Should Israel Care? Three Reflections on a Question

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November 1, 2011
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One: David Ben-Gurion’s Prescience

Daniel Gordis

Strangely, Israel’s Declaration of Independence insists that “[The] recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.” The language, though, is actually less odd than prescient. David Ben-Gurion, the declaration’s unacknowledged author, intuited that November 29, 1947 was likely to be an aberration and that the U.N. might well decide to undo its momentous 1947 decision.

The U.N.’s unfairness toward Israel is legendary. In November 1947, a Security Council resolution called on the Israel Defense Forces to withdraw to the positions of October 14. As Benny Morris notes in his book, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, the resolution was “illogical — it called for Israeli withdrawal from territory awarded to Israel by the United Nations, territory that had been conquered by Egypt in defiance of the United Nations, and then recaptured by Israel — but there it was.”1 In 1967, the U.N.’s decision to evacuate the Sinai Peninsula enabled Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s attack in 1973. In 2009, the U.N. overwhelmingly endorsed the U.N. Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, known as the Goldstone Report, over Israel’s strenuous objections that it was grossly unfair; the author himself, Justice Richard Goldstone, later largely repudiated his own work.

Yet even more critical than the U.N.’s consistent unfairness to Israel has been its unremitting undermining of the very idea undergirding the Jewish state. As early as April 1948, the Americans engineered a Security Council resolution calling for a “special session” of the General Assembly to discuss the “future government of Palestine.” Both Arabs and Zionists rejected the move; it is instructive, however, that merely five months after its passing, there was already a plan for a U.N. session that would have undone the U.N. Partition Plan.

In November 1974, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yassir Arafat addressed the General Assembly wearing a gun holster. In his speech, Arafat asserted, “Our resolve to build a new world is fortified — a world free of colonialism, imperialism, neocolonialism and racism in each of its instances, including Zionism.” This was an undeniable declaration of war on Israel — and the U.N. had knowingly afforded him the platform. (Imagine the world’s reaction had then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon worn a holster when he addressed the U.N. in September 2005!)

A year later, the U.N. adopted the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution, which passed by a majority much greater than did the Partition Plan. The resolution remained the official U.N. position for fifteen years, until it was quietly withdrawn in 1991. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. at that time, was spot on when he bellowed that the resolution was “an infamous act,” and was “not an attack on Zionism, but on Israel.”2

It is in this light that we must see plans for an eventual U.N. vote on a Palestinian state. Every major Israeli political party has now recognized Palestinian rights to sovereignty, but no Palestinian leader has acknowledged Israel as a Jewish state. Most Israelis, though nervous, understand that a Palestinian state is the only hope to a permanent peace in the Middle East. But the U. S. State Department’s premonition of 1947 — that “It is extremely unlikely … that the Arabs will ever accept a Zionist State on their doorsteps”3 — remains correct. The Arabs have not acquiesced to the idea of a Jewish state on their doorstep, and until they do, responding to Palestinian pressure simply continues the inexorable process of undermining a state that many U.N. members now wish they had not created.

When the General Assembly voted for the establishment of Israel in November 1947, Jews wept and celebrated. But when the U.N. votes on Palestine, it will be time to mourn. Jews — and the State of Israel — ought to mourn not the creation of a Palestinian state, for many of us recognize that peace will never come without such a state. Rather, we should mourn the end of an era in which the world recognized Zionism as a legitimate idea. Tragically, with this vote, the U.N. will once again be declaring its opposition to the very ideology that has breathed new life into the Jewish people.

Without question, the U.N. vote should be of grave concern to Israel. There is not much that Israel can do, but it dare not ignore these shifting sands. Yet we should note this, no less: If the United Nations votes affirmatively, the loss will be not only Israel’s, for the U.N. is also robbing the Palestinians of a future. Coddling the Palestinians will only forestall their doing the self-searching and compromise necessary for this region to have a chance of knowing genuine peace.


1 Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, page 357.

2 Martin Gilbert, Israel — A History (New York: William Morrow, 1998), p. 467.

3 Benny Morris, page 174.

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Daniel Gordis is president of the Shalem Foundation and senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. His latest book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End (Wiley), won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. He is now writing a book on the defense of Israel and the nation-state.

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