On 27 January 2015 commemorations were held around the world to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation by Soviet Troops of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi extermination camps. The Sydney Jewish Museum hosted a commemoration at which survivors bore testimony not only to their courage but also to their strength and spiritual resilience. In his keynote address, Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial, remarked that, ‘anti-Semitism did not end with the liberation of the death camps, nor with the end of the war, the Nuremberg trials, and nor even the formation of the United Nations.’ Nor has it ended yet, Nelson warned emphatically.
This statement was unintentionally ironic given that Nelson’s speech was preceded by a Canberra-based United Nation’s official who was charged with reading the UN Secretary-General’s 2015 annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day message, in which UN chief Ban Ki-moon, noted that ‘Anti-Semitic attacks continue with Jews being killed solely because they are Jews.’ Ban Ki-moon also declared that the UN’s global mission had been ‘shaped by the tragedy of the Second World War and the Holocaust.’ These sentiments sounded sincere but rang hollow. The use of the words ‘United’, ‘Nations’ and ‘Holocaust’ (and let’s throw in ‘Israel’ for good measure) in the same sentence has an unsettling effect because whatever the UN may say about its lofty aspirations for Israel and the Jewish people, it jars with the reality.
Founded in 1945, the UN may think its mission was shaped by the horrors of Auschwitz, but it did not get round to remembering the Holocaust for another sixty years. It was only in 2005 that the General Assembly passed Resolution 60/7 designating 27 January as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. For much of its history, the UN has devoted considerable energy not to defeating anti-Semitism but to defending it, and to censuring the tiny, liberal, democratic state of Israel. From the late 60s the campaign against Israel gained real momentum thanks to the Arab states and the Soviet Union. More countries were recruited to the cause until in 1975 the anti-Israel members mustered enough votes to pass the infamous ‘Zionism is Racism’ Resolution, with Australia opposing the motion. It was only revoked in 1991 under considerable pressure from the USA, and with Australia voting in favour of revocation.
Yet the legacy of 1975 is intact. Far from redoubling its efforts ‘to eradicate the deep roots of hatred and intolerance [and] build a world of inclusion and mutual respect’, as Ban Ki-moon claimed, the UN remains committed to putting Israel in the dock at every opportunity. Only last year the General Assembly passed a total of 24 resolutions criticizing governments for a miscellany of violations. One was passed against Syria, a nation that has murdered over 200,000 of its citizens; and one each was passed against Iran, Ukraine and North Korea. The remaining 20 resolutions singled out Israel for criticism.
The General Assembly had nothing to say about systematic human rights abuses committed in Pakistan which regularly murders people for the ‘crime’ of blasphemy, or Saudi Arabia which flogs, mutilates and beheads its citizens, or Libya which is a bloody and convulsing failed state, or Yemen, Zimbabwe, Sudan, China or Cuba, or… well, you get the picture. Most other years at the General Assembly follow the same pattern, and truly make the passage of Resolution 60/7 in 2005 the exception to the rule.
Added to which is the anti-Israel bias of the three UN bodies devoted specifically to the Palestinian cause: the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People, created in 1968; the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, created in 1975; and the Division for Palestinian Rights, created in 1977 and lodged within the UN Secretariat. Three committees devoted to a common purpose: using the banner of the UN to demonise Israel as a pariah state condemned by so-called respectable world opinion. For decades, Australia has stood staunchly beside Israel, but support seems to be wavering. In December 2012, Australia turned its back on Israel when the General Assembly voted in favour of conferring state observer status on the Palestinians. Prime Minister Julia Gillard had been determined to oppose the Palestinians’ bid. Foreign Minister Bob Carr had other ideas.
Accusing Gillard of being influenced by ‘the Australian Israel lobby’ (or ‘Likudniks’ as he dubbed them), he fomented a revolt in cabinet and caucus and forced the Prime Minister to abstain from the vote rather than vote against it. Carr was continuing the work of his predecessor, Kevin Rudd, who had already been at work on plans to curry favour at the UN and break Australia’s longstanding bipartisanship on Israel by suggesting an abstention on the Palestinian issue.
Explanations for this shift in Labor policy to a more ‘pro-Palestinian’ position are presented in high moral terms about the plight of the Palestinians. Completely ignored are the murderous assaults launched by Hamas upon democratic Israel. The electoral vulnerability of Labor seats in Muslim populated areas of western Sydney offers a more prosaic explanation. Electoral politics at home threaten to infuse Australia’s foreign policy with a nasty taint of the anti-Semitism that is stock in trade at the UN.
The Abbott Government has since reversed Australia’s anti-Israel direction, restoring our support for the only stable democracy in the Middle East. But it remains vulnerable to the opinion of the ‘Muslim street’ in the suburbs of Australia as the ‘Team Australia’ explanation for the cave-in over amending 18c showed. The demon of anti-Semitism is stirring once again and Jews around the world are confronted by renewed hatred and intolerance. Pressure from politically significant Muslim populations on the governments of member states threatens to give strength to the UN’s anti-Israel stance. Australia is clearly not immune to this pressure, but what we do about it will determine whether our remembrance of the Holocaust is more than just paying lip service to the pledge of ‘never again’.
Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies
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