Anne Bayefsky: The UN and Human Rights

A rarity on this campus, a staunch defender of Israel and detractor of the United Nations, spoke February 10th at an event sponsored by the ASSU Speakers Bureau and Students for an Open Society, among others. Anne Bayefsky is founder of “Eye on the UN,” an organization that observes and reports on the UN’s actions on human rights. She spoke on the subject of “The UN, Human Rights, and Israel,” a collection of three terms which the man who introduced her referred to as “incompatible and antagonistic.” Bayefsky undoubtedly agreed with this assessment.

She began her speech noting the apparent irony that the United Nations, an organization which ostensibly stood for human rights, had been the force behind discrimination toward the state of Israel. Bayefsky argued that Israel has unfairly received by far more attention from the UN than any other country. To demonstrate this point, she pointed to both the long list of UN resolutions condemning Israel and the comparably miniscule one condemning the combined grouping of Syria, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Sudan, North Korea, Rwanda, Belarus, Cuba, Congo, Iran, Libya, Uzbekistan, and so on. Bayefsky further indicated that of the five regional groups of UN member states, Israel is not permitted to be a part of any of them. Finally, she pointed out that the UN has just two agencies for refugees: one for Palestinian refugees and one for the other twenty six million refugees around the globe; also of note, the UN has just one permanent human rights investigator on its payroll—that investigator is for Israel only.

The United Nations, Bayefsky argued, is the “largest, greatest purveyor of anti-Semitism in the world today.” During the course of the address, Bayefsky provided numerous examples of UN discrimination and bias. “In UN circles, it’s called protecting rights. In reality, it is discrimination,” she contended. Bayefsky recalled a speech by Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, on November 29th, the birth date of the state of Israel, which Annan referred to as a “day of mourning and a day of grief.” As the Secretary-General spoke, two flags stood behind him: those of the United Nations and Palestine. Bayefsky also pointed to rhetoric emerging from the halls of the UN that compared Israel’s actions to South African apartheid.

Bayefsky maintained that the United Nations consistently ignores the reality behind the creation of Israel. “No one cares,” she remarked, that one fifth of Israel is Arab with more rights there than in any other Arab country. She also reminded the audience of the 850,000 Jewish refugees forced to flee from neighboring Arab nations. The only explanation, Bayefsky contends, is anti-Semitism. As evidence, she referred to a statement by a leading human rights NGO, which read: “[Human rights concerns] might have been overcome if not for the creation of the state of Israel.” Bayefsky interpreted the quote as blaming Israel for the egregious treatment of citizens by many of the other Arab and Muslim states. Commenting on this and other organizations, Bayefsky commented, “Anti-Semitism is the bread and butter of the human rights movement today.”

During the question and answer session, Bayefsky had the opportunity to address American politics, and the Obama administration in particular, in further detail. Referring to the recent election, Bayefsky maintained that “American Jews didn’t vote in the interest of Israel.” “Now we are going to reap the consequences,” she predicted. Bayefsky warned that Obama must be careful about too much engagement with the UN and greater international community. Finally, Bayefsky expressed concern about President Obama’s diplomatic position in the Middle East. She hoped that Obama would not stop the Prime Minister of Israel from restarting war in Gaza.

Bayefsky also had commentary on the new administration’s approach to the United Nations. An avid supporter of John Bolton, whom she referred to as “one of the best representatives to the UN that the US has ever had,” Bayefsky confessed that she was “totally pessimistic” about the prospects of Susan Rice at the United Nations. At the end of the event, Bayefsky once more affirmed her utter lack of confidence in the United Nations and its role in the world. When prompted by an audience member to give her own suggestion on how to deal with the UN, she simply uttered: “Stop funding it.”

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