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Is the United Nations Anti-Semitic?

A group of children, students at the UN International School in New York, January 1968. (UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata)

“Let’s Be Honest: The United Nations Is Anti-Semitic,” is the title of a recent commentary by Southern Baptist leader Robert Jeffress. In it, Jeffress declares that the UN is on “the wrong side of history,” while Donald Trump is “on the right side of God.”

This is “the only explanation,” writes Jeffress, for why most UN members opposed the American decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem—their abhorrence of Jews.

Let me stress before I go after Jeffress and other authorized conservatives that I am not in any way anti-Israel. I think the Jewish state behaves far more decently towards its people than most of its neighbors and runs a first-world society that is economically and culturally productive. The booming Israeli economy would probably benefit the surrounding Arab countries if they could be induced to deal with Israel as a friend. But I also understand the just grievances of the Palestinians who feel caged on the West Bank and in Gaza and who in many cases were driven out of their homes by Israeli armies in 1948. Although my cultural sympathies are with the Israelis, I can appreciate the fact that in the present situation there is right on both sides. I also understand the concern of Jewish populations in Europe and elsewhere that anti-Israeli feelings that have been fed by Arab leaders for generations have turned into raging, poisonous hatred for Jews. I certainly wouldn’t deny that the attacks on identifiable Jews, in many cases Orthodox ones, on European streets by Islamists reflects anti-Semitic passions.

I would also note that the U.S. has just reduced its annual contributions to the UN, something Jeffress and the conservative establishment have demanded. I can certainly live with that decision. I have never been a fan of dumping foreign aid on other countries or, outside of our obligatory dues, on the UN. Getting rid of foreign aid might reduce the enormous domestic and foreign lobby that has proliferated around a government practice that deserves to be rescinded. Furthermore, I was not outraged that Donald Trump decided to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by moving our embassy there. I think Nikki Haley is right when she argues that we usually place our embassy in what other countries recognize as their capital cities. Israel should be no exception, even if other members of the UN disapprove. Nor do I buy the argument that we stalled a productive peace process by taking this step. That process broke down a long time ago and will not be put in the deep freeze simply because of our recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Now that I’ve provided full disclosure, let me express my utter disgust with the posturing engaged in by the conservative establishment on cue, given its funding sources, regarding the UN vote against Trump’s decision. Are we really supposed to believe that all those countries that voted against our government’s decision or abstained, including the virtue-signaling anti-fascist Germans, French, and English, were venting hatred on the Jewish people? Please note that almost all Western countries refused to vote with us last week; and most of them obsessively prosecute anyone (at least on the Right) believed to be making anti-Jewish statements. Although some of these countries were eager to show solidarity with the Third World, I doubt that anti-Semitism was high on their list for doing what they did.

Also exasperating, is the demand coming from both the Trump administration and the authorized conservative press that we punish the UN by taking away funds because we lost a vote there. Is our support of that institution contingent on it always voting with our government? Sometimes the interests and policies of countries clash. Presumably our interests have clashed with those of other UN members in the past, but not in a way that was quite as useful to Republican publicists as this difference of judgment. Unlike some earlier clashes, this one has rallied the Christian Zionist base of the GOP and accommodated certain identifiable Republican donors.

In a more sophisticated analysis than Jeffress’s diatribe, veteran neoconservative columnist Seth Lipsky mixes his encomia to Nikki Haley as “our Joan of Arc against the folly of world government” with sensible historical observations. Lipsky properly praises Senator William Borah and other critics of world government for having helped keep the U.S. out of the League of Nations. Membership in that body would have dragged the U.S. into messy military obligations overseas that our Senate was wise enough to avoid after our unsuccessful War to End All Wars. But Lipsky takes a more sympathetic view of the early UN based on the fact that it voted to recognize the state of Israel in 1948. Once the UN turned against Israel, however, we are made to believe that it “was all downhill.” Moreover, reading Lipsky’s extravagant praise for Haley for having championed the Israeli cause, I have to wonder whether this lady truly overshadows others who served in her post, as Lipsky suggests. It seems to me that Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., who was Eisenhower’s ambassador, and then Adlai Stevenson, who served under Kennedy, faced far greater challenges than those that have confronted Haley. Both of these previous ambassadors served at the height of the Cold War.

On the Fox News website, one can find a list of those supposedly commendable countries that voted against censuring the U.S. for recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. In all probability, Jeffress, Lipsky, Sheldon Adelson, and Paul Singer would view these countries as free of the taint of anti-Semitism. They are, besides Israel, the U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Paulau, and Togo, all bastions of a civilization that have somehow stayed free of the anti-Semitic contagion. But am I allowed to suspect that we bought the votes of some of those countries with offers of foreign aid?

In fact, I’d be shocked if this wasn’t the case.

Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe.

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