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United Nations Building, New York City

The U.S. fights against anti-Israel bias at the United Nations because Israel is a close ally, but also because “undue focus on any one particular country in the UN system threatens to undermine the credibility of the entire system,” a State Department official said on Capitol Hill last week.

And the UN’s credibility was “an important thing for us to focus on, given the amount of money that the U.S. taxpayer contributes to that system,” added Assistant Secretary Bathsheba Nell Crocker.


Testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee responsible for multilateral institutions, Crocker asserted that U.S. engagement was making a difference.

The administration was “slowly” making progress in fighting against anti-Israel sentiment, she said, but acknowledged that “this work is not done and it’s never done.”

Crocker agreed that bias against Israel existed both at the General Assembly in New York and the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, citing a disproportionate number of resolutions focused on the Jewish state and the fact it is the only country that has a permanent agenda item at the HRC.

“But we are working consistently to fight against that,” she said. “We have allies in that effort.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) charged that the UN General Assembly’s current annual session, which began last September, has adopted 20 resolutions singling out Israel, and only three resolutions focused on other country-specific situations.

“Given that record, do you think Americans are getting their money’s worth at the United Nations?” he asked.

Crocker said countering efforts to delegitimize Israel was “one of the administration’s top priorities,” adding that the U.S. has intervened on Israel’s behalf in multilateral forums “on hundreds of occasions” over the past two years.

Since the U.S. joined the HRC six years ago, she told the panel, “we have seen a real reduction in the amount of time that the council focuses on Israel, and this is just an example of the importance of U.S. leadership across the board in the UN system.”

Between 2009 and mid-2014, Israel was criticized in more than 30 HRC resolutions. (Over the same period the tally for some other countries was Syria 13, Iran 4, North Korea 4, Libya 4, Burma 4, and Sudan 3.)

The 47-member HRC is the United Nations’ top human rights body. The Obama administration is a keen participant, having joined the council in 2009 after reversing President Bush’s policy of shunning it.

The U.S. since then has firmly supported Israel at the HRC, but votes against Israel continue to be adopted with big majorities, despite Crocker’s statement that the U.S. has “allies” in the effort.

In part this is because the council’s composition limits the number of liberal democracies while countries in Asia and Africa together have an automatic majority (26 seats out of 47).

The council moreover includes some of the world’s most repressive regimes (current members include Cuba, China, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Vietnam), and the historically anti-Israel Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) bloc wields significant sway.

At the General Assembly, the 119-member Non-Aligned Movement together accounts for just short of two-thirds of the total membership. The bloc includes many countries hostile to Israel; its current chairman is Iran.

In addition to those factors, European democracies frequently abstain from rather than vote against anti-Israel resolutions.

Last July, for instance, the HRC passed a resolution establishing an inquiry into Israel’s military offensive against Hamas in Gaza by 29-1, with the U.S. the sole “no” vote and 17 members, mostly European nations, abstaining.

And when the General Assembly adopted a raft of Israel-focused resolutions on a single day last December, the U.S. was joined by just a small handful of other countries in its opposition, with lopsided vote counts of 158-8, 159-7, 166-6, 165-7 (twice), 88-9 and 163-7.


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