israel. Their propaganda, repeated by Tilley and then Falk, are ideological – not factual, even in the loosest sense of the word.
Examining the NGOs sourced in both documents further demonstrates that the ESCWA’s conclusions are pure political farce. For example, the report demonizes Israeli laws as comprising “a regime of systematic racial discrimination that imposes second-class citizenship on Palestinian citizens of Israel.” Falk and Tilley cite the Israeli NGO Adalah’s “Discriminatory Laws Database,” an online “resource” that does not distinguish between actual laws and long-dead legislative proposals, while also referring to Zionism pejoratively. Tilley’s chapter similarly cites Adalah 13 times, referring to various articles that attack Israeli legislation.
Furthermore, one of the criteria set out by the authors of the ESCWA report is whether “discrete inhuman acts…serve the core purpose of racial domination.” Annex 1 notes that this “evidence” comes from Tilley’s book, where she cites Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) 13 times in Chapter 4 alone. NGO Monitor research has shown that PCATI’s claims and allegations are unverifiable, thus making Tilley’s evidence of “torture in Israel” being “carried out in an orderly and institutional fashion” similarly questionable at best.
Finally, a biased UN report could not be complete without a reference to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Tilley references a 2005 report by HRW that is typical of the organization’s regular accusations of Israeli human rights violations that omit the context of terror under which Israeli military action takes place.
Guterres should be applauded for his swift action in disowning this vituperative report. However, this incident again highlights the lack of oversight that allowed this document to be published in the first place. The authors’ personal biases should have rendered them incapable from the start. Tilley’s extensive self-reference and reliance on political NGOs for much of the text created another huge embarrassment for the UN.
Until the UN is able to select less biased authors and prevent reliance on politicized NGO sources, then we will continue to witness the same delegitimization campaigns taking place with ease against Israel on the international stage.
Becca Wertman is deputy editor at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.