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Antonio Guterres Must Do More to Change the UN’s Anti-Israel Bias

Sara McCleary

Anti-Zionists who undoubtedly scoff at the (false) notion that anti-Zionism and antisemitism aren’t intrinsically linked should be a bit happier with new(ish) UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

In a recent meeting with senior officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in New York, Guterres reportedly emphasized that, “Denial of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism.” He went on to acknowledge that “Jerusalem is a holy city for three religions.”

I’ve written before about Guterres’ reported pro-Israel stance and the hope that Israel and its supporters felt about him leading the UN, which for the past few decades has harboured an explicitly anti-Israel agenda.

Guterres’ address during the SWC meeting (as well as meetings with other Jewish organizations, including B’nai Brith seems to prove that these hopes were well-founded.

According to a SWC press release, Guterres spoke about the UN’s relationship with Hamas and the need to end its influence over UN bodies like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA): “Mr. Gutteres… acknowledged that Hamas had succeeded in leveraging the UN presence in Gaza. He said that he has a ‘very strong commitment to not allowing UNWRA to be instrumentalized’ in the future, the way Hamas and Islamic Jihad during the last Gaza War.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier also commented that he was “impressed” by the scope of Guterres’ knowledge and interest “on issues that impact World Jewry directly.”

Guterres’ words are indeed encouraging. Having replaced a Secretary General who only acknowledged the UN’s obvious anti-Israel bias a few short days before the end of his term, it’s refreshing to have watched Guterres come into his position swinging. For example, in March, Guterres made similar statements during a meeting with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, and again in April during a speech to delegates at the WJC’s plenary assembly.

Already, just six months into his term as Secretary General, Guterres has proven that he can talk the talk. However, it appears that he’s struggling a bit more with walking the walk.

I mean, has Guterres actually implemented any substantial changes in how the UN treats Israel? Has the UN’s various special committees and partner organizations heeded Guterres’ words that Jerusalem is indeed the holiest city in the Jewish religion, and that the campaign aimed at delegitimizing Zionism (and subsequently, the modern State of Israel) is a classic antisemitic trope?

Not yet.

On May 2, 2017, coinciding with Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially adopted a resolution denying Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, referring to biblical Jewish sites only by its Islamic names. The fact that it chose Israeli Independence Day to pass such a resolution was not lost on any in the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

As Harry Dardashti puts it in an op-ed for the Algemeiner, “To deny the Jewish state’s claim to Jerusalem is tantamount to denying thousands of years of history.”

I believe that’s putting it lightly.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Guterres has any kind of ultimate authority over UNESCO, but where was his voice in the days leading up to the vote, decrying the resolution? Did he work to discourage the organizers of the resolution from forcing another vote, or at the very least try to have the vote take place on a different day? Did he support those countries who ultimately abstained or voted no to the resolution, or take initiatives like U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has been taking? No reports have indicated anything of the sort.

Again, I understand that Mr. Guterres is undoubtedly a busy man, but where was his statement after the vote took place? After all, this is someone who has proclaimed that he would bring a balanced approach to Israel and defend its right to its holiest sites, someone who equates denial of Israel’s right to exist to antisemitism. To make such grand, promising statements that fill people around the world with hope, and then to ignore a well-publicized, highly controversial UNESCO vote that goes against all of those things – well, I feel like ‘hypocritical’ isn’t even a strong enough word to describe it.

The UNESCO vote was a perfect opportunity for Guterres to show that he’s not just spouting talking points and that he will actually take action. I don’t deny that he does care – by all accounts, he seems to be a smart and fair man who genuinely feels that Israel deserves better – but the time for talk has long since passed. What the world needs now is action.

Sara McCleary has written extensively on a wide range of topics while working as a news reporter and freelancer. She has also completed a master’s degree in history, and further graduate work in interdisciplinary humanities.