It also was 31 years since the followers of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. A year ago last June, Tehran’s streets were full of young demonstrators demanding American-style democracy; this November, the regime, more deeply entrenched than ever, deployed on the same streets the Revolutionary Guards and other thugs, shouting for death to “the big Satan” (America) and “the little Satan” (Israel)
After Mr. Obama’s almost two years in office, the failure of his administration’s outreach to the soon-to-be-nuclear ayatollahs is just one of a number of indicators that he needs a change of direction in foreign as well as domestic policy.
To cite one key example, America’s renewed courtship of United Nations institutions has failed to bring about any change.
The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva - which the administration rejoined, ending the George W. Bush administration’s boycott - has reciprocated by placing the U.S. in the dock as a “human rights violator” while continuing to cast a blind eye to the egregious records of such serial human rights abusers as China, Cuba, Sudan, Libya and Saudi Arabia.
The UNHRC also has compounded last year’s notoriously one-sided Goldstone Report on Israel’s Gaza incursion by appointing a German academic, Christian Tomuschat - who has compared Israel’s self-defense during the second Lebanon war to “the barbarism which was the particular hallmark of World War II” - to head a follow-up report on Operation Cast Lead.
The U.N. General Assembly is planning to convene the Third Durban World Conference Against Racism a few miles from Ground Zero on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. The first conference, held in Durban, South Africa, just before Sept. 11, degenerated into an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatefest, and last year’s Durban II opening keynoter was none other than Iran’s genocide advocate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
UNESCO - an institution the United States once boycotted for a decade because of its financial corruption - has corrupted its role as guardian of historic sites. It erased millennia of history and tradition by declaring Rachel’s Tomb adjacent to Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as “Palestinian sites” in which Jews have no legitimate interest. It went so far as to identify the tomb of Rachel, matriarch of the people of Israel, as “a mosque.”
“The attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage is absurd,” said Israel’s Foreign Ministry in announcing a cutback in cooperation with UNESCO. “If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation [were] buried - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rachel - some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish heritage then what is?”
There are signs that the Obama administration may be tiring finally of the Human Rights Council’s serial hypocrisy and corrosive impact on Middle East peace prospects. The U.S. envoy in Geneva, Rick Barton, said Washington continued “to be disappointed with the Council’s unbalanced and one-sided approach to the human rights situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.” Mr. Barton condemned the unending flow of UNHRC resolutions that “attempt to delegitimize the government of Israel” while ignoring “the serious violations of international law deliberately committed by Hamas.”
This is not enough. The Obama administration should face up to the fact that Mr. Bush was right when he concluded that the best way for America to advance the cause of global human rights was not by embracing the U.N. human rights body but by treating it as the mockery it is. Geneva will never be the authentic venue for human rights until the UNHRC provides a platform for the Dalai Lama, stands up for a disappeared Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner and protests the jailing of democracy campaigners in Libya and Cuba.
Beyond the human rights issues, the U.N. is poised to meddle dangerously in the existential issues of peace or war in the Middle East. Emboldened by the Obama administration’s counterproductive U.N. charm initiative and U.S.-Israeli clashes over settlements, Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority threatens to ask the U.N. Security Council to declare Israeli communities, housing 450,000 Jews beyond the 1949 armistice lines, illegal. In addition, his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, is threatening to declare Palestinian independence unilaterally next year without a peace treaty with the Jewish state. This is a prescription for a disastrous regional war that will leave only one clear victor: Iran.
Mr. Obama has a bold vision for the world’s future. Yet allowing the U.N.’s sclerotic body politic to lead the way is a deal-killer for the Israel-Palestine issue and a poison pill for the values of human rights and democracy we all cherish. Mr. Obama should instead be looking to the new Congress to reconstitute the historic bipartisan approach needed for a U.S. foreign policy worthy of world leadership.
Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harold Brackman is a historian and a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.