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January 1, 2018 1:16 pm

The UN Vote on Jerusalem: A Disturbing Diplomatic Debacle

avatar by Martin Sherman

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The United Nations General Assembly hall. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“The General Assembly …[a]ffirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded … and in this regard, calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

     — Excerpt from UN General Assembly resolution ES-10/L.22, Dec. 21, 2017, proposed by Yemen and Turkey, demanding that the US retract its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a measure rejecting the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a stunning rebuke of a U.S. decision that allies and adversaries alike warned would undermine prospects for peace.” 

— Washington Post, Dec. 21, 2017.

“A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individuallyIf Algeria introduced a resolution 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.” 

     — Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister, 1966-74.

On Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, the world — almost unanimously — voted against the Jews and their nation-state, Israel.

Reprehensible resolution

On that day, the United Nations General Assembly, in an emergency session, voted by an overwhelming majority in favor of a resolution so absurd that it would be inconceivable in almost any other context in which Jews were not those singled out by it for rebuke.

It was a reprehensible resolution.

Indeed, it flew in the face of historical truth, current reality and any ethical standard of common decency.

Under any other circumstances, it would be unthinkable that a sovereign country would be denied the right to determine which city should serve as its capital — especially when that city is inseparably associated with its history, predating the existence of virtually all its UN critics. Similarly, under any other circumstances it would be inconceivable that another sovereign nation would be singled out for reprimand for recognizing such historical association and acknowledging the city as the designated capital of that country.

To make the phenomenon even more absurd, the alleged rationale for the resolution was that it was designed to prevent prejudging the outcome of the decades-long dispute between Arab and Jew for control over the Holy Land, in general, and over Jerusalem, in particular — and keep open the possibility of somehow resolving the conflict by the establishment of a Judeophobic, homophobic, misogynistic Muslim-majority tyranny in the areas (including the eastern section of Jerusalem) lost by Jordan in 1967 in its failed attempt to annihilate the Jewish state.

Go figure.

Double disgrace

The decision — affirmed by 128 member states and opposed by 9, with 35 abstaining and 21 absenting themselves from the vote — to deem US recognition of Jerusalem (albeit within undefined borders) “null and void” was a double disgrace.

Firstly, it was a mark of shame for all the countries that did not oppose it — including those who abstained and/or absented themselves from the vote. For there is scarcely more honor in refraining from such an ignominious motion than there is in supporting it — especially when such feigned neutrality ensures its overwhelming endorsement.

But there was another element of disgrace attached to the results of UN vote on Jerusalem, and it is one that Israel, itself, must bear — or at least one that those charged with formulating and executing Israel’s strategic diplomacy (assuming any existence thereof) must bear.

For the results of vote reflect a devastating failure of Israeli diplomacy — despite the unwavering backing of the most powerful UN member state, the US.

Indeed, had Israel, over the past near-decade, since the so-called Israeli “Right” regained the reins of power, conducted an effective and adequately funded strategic diplomatic offensive, this kind of international rejection of elementary Jewish rights would have been unthinkable.

I realize that many will find this a highly contentious contention — but I am convinced of its validity and the urgent need to address the peril it portends.

Raining on the parade: What if Hillary had won?

Of course, I do not wish to “rain on the parade” and diminish the significance of the diplomatic victory entailed in the Trump administration’s decision to acknowledge the indisputable facts on the ground and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — and to set in motion preparations to transfer the US embassy to the city.

However, this fortunate outcome is hardly the result of Israel’s diplomatic strategy, but rather the unexpected outcome of the 2016 presidential election in the US.

Indeed, one shudders to think of what would have happened, if, as widely predicted, Hillary Clinton had won — especially given the precedent set by the Obama administration in withholding the US veto against a virulently anti-Israeli resolution, allowing it to pass unopposed in the Security Council in December 2016. After all, it is far from implausible that, if the elections has gone as expected, Israel would have been facing a very different, and far more hostile, global environment — with the prospect of international sanctions, not merely international censure, becoming increasingly tangible.

Accordingly, with so much at stake, it hardly seems a reasonable or responsible policy to leave such fateful issues dependent on the fortuitous workings of chance. So, perhaps the most important lesson to be derived from the dismal UN vote last week, is something that should have been painfully obvious for years — but sadly has not been: Israel needs to adopt a far more robust and proactive posture in determining is international stature among the nations of the world.

Cold comfort

For the results of vote were in fact far worse than the mere numerical tally — in itself dismaying enough — would suggest.

For the fact that nine nations voted against the resolution is cold comfort indeed. After all, out of those nine, two were Israel and the US themselves, against whom resolution was directed. Of the remaining seven, a majority — four — were tiny and remote islands in the Pacific (Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia), whose combined population is less than 200,000, and whose total area comprises under 1500 square kilometers. The remaining three — Togo, Guatemala and Honduras — are, with all due respect, not countries that marshal huge international influence.

Accordingly, it would, in large measure, be accurate to admit that Israel and the Trump administration were left in splendid isolation against the entire world. This should be a matter of serious concern — for there is little guarantee as to the durability of the Trump incumbency or of the political proclivity of any potential successor.

This, then, is a totally unacceptable situation and one on which Israel can ill-afford to be either complacent or fatalistic — complacent in the sense that the resolution has no practical effect and thus there no need for serious concern; fatalistic in the sense that because of inherent anti-Semitism, the dice is inevitably “loaded” against Israel and hence, there is no point in serious concern.

Both these claims should be resolutely rejected.

Inexcusably and inexplicably remiss

For years Israel has been inexcusably and inexplicably remiss in presenting its case to the world and equally remiss in undermining and discrediting that of its Arab adversaries.

This dangerous disregard is best reflected by two grave lacunae: (a) the hopelessly inadequate resources devoted to Israeli diplomacy in general and to public diplomacy in particular; and (b) Israel’s official embrace of “Palestinian nationhood” and its consequent reluctance to delegitimize the fallacious narrative on which it is based, and the mendacious myths that underpin it.

This dereliction of diplomatic duty is having dire consequences on several levels. Arguably, among the two most severe are the growing threat to bipartisan backing Israel has traditionally enjoyed in the US, and the disturbing erosion of support among the younger generation (i.e. tomorrow’s leaders) — even within the generally overwhelming pro-Israel Evangelical community.

For over more than half a decade, I have warned, constantly and consistently, of the potential perils entailed in this ongoing mindless neglect of the indispensable role  public diplomacy has in the nation’s strategic arsenal, and how defeat in the field of public opinion is liable to lead to setbacks on other, more tangible, battlefields. I have urged that Israel dramatically upgrade the resources devoted to public diplomacy — on which it is currently spending, globally, less than a medium-large sized Israeli corporation would spend on promoting fast food and snacks. Indeed, I have called to allot 1% of state budget — one billion dollars — for a strategic public diplomacy offensive, designed to create a diplomatic “iron dome” to protect Israel from incoming barrages of delegitimization and demonization that precipitate the kind of debacle that occurred last week at the UN.

The stirring annals of Zionist endeavor

What makes a resolution voiding and nullifying Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital particularly galling, is the total obfuscation — indeed, concealment — of the conditions that reigned in the city prior to it falling to Israel in the Six-Day War: When Arab Legion snipers, atop the walls of the old city, shot at random passers-by in the western sector of the city, when Jews were barred from entering the Jordanian controlled portions, when Jewish holy sites were desecrated, and when Jewish gravestones were used as building material. Yet no emergency session of the UN was convened to discuss and denounce these outrageous violations of religious and historic rights. Only today, when religious freedoms are scrupulously observed, does the international community find it fit to express its concern over the situation in the city.

But Israel has been partially complicit — at least passively — in permitting this perverse state of affairs to emerge — at least by default — and allowing pejorative connotations to be attached to the word “Zionism.”

After all, the rebirth of Jewish nationhood and the annals of Zionist endeavor are, undoubtedly, one of most stirring chapters of modern history. It is an enterprise that has achieved remarkable feats against impossible odds. Indeed, Zionism, as the national freedom movement of the Jewish people, has been the most successful of all national freedom movements in the last century. It has attained a combination of political independence, economic prosperity and individual liberties for its people, unmatched in virtually any other country born of the dissolution of the European empires. Beyond its borders, Israel has made amazing contributions to humanity — in medicine, agriculture, computing, communications. It has conducted remarkable humanitarian operations in disaster areas across the globe — from Nepal to Haiti.

Diplomatic incompetence not inherent antisemitism?

Yet instead of being held up as a model to be emulated, Zionism is being portrayed as a scourge to be denigrated.

The knee-jerk reaction to all this bitter enmity has been to attribute it to inherent and pervasive antisemitism. Now, while I do not want to dismiss — or even downplay — the pernicious impact of innate Judeophobia in many countries today, to attribute all, even most, anti-Israel animosity to it, is a little like searching under the light of a lamppost for the proverbial coin which was lost elsewhere in the dark,.

Indeed, as an explanation, it is a very partial one at best. For when a country like India, whose history is virtually devoid of any antisemitism, disappointingly supports the resolution, while countries like Croatia, Romania, and Ukraine, whose histories are replete with such infamy, do not, then invoking ingrained antisemitism rings somewhat hollow — and alternative, or at least supplementary, explanations are called for — like diplomatic incompetence, for example.

The two, however, might not be totally unrelated. Indeed, as I have pointed out elsewhere“[c]ontinued impotence and incompetence in the (mis)conduct of Israel’s public diplomacy is becoming not only a strategic threat to the country but is beginning to imperil Jewish communities abroad.” For when the Jewish state allows itself to be so vilified, so too are those seen to be associated with it — i.e. the Jewish communities abroad.

“Israel…has vacated the battlefield of ideas”

In an incisive and insightful interview on Israel television several years ago, prominent British journalist Melanie Phillips excoriated Israel’s public diplomacy (hasbara) as a “joke” and contended that in that, in the fight for world opinion, Israel had vacated the battle field of ideas.

Today’s leadership should heed her words, and launch a massive assault on international public opinion to ensure that the recent diplomatic debacle at the UN will in the future be impossible — or at least, highly, unlikely.

After all, no one knows who the next White House incumbent will be — or when his/hers incumbency will begin.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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