Israel and the United Nations

From Academic Kids

Israel and the United Nations have had very mixed relations, since the state's founding on May 14, 1948. Much of the controversy has to do with the various permutations of the Arab-Israeli conflict (including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), although other issues arise from time to time.




Both the League of Nations's 1922 Mandate for Palestine and the 1947 UN Partition Plan supported the aim of Zionism: the establishment of the Jewish national homeland in the Land of Israel. The UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (November 29, 1947), which served as the foundation for the Israeli Declaration of Independence, was passed by the General Assembly with 33 votes in favor, 13 against, and 10 absentions. It was the first and only time the United Nations has created a nation by way of a General Assembly vote.

By 1947, Jews constituted 60% of the population in the areas designated to the Jewish state by the partition; while the total territory assigned to the Jewish state exceeded proportionally the land allotted to the Arabs, a substantial part of the former was the Negev desert. Substantial Jewish immigration, whose quantity was determined by the British government, had increased the proportion of Jewish inhabitants of Palestine from 11% in 1922 to 33%.

The Arab states and other supporters of the Palestinians argued that the General Assembly's decision to endorse the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine was unjust to the Palestinian Arab population. The Arab leaders repeatedly rejected every plan involving partition and refused to officially negotiate with the Jewish leadership. Arab League Secretary Abdul Razek Azzam told the Jewish Agency in September 1947: "You won't get anything by peaceful means or compromise ... [I]t's too late to talk of peaceful solutions," (Horowitz, 1953, p. 233).

As the Mandate expired on May 14, 1948 and the State of Israel was announced according to the UN Partition Plan, joint Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi troops invaded and fought to destroy the nascent Jewish state.

On May 15, 1948, the Arab League Secretary General Abdul Razek Azzam announced the intention to wage "a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades." (Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, p.219). On the same day, the Arab League circulated in the UN Statement by the Arab League States Following the Establishment of the State of Israel (May 15, 1948) ( which insisted on "a unitary Palestinian State, in accordance with democratic principles, whereby its inhabitants will enjoy complete equality before the law, (and whereby) minorities will be assured of all the guarantees recognized in democratic constitutional countries and (whereby) the holy places will be preserved and the rights of access thereto guaranteed". It also "drew attention to the injustice implied in this solution (affecting) the right of the people of Palestine to immediate independence, as well as democratic principles and the provisions of the Covenant of the League of Nations and (the Charter) of the United Nations."

Missing image
Count Folke Bernadotte was the official UN mediator during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He was assassinated by the Lehi in Jerusalem in 1948.

In the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was established to alleviate the condition of Palestinian refugees; in the following two decades a comparable number of Jewish refugees from the Arab and Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa [1] ( were absorbed by Israel and other countries without assistance from the UN.

Soviet influence

Political Zionism was officially stamped out for the entire history of the Soviet Union as a form of bourgeois nationalism. Without changing its official anti-Zionist stance, the USSR briefly supported the establishment of Israel in 1947. Before voting for the 1947 partition, Andrei Gromyko stated:

As we know, the aspirations of a considerable part of the Jewish people are linked with the problem of Palestine and of its future administration. This fact scarcely requires proof... The United Nations cannot and must not regard this situation with indifference, since this would be incompatible with the high principles proclaimed in its Charter ...

From late 1944 until 1948 Stalin had adopted a de facto pro-Zionist foreign policy, apparently believing that the new country would be socialist and would speed the decline of British influence in the Middle East.1 Three days after Israel declared independence, the Soviet Union legally recognized it. However, by the end of 1948 and throughout the course of the Cold War, the Soviet Union unequivocally supported various Arab regimes against Israel. The official position of the Soviet Union and its satellite states and agencies was that Zionism was a tool used by the Jews and Americans for "racist imperialism". (See Zionology, Anti-Zionist committee of the Soviet public, History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union)

Current situation


Although the UN Charter gives every state the right to membership of the Security Council, it also says that membership will be decided according to equitable geographic distribution. The latter requirement has meant in practice that non-permanent Security Council members are selected from the five geographical groupings of member states. Israel would naturally belong to the Asian group, but that group has repeatedly failed to agree on Israel's admission. It has indefinite temporary membership of the "Western Europe and Others" group and agreed not to seek Security Council membership on that basis.

Israel has particularly few supporters in the United Nations, in part because of the large Muslim contingent (57 countries) and their influence: in terms of sheer voting strength in the General Assembly, this block represents about 1/4 of the delegates, though no Muslim country holds a permanent seat on the Security Council. See Arab League and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, Israel is the only member nation that that has never been enfranchised with voting rights in any part of the United Nations.

A few countries have consistently supported Israel's actions in the UN, such as the United States of America and also the tiny states of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, which are both associated states of the U.S. In recent times, Australia, under the leadership of John Howard, has also supported Israel at the UN.

The Western nations frequently condemn Israeli actions including, on occasion, some which Israel claims as being necessary to protect itself from Palestinian terrorism and Arab hostility. The European states frequently abstain from anti-Israel votes. Many European countries have been strong supporters of Israel, but also support the foundation of a Palestinian state. Such countries include France, Russia, and Germany.

The United States has frequently used its veto to protect Israel from condemnatory Security Council votes — in fact, this is a significant factor in the large number of vetos the United States has enforced in general.

Many Israelis perceive the UN to be deeply prejudiced against Israel. As evidence, they cite what they say is the disproportionately long list of resolutions concerning Israel, especially the 1975 Resolution 3379, which qualified Zionism as a form of racism (revoked by Resolution 4686 in December 1991 as a condition for participation in the Madrid peace talks [2] (; and the alleged complicity of UNIFIL in the October 2000 Lebanon abduction of three Israeli Engineering Corps soldiers, by Hezbollah. In September 2004, the bereaved families announced that they intended to sue the UN for its part in the abductions. No legal challenge has to date succeeded in substantiating these claims against the UN.

The perception amongst Israelis that the UN is biased against their country helps explain the refusal of successive Israeli governments to pay attention to the numerous motions passed against Israel by the General Assembly. Arabs and their supporters reply that this is a red herring used to legitimize the refusal to comply with overwhelming international pressure for change in Israeli policy.

In her June 21, 2004 speech [3] ( at a Conference on Confronting anti-Semitism: Education for Tolerance and Understanding sponsored by the United Nations Department of Information and in her articles [4] (, Anne Bayefsky, attending as representative of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, advocated the necessity of UN reforms and criticized some of the UN policies and practices:

  • There is only one entire UN Division devoted to a single group of people: the UN Division for Palestinian Rights ( (created in 1977).
  • The only UN day dedicated to a specific people is November 29, the annual UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
  • There is only one refugee agency dedicated to a single refugee situation: UNRWA (in operation since 1950).
  • One of the General Assembly six committees, "the Fourth Committee, routinely devotes 30% of its time to the condemnation of Israel."
  • "The General Assembly emergency sessions... began in 1956, and since then six of the ten emergency sessions ever held, have been about Israel. The 10th such session began in 1997 and has been reconvened 13 times. A million dead in Rwanda or two million dead in Sudan might have warranted one General Assembly emergency session."
  • "...the UN's primary human-rights body is the UN Human Rights Commission. 30% of the resolutions condemning specific states ever adopted over 40 years are directed at Israel." [5] (

In August 2004, the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom (UNA-UK) published a report analyzing thirteen years of United Nations resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In light of the study’s conclusions, Malcolm Harper, speaking on behalf of the UNA-UK (of which he was director until recently), called for an examination into how, if at all, the lopsided resolutions contribute to the Middle East peace process. The 76-page report (PDF) ( makes the following principal findings:

  • The texts of UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions are "often unbalanced in terms of the length of criticism and condemnation of Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories as against Palestinian actions such as suicide bombings."
  • The United Nations is "palpably more critical of Israeli policies and practices than it is of either Palestinian actions or the wider Arab world. However criticism is not necessarily the a product of bias."
  • In resolutions of the UN General Assembly, "[v]iolence perpetrated against Israeli civilians, including the use of suicide bombers, is mentioned only a few times and then in only vague terms."

The report also stated "However, criticism is not necessarily a product of bias, and it is not the intention here to suggest that UNGA and UNSC reproaches of Israel stem from prejudice. From the perspective of the UN, Israel has repeatedly flouted fundamental UN tenets and ignored important decisions."

Israel's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dan Gillerman was elected to the position of Vice-President of the 60th UN General Assembly. The last one to do so was Israeli envoy to the U.N. Abba Eban in 1952. Israel's candidacy was put forward by the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG).

See also


  • Horowitz, David. State in the Making. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953


Note 1: Johnson, Paul, A History of the Jews, London, 1987, p. 527


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