Lecture by Steve Sloame, Feb 8, 2020
It is generally known that the UN has been dealing unfairly with Israel. But the the details are generally not known. So before I turn to what my organization does, I think it would be helpful to give some history.
The UN was formed in 1945. Its basic purpose was to empower the cause of world peace. But after 1974 eﬀorts were made to end the existence of Israel as a majority Jewish state through support of the so-called “right of return” and force Israel to accept the 5.5 million so-called refugees who call themselves Palestinians which would result in the end of the Jewish majority in Israel. The eﬀort was also aimed to weaken the US position internationally by isolating it and Israel from the rest of the international community.
How would this be accomplished? In 1974 Fidel Castro, who was determined to weaken the US internationally, and Muammar Quaddafi, determined to eliminate the Jewish state, and who were both candidates for leadership in the Non-Aligned Movement, joined forces and succeeded in putting together a majority coalition in the UN General Assembly. It consisted of the Soviet bloc, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), and a majority of African states that were attracted by slogans of anti-colonialism and “Zionism is Racism”. Neither goal was achieved, but the UN support of the right of return remains to this day a major obstacle to the conclusion of a meaningful peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Further, the penetration of the UN Secretariat by anti-Israel operatives has had the eﬀect of installing anti-Israel sentiments into a large part of the UN staﬀ.
How was it done? One of the first steps was to invite Yasser Arafat to address the UN General Assembly in September 1974. He delivered a speech that lasted more than 2 hours. A few weeks later the GA adopted Res. 3236 in which it recognized “the inalienable right of hte Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted”. The resolution then declared that the UNGA “calls for their return”. In 1975 the GA took a critically important step. It created the UN’s central anti-Israel apparatus, which operates to this very day, by establishing the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP). The Committee’s work in getting the anti-Israel message out was undertaken by the staﬀ with Cuban staﬀ members in the lead. Two years later the organizers of the anti-Israel campaign took the critically important step of requesting the Secretary General to establish within the Secretariat a Special Unit on Palestinian Rights which would prepare studies and publications relating to the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. It annually holds 4 major conferences around the world to bash Israel. In 1979 its name was changed to the Division for Palestinian Rights, on the same organizational line of the Secretariat as the Europe Division, the Americas Division, the 2 African Divisions, the Asia and Pacific Division and the Middle East and West Asia Division. Its statement of purpose is to support the Right of Return. It has 15 people on the payroll with the task of spreading the anti-Israel message. Thus in violation of its charter, the UN has built within its system an apparatus designed to destroy one of its 193 member states. You have all heard of UNRWA, an agency of the UN whose purpose is to maintain a list of millions of people of Arab ethnicity whose mass migration to Israel the UN plans to sponsor. CEIRPP get the message out in support of this mass migration. The DPR uses the UN system to win international support of the cause which would destroy the state of Israel. The ultimate goal is to get the UN Security Council to sponsor the mass migration, ordering Israel to accept them. A US veto can, of course, prevent this. But the proponents believe that by attaining worldwide support they will ultimately cause the US to give in and allow the SC to adopt a right of return resolution which would enjoy the status of international law.
How can one expect a Palestinian leader to give up the Right of Return if year after year the UN endorses it? This is not known by most heads of state and therefore it is up to the US to get this message out. What can be done to minimize the harm?
My organization, AJIRI, was founded in 2005 with a strategy to combat the UN eﬀort to delegitimize Israel, first by reducing the need for the US to veto anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council and over a longer period to reduce the about 20 annual overwhelmingly anti-Israel resolutions in the General Assembly. It is important to distinguish among those resolutions between those that are merely declarative (and do not have adverse operational consequences), and those that have such consequences, and thus are damaging to Israel. The vast majority of the annual anti-Israel resolutions are actually declarative only, in other words, “hot air”. Before getting to the 2 annual destructive General Assembly resolutions, I’ll turn to the Security Council where the resolutions have the force of international law. For years the US as a permanent member of the Security Council exercised its veto to protect Israel. For example between 1972 and 2006 the US cast 41 vetoes. This had the eﬀect of making the US and Israel pariah nations against the will of the international community. And what if an American administration refused to veto an anti-Israel resolution? We saw that happen at the end of 2016.
The strategy was devised by former Deputy Ambassador to the UN Richard Schifter and currently the Chairman of AJIRI. It is predicated on the little known fact that quite a few countries’ UN ambassadors vote
without consulting with their heads of government. Decisions are made by their UN ambassadors or, in some cases, foreign ministries. It is easier and more rewarding for the UN ambassadors of countries with no dog in the fight to go along to get along. We also knew that for a Security Council resolution to pass, thereby forcing the US to veto it, it needed 9 aﬃrmative votes out of the 15 members — 5 permanent and 10 non-permanent members representing regions and rotating for 2 year terms. When an anti-Israel resolution is proposed in the SC, Israel can generally count on the votes of the US, the UK and France and the 2 non-permanent EU members for a total of 5. This means that the proponents of the resolution need 9 of the remaining 10 members to vote in favor of the resolution and force a veto. But we only need 2 abstentions, not even no votes, to prevent the necessary 9 yes votes, and as a practical matter since votes are solicited and counted ahead of time the resolution would be tabled and no vote would be held.
So the questions we faced were how to identify and persuade the two members we needed to abstain.
First, we divided the total UN membership into 4 parts: friends of the US and Israel, enemies of Israel such as the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation sure to vote for anti-Israel resolutions, members that vote against the US and Israel for purely geopolitical reasons such as Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and until recently we hope Brazil, and members that are essentially neutral in that they have no major foreign policy diﬀerences with the US but vote along with the majority against Israel, generally in those countries where the heads of state pay no attention to the votes of their UN Ambassador. We examined the members of the latter group and identified those countries that receive US foreign aid.
Second, In 2006 Ambassador Schifter and I met with the two House of Representative whips, Democrat Steny Hoyer and Republican then Congressman now Senator Roy Blount, both staunchly pro Israel. We outlined our analysis and suggested they identify and give their blessing to members who are likely to play a role, especially those on the Foreign
Relations Committee which overseas the foreign aid budget. They agreed and brought to the meeting a number of like minded members who would agree to adopt a country, starting with those newly elected to the Security Council. The plan was that AJIRI would do the research, in part by examining the State Department’s annual voting coincidence report which tracks the votes of all UN members on the 25 annual resolutions the State Department deemed important and compares their votes with how the US voted. AJIRI would then draft a letter addressed to the head of state of the individual country which would be signed by the Congressman. The letter would start by reciting the friendship between our countries and the absence of major foreign policy diﬀerences. It would go on to point out that that the country had over the past 3 years voted, for example, 67% of the time against the way the US voted, and concluded by urging the head of state to request the country’s UN Ambassador to alert him or her the next time the ambassador learned that the US intended to vote against a resolution. (We always wrote about votes against the US, not Israel, as the resolutions often involved Israel anyway.) The Congressman would then invite to his oﬃce the country’s bilateral ambassador in Washington, whose job is to maintain good relations with the US and keep the money flowing. The Congressman would discuss the contents of the letter and then hand it to the ambassador for delivery to the head of state in the diplomatic pouch.
The strategy worked virtually every time. As proof, between 2006, when we started, and today the US has had to exercise its veto only 3 times. Let me give you a couple of examples and anecdotes of our success.
Columbia was consistently voting against Israel despite receiving the third most foreign aid after Israel and Egypt (to combat the cartels). In this case we involved a Senator. the late Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania, who was personally friendly with Columbia’s President Uribe. The Senator called Uribe and the votes in the UN shifted more favorably. Uribe was unaware of how his ambassador voted.
A few years ago a small African country, Burkina Faso, which had just been elected to the Security Council, was consistently voting against the US and Israel despite having received from the State Department a Millennium Challenge Grant of $400 million, awarded to nations which had taken positive steps toward democracy, transparency and the rule of law, Northern Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, now retired, volunteered. He called the Embassy and asked for the Ambassador. He was told that the Ambassador was back in the capital and suggested that the Congressman call the UN Ambassador. Frank blew up, exclaiming “What the hell do you people have an embassy for?” Within 48 hours the Ambassador was in Frank’s oﬃce together with the Secretary of the Cabinet. A month later the State Department reported that Burkina Faso had done an about face and was now voting with the US.
When the proponents of the anti-Israel Security Council resolution discover they don’t have the 9 aﬃrmative votes to force the US into an embarrassing veto, the resolutions are tabled. Thus, for example, after Gilead Shalit was abducted in Gaza and Israel mounted an excursion, the UN Human Rights Council took up the matter and referred the infamous Goldstone Report to the Security Council with a recommendation to take action against Israel. No vote was taken. The same with subsequent Gaza wars. In 2012, however, Mohammad Abbas thought he had the votes for Palestinian Statehood and the Arab representative on the SC introduced the resolution. But to Abbas’ surprise, Togo and Nigeria abstained after heavy lobbying and the resolution failed to get 9 aﬃrmative votes. The decision by Nigeria to abstain came in the final hour. Ambassador Schifter called a former Israeli ambassador to the UN who, in turn, called Bibi to point out that we were just a vote away from a setting in which no veto would be needed. Bibi called the Nigerian President, Jonathan Goodluck, who called his ambassador to the UN to instruct him that Nigeria should abstain.
The 2 annual General Assembly resolutions that are the most critically important are the resolutions that extend the mandates and the funding authorizations for the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in which 26 UN member states are represented, and the Division for Palestinian Rights in the Secretariat. As I mentioned, these provide UN support for the claim of a “right of return” and with a massive population transfer of Palestinians end of the State of Israel as a majority Jewish state. As AJIRI sees the situation, there are indeed a number of UN member states that would favor eﬀorts to end Israel’s existence. But we also believe that the heads of government of a significant number of the states that vote for the resolutions or abstain are simply not aware of the true meaning of these resolutions. (The Palestinian leadership, of course, understands the meaning of the resolutions very well.) The failure of many oﬃcials to understand the true meaning of the resolutions is due to the fact that their texts are cleverly worded so that the term “right of return” does not appear in them. Instead, the relevant texts use wording that needs to be carefully examined to lead the reader to recognize that the resolutions espouse the “right of return.” It is by making both diplomats and Members of Congress aware of the true meaning of CEIRPP and DPR that AJIRI has gotten the word out on the UNGA role in interfering with the eﬀorts to attain an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement.
CEIRPP and DPR resolutions were once again adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 3, 2019. There were a number of very favorable developments. We believe that the AJIRI effort played a role in important vote changes, brought about through the intercession of Members of Congress with Presidents and Prime Ministers directly.
Significant Change in the EU Voting Pattern
As you know, across the years the United States and Israel have been joined in casting No votes on CEIRPP and DPR by Australia, Canada, and a few Pacific Island states. A few years ago Congressional intercession helped by AJIRI paid off by adding Guatemala and Honduras to the No votes.
What really drew a great deal of attention on December 3, including highly positive statements from the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, was the change in the voting pattern on the DPR resolution by European Union states, led by Germany. For many years the voting pattern of the 28 EU member states was the following: Yes — 2 (Cyprus, Malta), No — 0, Abstain — 26. In 2019 we saw a truly striking change: Yes — 2, No -12, Abstain — 14. I should add that the 2019 change was preceded by a slight change in 2018, when Hungary switched from Abstain to No. But Hungary was no longer alone in 2019. It was joined by 11 other EU member states.
We believe that Germany played a key role in this change in voting pattern. With the help of AJIRI, Congressman Steny Hoyer sent a letter to the Foreign Minister of Germany, Heiko Mass. We believe that letter positively influenced the vote of not only Germany, but 10 other EU members: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, and Slovakia. It should be possible to pick up additional European votes in 2020. In light of the UK election result we think the UK may be ready to vote No next year. We also hope that in 2020 the states that voted No in 2019 only on DPR would add CEIRPP, a committee of ambassadors from 26 states that meet periodically for sessions at which Israel is denounced and the Right of Return is emphasized. Hungary and the Czech Republic have already begun to vote No on CEIRPP as well.
In 2017 it was Guatemala which was the first country to cross over to vote No on CEIRPP and DPR. In 2018 it was joined by Honduras. And in 2019 Brazil and Colombia made it four. Brazil is, of course, a country with significant worldwide standing. Colombia plays an important role in Latin America. In both states the political outlook of their respective Presidents played an important role, but it was still necessary to call their attention to the meaning of CEIRPP and DPR. Heads of government do not normally spend time focusing on UN resolutions. It is necessary to call their attention to the fact that certain UN resolutions contravene the basic policies of their respective governments.
The challenge for 2020 is to identify those states that can join the foregoing four. The other 15 Latin American states divide as follows on the CEIRPP an DPR: Voting Yes: Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela (10). Voting Abstain: Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru (4). Argentina (1) voted Yes on CEIRPP and Abstain on DRP. The states on which we have no chance are Chile (because of the influence of the Chile’s Palestinian community). and Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, now joined by Argentina (because of their unfriendly outlook toward the United States). The outcome of the Uruguayan election and the developments in Bolivia offer real opportunities for change.
The 14 Caribbean states are divided equally between those that vote Yes and those that are Absent. Voting Yes in 2019 on CEIRPP and DPR were Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Suriname. Absent were Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, St. Kitts, and Trinidad & Tobago.
We have to assume that Cuba plays an important role in the region, yet given the close economic relationship between many of these countries and the United States, it is important to stay in touch with most of them.
There are 54 states in the UN’s Africa Group. They can be divided between the 10 North African states, all of which are members of the Arab League, and the 44 states in Sub- Saharan Africa. AJIRI’s attention obviously focuses on Sub- Saharan Africa. Here we can note a significant change between voting patterns on DPR in 2018 and 2019: In 2018 28 states voted Yes, 6 Abstain, and 10 were absent. In 2019 21 states voted Yes, 7 Abstain, and 16 were absent.
Please note that in 2019 only a minority of the 44 Sub- Saharan African states voted for DPR. That, too, was the first time. In this context, let me offer an observation on the difference between an Abstain vote and an Absence.
An “Abstain” vote means that a state casting that vote makes it clear that it is “not for” the resolution, but does not feel strongly enough to vote No. An Absence, on the other hand, may in some cases mean that the delegation in question does not have an officer available to be present at the UNGA session. In many cases, however, it means something quite different, namely that the state is “not for” the resolution but wants to obscure that fact. (Ambassador Schifter tells the story that at the beginning of a session of the UN Human Rights Commission, at which he represented the United States, an Ambassador from one of the smaller countries came up to him and said the following: “I have been instructed to tell you that any time you don’t want me to be in the room, tell me that, and I won’t be in the room.”)
As you may know, the UN has 193 members. That means that a bare majority of the membership would be 97. At the current session, for the first time in decades, the Yes votes on both resolutions were less than a majority of the UN membership. That, of course, does not mean that the resolutions were defeated, because the No votes were still quite low, but it appears that a number of states are reached by the message that they should not vote Yes on these anti-Israel resolutions.
On CEIRPP the Yes vote was down from 100 to 92. The 2019 vote total was 92 Yes, 13 No, 61 Abstain, 27 Absent.
On DPR the Yes vote was down from 96 to 87. The 2019 vote total was 87 Yes, 23 No, 54 Abstain, 29 Absent.
Let us keep in mind that as CEIRPP and DPR raise budgetary questions in that their operations need to be funded out of the UN budget, the resolutions require, under the UN Charter, a two-thirds majority for them to pass.
As we look ahead to the 2020 session, we certainly need to identify again the Yes votes cast by states whose heads of government would not vote Yes if they understood the meaning of CEIRPP and DPR.
Finally, a few words about Israel’s and American Jews’ view of the UN. For a long time, Israel didn’t really care about the UN and it’s anti-Israel activities. In fact, David Ben-Gurion coined an expression to show where he stood: UM SHMUM. In colloquial English, it would mean UN? Forgetaboutit. But even General Assembly advisory resolutions are important. Resolution 181 in 1948 partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine into 3 parts — Israel, Palestine and an independent Jerusalem. But due to Arab opposition there was no Security Council vote.
Nevertheless that resolution triggered Israel’s declaration of independence. Then there was the case of South Africa. The GA passed a very strong resolution boycotting and sanctioning South Africa for its apartheid and set up an oﬃce in the Secretariat to track how each country implemented the resolution. Although the UK would not permit a Security Council resolution to pass, the GA resolution eﬀectively brought down the South African government. Today, thanks in part to Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, Israel has since 2016 changed its view about the UN. Previously, Israel was content with having bilateral relations with as many countries as possible and would overlook the UN votes of those same countries who would wink and nod about their UN votes, For the first time, in July of 2017 at a summit with African leaders, Prime Minister Netanyahu listed as one of Israel’s priorities in international aﬀairs the changing of anti-Israel votes in the UN when he discussed how Israel could help other countries with agriculture, energy, water conservation and technology. AJIRI works very closely with Israel’s embassy in Washington.
As for American Jews, we have discovered that many feel that the UN is a lost cause. We don’t agree. We recognize the enormous damage that the UN can do to Israel, but we deny that it is hopeless and have seen a change for which we take a small modicum of credit. It is our mission, in addition to help change UN votes, to alert the Jewish community about both the dangers and opportunities.
Thank you and I welcome questions.