Lipstadt: UNHRC 'regularly' crosses line into antisemitism

Meeting with UN chief, Netanyahu demands world body ‘change attitude’ toward Israel

Prime minister accuses United Nations of ‘baseless criticism’ of Jewish state; in talk with Palestinian president, secretary-general discusses ‘ending occupation’

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters, September 20, 2023. (AP/Craig Ruttle)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters, September 20, 2023. (AP/Craig Ruttle)

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday urged United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to change the UN’s approach to Israel during a meeting in New York.

Netanyahu demanded the UN “change the attitude of the organization’s institutions toward the State of Israel,” the Government Press Office said in a statement.

The prime minister also stated that while Israel was increasingly accepted in the Middle East, it was “untenable” that the UN “was unaffected and remained steadfast in its hostility to Israel,” the statement said.

Netanyahu accused the world body of “baseless criticism of Israel,” and urged the UN to condemn “Iranian subversion and Palestinian terrorism.”

Guterres’s office said he and Netanyahu had discussed regional developments including the Palestinians, and that the secretary-general had reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution.

Guterres condemned violence, “including acts of terror,” his office said, and noted that “security operations must be conducted in full respect” of international law.

In July, Guterres said Israel had “obviously” used excessive force during a counter-terror operation in the West Bank city of Jenin. The allegation marked a rare, direct condemnation of Israel from the secretary-general, and sparked an open dispute between the UN chief and Israel’s ambassador to the world body, Gilad Erdan.

The Jenin operation came in response to a series of deadly terror attacks emanating from Jenin, and all 12 Palestinian fatalities were combatants, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Most were claimed by terror groups.

Netanyahu and Guterres met at UN Headquarters in New York City during the UN’s annual General Assembly gathering. Netanyahu will address the General Assembly on Friday morning.

Guterres also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.

Guterres’s office said they discussed “developments in the occupied Palestinian territory and support to the Palestinian people.”

Abbas and Guterres “reaffirmed their shared commitment towards ending the occupation and achieving a viable two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital,” Guterres’s office said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York City, September 19, 2023. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

Israel and the US have long accused the UN of bias against the Jewish state.

The General Assembly passed more resolutions critical of Israel than against all other nations combined in 2022, continuing a long pattern of outsize focus on the Jewish state.

In addition to resolutions, there are two open-ended UN investigations into Israel, the only country under such scrutiny. Members of both probes are harshly critical of Israel and are on the record making antisemitic statements, but have not been removed from their positions, despite pressure to do so.

Guterres regularly criticizes Israel, but rarely speaks out against Palestinian actions.

Opening the General Assembly on Tuesday, Guterres highlighted the Israel-Palestinian conflict, lamenting a surge in violence over the past year and a half.

“In the Middle East, escalating violence and bloodshed in the occupied Palestinian territory is taking a terrible toll on civilians,” he said.

Guterres also warned that “unilateral actions are intensifying,” in an apparent reference to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, “and undermining the possibility of a two-state solution, the only pathway to lasting peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis.”

US Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt, center, speaks with the head of the American Jewish Committee Ted Deutch at a conference in New York City, September 19, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

US Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt said the UN Human Rights Council was often antisemitic at an event hosted by the American Jewish Committee in New York City on Tuesday.

“The Human Rights Council is one of the places where anti-Israel bias so regularly crosses into antisemitism,” Lipstadt said.

Israel’s envoy to the Geneva-based UNHRC said earlier this year that Israel had been the target of around one-third of all condemnatory resolutions the council has passed since its creation in 2006.

“Being critical of Israeli policy is not antisemitism,” Lipstadt said, but “we so often see the criticism morphing into antisemitism, or even worse, we see criticism of Israel being used as a guise for antisemitism and I think it has to be called out.”

Lipstadt, a moral authority on antisemitism, said she hoped a plan the UN is formulating to combat anti-Jewish discrimination “will be a game changer.”

“I hope it will be something that will allow many people who have lost faith in the UN on this issue to regain some of that faith,” she said. “We’re going to have to see what the final product is.”

A UN conference on antisemitism that was scheduled for June was postponed and has not yet taken place.

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