Anti-Semitism and the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Anti-Semitism and the Israel-Palestine Conflict:
Assessing the Claim of Double Standards

Stephen R. Shalom

[From Israeli Occupation Archive]

[This is a revised version of a talk given at Yale University on Nov. 11, 2010, at a forum sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine]

     As it becomes increasingly difficult to justify Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people, Israel's apologists -- whether based in Israel or at pseudo-academic centers such as the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism -- resort to another line of defense: namely, they accuse Israel's critics of being anti-Semitic. Not the sort of classic anti-Semitism found for example in Hamas's Charter, but instead the anti-Semitism of an anti-Israel double standard.

     What I'd like to do is examine some of these claims of anti-Semitism and double standards and see what merit they may have.


     One argument supporting the charge of anti-Semitism goes like this: It is anti-Semitic to hold Israel to a higher standard than other countries. Why, for example, are critics more concerned about civilian casualties caused by Israel in its attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 than by the United States in its assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November 2004? This is the argument made for example, by Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher.[1]

     Alpher, I think, overstates the number of casualties in Fallujah, but let's agree that both attacks killed large numbers of innocent civilians. So, yes, anyone who cheered the U.S. military in Fallujah and condemned Israel in Gaza would be a hypocrite. But this certainly wasn't the view taken by leading progressive critics of Israel, whose position was quite consistent and principled: they denounced both attacks for showing an immoral disregard for the welfare of non-combatants; they accused both the Bush administration and the Olmert government of responsibility for grave war crimes.[2]

     There was in fact widespread criticism of the Fallujah attack; and the Iraq war as a whole was overwhelmingly opposed by world public opinion. In fact, the only country in the world where a clear majority of the population supported the initiation of the war was Israel.[3] Six months before the war began Israel's deputy Interior Minister, Gideon Ezra, said regarding a U.S. attack on Iraq "The more aggressive the attack is, the more it will help Israel against the Palestinians. The understanding would be that what is good to do in Iraq, is also good for here."[4]

     I don't mean to suggest that Israel learned how to treat Palestinians from U.S. behavior in Iraq. Actually, there's quite a bit of evidence that U.S. tactics in Iraq draw from Israeli experience. For example, Dexter Filkins wrote in The New York Times in December 2003,

"American soldiers are demolishing buildings thought to be used by Iraqi attackers. They have begun imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas, in hopes of pressing the insurgents to turn themselves in….The response they chose is beginning to echo the Israeli counterinsurgency campaign in the occupied territories."[5]

     The press also reported Israeli urban warfare experts briefing U.S. military personnel on what they might encounter in Iraq. But in fact the U.S. military and the Israeli military are so intertwined that it's hard to sort out the chicken and the egg here. In 2007, for example, the U.S. Marine Corps newspaper reported on a new urban warfare training center in Israel where U.S. troops hoped to later train.[6] The center was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and funded largely from U.S. military aid, and was said to be preparing Israeli forces for combat in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria.

     So it would indeed be wrong to criticize Israeli actions in Gaza in 2008-09 while giving a pass to the United States. But there's no double standard -- there's a single standard -- when we say all attacks that cause massive harm to civilians violate international humanitarian law and should be firmly denounced. And that's why we denounce both Israeli behavior and that of the U.S. government in Iraq.


     A second argument holds that it's anti-Semitic to criticize Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, when in fact the Arab countries themselves have severely mistreated Palestinians, and refused to take steps to resettle the Palestinian refugees.

     There is no doubt that Palestinians have fared badly in the Arab world. Only in Jordan have Palestinians been eligible for citizenship. In Lebanon, the government fears that allowing Palestinians to become citizens would disturb the country's delicate Christian-Muslim balance; in Egypt, the shortage of arable land led the government to confine the Palestinians to the Gaza Strip. It must be noted, however, that the Palestinians were reluctant to leave the camps if that meant acquiescing in the loss of homes and property or giving up their right to return. One saw the same pattern during the 1999 Kosovo war. Many Kosovar Albanians who were driven from their homes did not want to leave the refugee camps on the borders for fear this would weaken their claim to later return home.

     In any event, it is true that Palestinians have been abused in many Arab countries. One should note, however, that the worst treatment of Palestinians often was carried out in collaboration with the Israelis. So when Lebanese Phalangists massacred thousands at Sabra and Shitila, Israel gave them support, at a minimum firing illumination flares over the camps so that the killers could carry out their grizzly deeds. When King Hussein of Jordan slaughtered thousands in September of 1970, Israel (and Washington) stood ready to come to his aid. When Kuwait expelled its entire Palestinian population following the Gulf War, no voices in Tel Aviv or Washington were raised on their behalf.

     It is sometimes implied that the lack of assistance to Palestinians from Arab nations somehow justifies Israel's refusal to acknowledge and address the claims of the refugees. But if you harm someone, you are responsible for redressing that harm, regardless of whether the victim's relatives are supportive.

     One must distinguish here between the attitude of the Arab states and of the Arab people. Efraim Karsh in a recent op-ed in the New York Times[7] is quite right about the sorry record of the Arab states when it comes to supporting Palestinians, but when he claims to cite a public opinion poll showing that the Arab population shares this indifference, he's basing his claim on a non-poll that didn't ask about Palestinians at all.[8] There is in fact deep support in the Arab world for Palestinian rights. And when Karsh tells us that Jordan's King Abdullah went to war in 1948 not on behalf of the Palestinians, but to grab territory, he's correct; but what Karsh omits is that Israel was in cahoots with Abdullah, with the two nations secretly agreeing to carve up between themselves the fledgling Palestinian state.[9] So by all means let us denounce Abdullah's treachery, but this hardly whitewashes the record of Abdullah's senior partner, the Israeli state.


     Some claim that it's anti-Semitic to demand a state for Palestinians at the expense of the world's one Jewish state. After all, the Arabs already have 22 states. Why do they need another one?

     This argument, of course, is nonsensical. Not all Arabs are the same. That other Arabs may already have their right of self-determination does not take away from Palestinians' basic rights. There are more than 50 European nations. Is this an argument to deny Hungarians, say, a state of their own? Would anyone think of suggesting that Hungarians could be re-settled in one of the other 50 European states and so don't need their own state?

     The fact that many Palestinians live in Jordan and have considerable influence and rights there -- or at least those rights that are compatible with living in an authoritarian monarchy -- doesn't mean that the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation or who were expelled from their homes and are now in refugee camps aren't entitled to their rights -- any more than the fact that there are a lot of Jews in the United States, where they have considerable influence and rights, means that Israeli Jews should be packed off across the Atlantic.


     It is anti-Semitic -- claims another argument -- to be concerned about Palestinian refugees, but not about the approximately equal number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. In fact, there's been a population exchange, with Jews from Arab lands coming to Israel and replacing the Palestinians. So nothing needs to be done for the Palestinians.

     This argument too is spurious. Jews left Arab countries under various circumstances: some were forced out, some came voluntarily, some were recruited by Zionist officials. In the case of Iraq, Jews feared that they might be harmed, a fear possibly helped along by some covert bombs placed by Zionist agents.[10]

     But whatever the case, there are no moral grounds for punishing Palestinians (or denying them their due) because of how Jews were treated in the Arab world. Individual Palestinians are not responsible for the wrong-doing of Arab governments. If Italy were to abuse American citizens, this would not justify the United States harming or expelling Italian-Americans.

     Not all Jews from Arab lands are refugees. Those Jews who were mistreated in or expelled from Arab countries deserve compensation and a right to return if they so desire. But this is nothing for which the Palestinians bear any responsibility.


     It's anti-Semitic, says another argument, to accuse Israel of refusing to work toward peace when in fact Israel accepted compromises in 1947 and again in 2000, while the Palestinians rejected them.

     This claim, however, doesn't mesh with the historical evidence. In 1947 Jews were only one third of the population of Palestine and owned only 6% of the land. Yet the partition plan granted the Jewish state 55% of the total land area. The Arab state was to have an overwhelmingly Arab population, while the Jewish state would have almost as many Arabs as Jews. This is known in political science as gerrymandering. If it was unjust to force Jews to be a 1/3 minority in an Arab state, it was no more just to force Arabs to be an almost 50% minority in a Jewish state.

     Understandably, the Palestinians rejected partition. The Zionists accepted it, but in private Zionist leaders had more expansive goals. In 1937, during earlier partition proposals, David Ben Gurion, who was to become Israel's first prime minister, wrote to his son,

"A partial Jewish state is not the end, but only the beginning. The establishment of such a Jewish State will serve as a means in our historical efforts to redeem the country in its entirety….We shall organize a modern defense force…and then I am certain that we will not be prevented from settling in other parts of the country, either by mutual agreement with our Arab neighbors or by some other means….We will expel the Arabs and take their places…with the force at our disposal."[11]

     A year later, Ben Gurion told a Zionist meeting: "I favor partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout all of Palestine."[12]

     In early 1949, Ben Gurion told his aides: "Before the founding of the state, on the eve of its creation, our main interest was self-defense….But now the issue at hand is conquest, not self-defense. As for setting the borders -- it's an open-ended matter. In the Bible as well as in history there are all kinds of definitions of the country's borders, so there's no real limit."[13]

     So this was hardly a case of Palestinians rejecting a fair compromise and the Zionists accepting it. But even if that were the case, this can provide no moral justification for denying Palestinians their basic right of self- determination for more than half a century. This right is not a function of this or that agreement, but a basic right to which every person is entitled. Are Palestinians for all eternity to be denied the fundamental right of self-determination and must they live under foreign control because their leaders may have rejected an agreement in 1947? No one would think of saying that Israelis ought to live under foreign military occupation for seven generations because of the wrongdoing of the Israeli state. But that seems to be the argument with respect to Palestinians.

     Even if we think that the Palestinians were wrong to reject partition in 1947, how could that justify Israel taking over a large chunk of the territory assigned to the Palestinian state, and taking over as well half of Jerusalem, which the partition resolution had set aside as an international zone? And how could it justify not just expelling large numbers of Palestinians from their homes and confiscating their property, but also refusing to allow -- as the UN continually urged -- the return of those Palestinians willing to live in peace with their neighbors?

     As for the Camp David talks in 2000, the view promoted by Israeli apologists and the Clinton administration (but I repeat myself) is that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made an exceedingly generous offer to Yasser Arafat, but Arafat rejected it, choosing violence instead.

     A U.S. participant in the Camp David talks, Robert Malley, has shown the falsity of this view.[14] Barak never put any offer into writing and never provided details, so that in Malley's words, "strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer." The terms of the non-offer, as best we can tell, were to give the Palestinians Israeli land equivalent to 1% of the West Bank (unspecified, but to be chosen by Israel) in return for 9% of the West Bank that housed settlements, highways, and military bases, effectively dividing the West Bank into separate regions. Thus, there would have been no meaningfully independent Palestinian state emerging from Camp David, but a series of Bantustans, while all the best land and water aquifers would be in Israeli hands. Israel would also "temporarily" hold an additional 10 percent of West Bank land. And given that Barak had not carried out the previous withdrawals to which Israel had committed, Palestinian skepticism regarding "temporary" Israeli occupation is not surprising. It's a myth, Malley wrote, that "Israel's offer met most if not all of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations" and a myth as well that the "Palestinians made no concession of their own."

     Some Israeli analysts have made a similar assessment. For example, influential commentator Ze'ev Schiff wrote that, to Palestinians, "the prospect of being able to establish a viable state was fading right before their eyes. They were confronted with an intolerable set of options: to agree to the spreading occupation ... or to set up wretched Bantustans, or to launch an uprising."[15]


     Another argument holds that it's anti-Semitic to condemn Israel for occupying the "occupied territories," since these territories were acquired by Israel in a just war of defense. Israel's supporters argue that although Israel fired the first shots in this war, it was a justified preventive war, given that Arab armies were mobilizing on Israel's borders, with murderous rhetoric.

     The rhetoric was indeed blood-curdling, and many people around the world worried for Israel's safety. But those who understood the military situation -- in the Israeli government and in the U.S. government -- knew quite well that even if the Arabs struck first, Israel would prevail in any war. Nasser was looking for a way out and agreed to send his vice-president to Washington for negotiations. Israel attacked when it did in part because it rejected negotiations and the prospect of any face-saving compromise for Nasser. Menachem Begin, a member of the Israeli cabinet at the time and an enthusiastic supporter of this (and other) Israeli wars, was quite clear about whether it had been necessary to launch an attack: Israel, he said, "had a choice." Egyptian Army concentrations did not prove that Nasser was about to attack us. "We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."[16]

     However, even if it were the case that the 1967 war was wholly defensive on Israel's part, this cannot justify the continued rule over Palestinians. A people do not lose their right to self-determination because the government of a neighboring state goes to war. Sure, punish Egypt and Jordan -- don't give them back Gaza and the West Bank. But there is no basis for punishing the Palestinian population by forcing them to submit to foreign military occupation.

     Immediately following the war, Israel incorporated occupied East Jerusalem into Israel proper, announcing that Jerusalem was its united and eternal capital. It then began to establish settlements in the Occupied Territories in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibit a conquering power from settling its population on occupied territory. And despite Israeli government apologetics, it always knew that the settlements were illegal, having been so advised privately by its legal adviser at the time, the distinguished jurist Theodor Meron.[17]

     When the war began, the Israeli government lied, saying Israel had been attacked first, but in any event it assured the world that its defensive intentions could be seen by the fact that it had no territorial ambitions. When U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk later reminded Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban of this assurance, Eban "simply shrugged his shoulders and said, 'We've changed our minds.'"[18] Indeed.


     Another argument notes that the United Nations, dominated by anti-Semitic regimes, singles out Israel for special condemnation. The General Assembly passes numerous anti-Israel resolutions each year and raises barely a peep about the offenses of others, even when they are far more egregious.

     There is no doubt that nations in the UN General Assembly allow all sorts of considerations -- from self-interest to power politics to bigotry -- to affect their voting behavior. Many of the world's crimes go unremarked in that body. But the question remains whether the many condemnations of Israel are the result of anti-Israel bias or of Israeli policies that are disproportionately worthy of condemnation.

     Here's a way we can resolve this question. Instead of looking at the General Assembly, let's look at the UN Security Council. By the undemocratic procedure that prevails in that body, no substantive resolution can be adopted if the United States votes no, because of its veto power. Thus, we can see what the second most pro-Israeli government in the world thinks about Israeli behavior over the years.

     Now this test that I am employing is an exceedingly conservative one: many times when Israel indeed warrants the most severe condemnation, the Security Council fails to do so because of the United States' veto power. Forty-two times Washington vetoed resolutions critical of Israel. And countless other times, critical resolutions were not submitted because of the certain U.S. veto. And since the end of the Cold War, the Council has been notably quiet on the Israel-Palestine conflict.[19] In 2006, Israel's UN Ambassador, Dan Gillerman, jokingly told a meeting of B'nai Brith International that the U.S. UN Ambassador John Bolton was "a secret member of Israel's own team at the United Nations." The Israeli delegation, he said, was really not just five diplomats. "We are at least six including John Bolton."[20] But what was farce the first time may become tragedy under the Obama administration, where Washington has offered Netanyahu, in addition to other appalling concessions, a pledge to veto any anti-Israel resolution in the Security Council for the next year if he would freeze settlement construction for three months -- though details remain unclear.[21]

     So my procedure will have a lot of what social scientists call type I errors -- instances where Israel deserved extreme condemnation, but didn't get it -- and very few type II errors -- cases where it was wrongly condemned.

     So what does this extremely conservative test of Security Council resolutions reveal?

     It shows that Israel has been criticized, condemned, and censured by the Security Council -- including by the United States -- more than any other country in the world: for its military attacks on its neighbors, for its annexation of territory, for its refusal to apply the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Territories, for refusing to withdraw its troops, for taking hostages, for deporting civilians, for seizing a civilian airliner, and on and on. [For details, see Appendix.]

     Is there a double standard? Absolutely. But the double standard is in Israel's favor. Why? Because no other nation with such a record of violations of international law and of the resolutions of the Security Council and other UN bodies has been as immune as Israel from Security Council sanctions. Iraq was of course sharply condemned by the Council, but the condemnation was not just words: the Council authorized military action in 1991 and more than a decade of the harshest sanctions. South Africa was frequently criticized by the Security Council, and an arms embargo was imposed. Thanks in part to the obstruction of the United States, Britain, and France, the sanctions against Pretoria were quite limited, but nevertheless there were sanctions. Portugal was often condemned for its colonial and military policies in Africa, and it too was the subject of sanctions. Serbian behavior was the subject of numerous Security Council resolutions, and military action was authorized. In the case of Israel, on the other hand, its record-breaking numbers of U.S.-backed Security Council condemnations were not accompanied by any sanctions at all.[22]


     The final argument I want to consider says that surely Israel does not have the worst human rights record in the world. So why is it getting picked on?

     There are three points to note here.

     First, the UN does have an inherent bias to pay inadequate attention to domestic matters. There is a tension in the UN Charter: on the one hand, articles 55 and 56 of the Charter commit member states to respect human rights; on the other hand, article 2 section 7 stipulates that the UN has no right "to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state." This tension is not surprising given that the leading powers at the UN's founding were the Jim Crow United States and the Soviet Union under Stalin.

     In a few cases, the UN has gotten involved in domestic human rights issues, most notably in the case of South Africa, but in general even unpopular states have avoided criticism for their internal affairs. This is true even of Israel. In the many resolutions condemning Israel over the years, they are almost entirely focused on its treatment of people in occupied territories or people who have been forced across international borders or civilians in neighboring states -- not its treatment of its internal population.[23] So, yes, one can name numerous states whose domestic human rights record is worse, far worse, than Israel's, but how many states are there whose human rights record in occupied territories is worse than Israel's?

     It could certainly be argued that Indonesia's murderous occupation of East Timor was worse. Because of Indonesia's political clout the UN was pretty ineffectual in dealing with the Timor situation. Indonesia had the backing of many non-aligned states, and its invasion and occupation were abetted by the United States. Among the countries that didn't think Indonesian behavior was so bad, however, was Israel, which abstained on the General Assembly resolutions condemning Indonesia's invasion. Morocco's rule in Western Sahara is another awful occupation -- but Washington and Paris have prevented any UN sanctions against Morocco, and maintain close ties with Rabat. Israel too is on good terms with the Moroccan government.[24] Sixty-four countries currently recognize the "right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people," but absent from this list are the United States and Israel.[25] Thus, the two governments that most vociferously complain that Israel has been singled out for criticism have been rather muted in their condemnation of other occupations. On the other hand, some of the leading defenders of the Timorese and Sahrawi people have also been sharp critics of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.[26]

     Washington, of course, was outspoken in its denunciation of the horrendous human rights violations accompanying Iraq's takeover of Kuwait. But Iraq was hardly given a pass: as noted, the condemnations of Iraq were near unanimous and both sanctions and military action were approved by the Security Council.

     A second point to make about human rights double standards is that it makes sense as Americans that we should focus attention on the crimes of our own government or those enabled by our own government -- that's where we have the greatest moral responsibility and where we can make the most difference. So, yes, there were two horrible atrocities in 1982 in the Middle East: Israel's invasion of Lebanon and Syria's massacre in the city of Hama. But Israel was significantly armed by the United States. It was given diplomatic backing by the United States. So it's appropriate for Americans to be critical of crimes for which they bear some significant responsibility and which they could stop. Syria, on the other hand, was not armed by Washington. The artillery shells that fell on Hama, unlike the cluster bombs that fell on Lebanon, were not made in the United States. The United States did not run interference for Syria in the UN. Americans bore little responsibility for the destruction of Hama and could do little to stop it.

     Related to this point is a third one: it is reasonable to allocate one's time on the basis of likely impact. To spend a lot of time writing books or articles opposing something that everyone opposes is not a very effective use of one's energies. So of course one should not refrain from signing an ad protesting, say, Syria's actions in Hama, and even more so one shouldn't offer apologetics on behalf of the Syrian government; but to write reams of pages criticizing Syria for its atrocities in Hama is pushing against an open door. There probably wasn't a single U.S. commentator who praised Assad for his butchery. So there was nothing really to debate. In the case of Israel, however, there are a large number of commentators who loudly defend everything that country does. There are celebrated moralists like Elie Wiesel who have gone on record stating that it is improper to criticize Israel outside its borders.[27] When Stalinists of old used to reflexively defend the Soviet Union no matter the circumstances, it was easy to see apologists at work. Unfortunately, there are many prominent commentators in the United States who have this same sort of slavish devotion to Israel. Those willing to speak the truth accordingly have a greater obligation to refute the lies that are so common in our public discourse: and that means criticizing Israel.


     Anti-Semitism is one of the world's foulest ideologies. But if we want to minimize it, then instead of attacking those who criticize Israel's abuses, it would be far more effective to join those critics in urging Israel -- which calls itself the state of the Jewish people -- to end its abusive policies.




  1. Yossi Alpher, "A Message for Washington, Brussels and Cairo as well as Jerusalem," Bitter Lemons, Feb. 23, 2009. [back]
  2. Both the United States in Iraq and Israel in Gaza violated two separate moral and legal standards: international humanitarian law and the prohibition against aggressive war. (To use the language of just war theory, they violated both jus in bello and jus ad bellum principles.) Neither war had a just cause, if for no other reason than that their stated goals - destroying weapons of mass destruction and preventing the firing of rockets into southern Israel, respectively -- could have been readily been achieved without resort to war. For discussion of the Gaza case, see Stephen R. Shalom, "Unjust and Illegal: The Israeli Attack on Gaza," Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, vol. 8, no. 1, 2009; and Jerome Slater, "A Perfect Moral Failure: Just War Philosophy and the Israeli Attack on Gaza" [extended, footnoted version for the Tikkun website]. [back]
  3. See Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann, "Peace Index / Most Israelis support the attack on Iraq," Haaretz, Mar. 6, 2003. Martin Kramer irrelevantly challenges this poll, by citing another poll that shows a minority of Israelis opposed to immediately going to war ("Israel and Iraq War," Sandbox, April 2, 2006). For international comparisons, see Gallup International, "Iraq Poll 2003" (checking their actual data, rather than their press release. [back]
  4. Ben Lynfield, "Israel sees opportunity in possible US strike on Iraq," Christian Science Monitor, 8/30/02. Back in 2003, Yossi Alpher wrote about some of the "positive linkages" between the Iraq war and the Israel-Palestine conflict: "suicide bombings perpetrated against American forces in Iraq, and the inevitable tough reaction toward the Iraqi civilian population that they engender, tend to soften Israel's image in the eyes of international public opinion by portraying the harsh Israeli reaction to suicide bombings within the context of an international norm. By the same token, the US occupation of Iraq and civilian 'collateral damage' it causes there act in a way to justify Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza that would otherwise be criticized mercilessly. When an Israeli attack in Gaza that kills a terrorist along with six innocent Palestinian civilians is relegated to page 18 of The New York Times, the war in Iraq is definitely distracting attention from the confrontation here." "Linkages Good and Bad," Bitter Lemons, Apr. 14, 2003. [back]
  5. Dexter Filkins, "A REGION INFLAMED: STRATEGY; Tough New Tactics by U.S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns," New York Times, Dec. 7, 2003. [back]
  6. Barbara Opall-Rome, "Marines to train at new Israeli combat center," Marine Times, June 25, 2007. [back]
  7. Efraim Karsh, "The Palestinians Alone," New York Times, Aug. 1, 2010. [back]
  8. James Zogby, "Arabs Don't Care About Palestine? Don't Bet on It," Huffington Post, Aug. 2, 2010. [back]
  9. Avi Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). [back]
  10. See Mark Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, pp. 308-11; and sources in Noam Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War, New York: Pantheon, 1982, p. 462n33. [back]
  11. Quoted in Jerome Slater, "What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process," Political Science Quarterly, vol. 116, no. 2, 2001, pp. 173-74. [back]
  12. Quoted in Slater, "What Went Wrong," p. 174. [back]
  13. Jerome Slater, "Benny Morris, Former Historian," On the U.S. and Israel, Oct. 5, 2010. [back]
  14. Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," New York Review of Books, August 9, 2001. [back]
  15. Slater, "What Went Wrong," p. 184, citing Haaretz, Nov. 24, 2000. [back]
  16. "Excerpts From Begin Speech At National Defense College," New York Times, August 21, 1982. [back]
  17. Donald Macintyre, "Secret memo shows Israel knew Six Day War was illegal," The Independent (London), May 26, 2007. [back]
  18. Dean Rusk, As I Saw It, New York: W.W. Norton, 1990, p. 388. [back]
  19. See Security Council Report, "The Middle East 1947-2007: Sixty Years of Security Council Engagement on the Israel/Palestine Question," Special Research Report No. 4, Dec. 17, 2007. Security Council Report is "an independent not-for-profit organisation in affiliation with Columbia University's Center on International Organization." [back]
  20. Reuters, "Israel's UN ambassador slams Qatar, praises U.S. envoy Bolton," Haaretz, May 23, 2006. [back]
  21. Edmund Sanders, "Israel considers U.S. proposal; Netanyahu presents his Cabinet with an American incentive package to resume talks with Palestinians," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 15, 2010, p. A3. [back]
  22. Double Standards: How the International Community has Taught Israel that it is Above the Law. A report of the Negotiations Affairs Department Palestine Liberation Organization, Sept. 24, 2002. This study was published by the PLO, and so its analysis is obviously partisan, but the tables, assembled by Dr. Barbara Metzger, provide a good summary of the situation. [back]
  23. The lack of serious criticism of Israel's domestic policies is not because its domestic policies are blameless. For example, even apart from matters allegedly relating to national security (like censorship, torture, and repression), Israel has separate and unequal segregated schools (Human Rights Watch, "Second Class: Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel's Schools," Sept. 30, 2001), and more than 250,000 Israeli citizens and residents are currently barred from marrying in Israel (Asma Jahangir, Mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, A/HRC/10/8/Add.2, Jan. 12 2009, available here). [back]
  24. In 1965, the Mossad helped the Moroccan regime capture and assassinate exiled opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka. Israel provided Morocco with military aid in its efforts to control the Western Sahara. See Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, "Israel and Morocco: A Special Relationship," The Maghreb Review, vol. 21, nos. 1-2, 1996, p. 40; Michael M. Laskier, "Israeli-Moroccan Relations and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1977-2002," Israel Affairs, vol. 10, no. 3, Spring 2004, pp. 43, 52; Xavier Cornut, "The Moroccan connection," Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2009. [back]
  25. See the list on Wikipedia. [back]
  26. For example, Noam Chomsky and Stephen Zunes. [back]
  27. Cited in Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle, Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999, updated edition, p. 16. [back]




     Methodology: I sorted all 1,947 Security Council resolutions from 1946 to October 29, 2010, by topic. 291 of these dealt with Israel in some way. Of these 291, 134 consisted of renewals of peacekeeping forces on Israel's border with Lebanon, Syria, or Egypt. Many of the remaining ones did not single out Israel for criticism: either no one was criticized or several parties were criticized at the same time. 81 resolutions criticized Israel specifically. In a few cases, categorizing these resolutions involved some judgment. Generally if a resolution condemned the breaking of a cease-fire, but without specifying who was responsible, it was not counted here, regardless of what evidence there is regarding the responsibility. On the other hand, if a resolution called for parties to return their forces to a previous position, without specifying which forces had advanced and which had not, and if there is evidence showing that it was Israel that advanced and did not withdraw, then the resolution was counted here as critical of Israel. Of these 81 resolutions, the United States voted in favor of 52 of them and abstained on 29. The 52 resolutions that Washington backed are summarized in the table below.

     Most other countries were the subjects of fewer than 52 resolutions. Therefore, ipso facto these countries could not have been criticized as often as Israel. Aside from Israel, the countries that were the subject of 50 or more resolutions were: the former Yugoslavia and its components (184 resolutions), Cyprus (129), Iraq (102), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (64), Western Sahara (61), Angola (60), and Liberia (53). In each of these cases there were fewer than 52 critical resolutions directed at a single country.

     The Yugoslavia resolutions included about 20 that directed special condemnation at Serbia or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. (This includes resolutions that criticized both Serbia and Croatia for intervention in Bosnia Herzegovina.) Another 13 singled out for criticism the Bosnian Serbs and 1 the Serbs of Croatia. The Government of Croatia was criticized in a further 6 resolutions. Other resolutions dealt with peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, Croatia, or Macedonia (51); the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (32); the embargo imposed on Serbia (9); and another 42 were neutral in their criticism. The categorization here was often complex, with several resolutions running to seven pages. But it is unlikely that a different categorization would boost the total of resolutions critical of Serbia to over Israel's 52.

     The Council passed 102 resolutions relating to Iraq (apart from the one condemning Israel's 1981 attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor). Of these, 22 dealt with Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, and thus dealt with an entirely different regime. Of the remaining 80 resolutions, 45 of them did not single out Iraq for criticism: most dealt with the oil-for-food program or UN monitors on the Iranian or Kuwaiti border. Ten resolutions dealt with the Iran-Iraq war, usually calling for a ceasefire and (when Iran was occupying Iraq but not when Iraq was occupying Iran) withdrawal to the pre-war borders. The resolutions on the use of chemical weapons condemned both sides equally, with a single resolution (620) noting that "use against Iranians had become more intense and frequent." This leaves 35 resolutions that were critical of Iraq, many of them extremely so.

     Regarding Cyprus, there were some criticisms of Turkey and demands that it withdraw, but the bulk of the resolutions did not refer to Turkey by name or by clear implication.

     Regarding Western Sahara, the bulk of the resolutions urged both parties to cooperate with the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Sahara. Neither party - Morocco or the Polisario Liberation Front - was singled out for condemnation.

     Regarding Angola, the UN tried to verify a peaceful settlement between the government and a guerrilla group that had long been backed by Western powers, UNITA. UNITA came in for criticism much more frequently than did the government, and the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on UNITA.

     Regarding Liberia, the Council authorized a UN Mission in Liberia to help provide security and repair the effects of a devastating civil war.

     Thus, no country has been criticized by the Security Council more times than Israel was - with the concurrence of the United States.

UN Security Council Resolutions Criticizing Israel,
with an Affirmative Vote By the United States

ResolutionYearCouncil ActionComment
SC Res. 59 1949 After members of the Israeli Stern Gang murder the UN mediator, the Council "notes with concern" that the Israeli government failed to provide a report on the incident. What the Council didn't know was that the person in charge of the assassination would later become prime minister of Israel (Yitzhak Shamir) and that Ben Gurion kept secret the confession of a close friend who was one of the assassins.[1]
SC Res. 93 1951 The Council "finds" that Israel's air actions against Syria were inconsistent with the UN Charter and with the armistice agreements, and "decides" that Arabs removed from the demilitarized zone by Israel "be permitted to return forthwith."  
SC Res. 101 1953 The Council issues the "strongest censure" for Israel's attack on the Jordanian village of Qibya. The attack killed 69 civilians, three quarters of them women and children. Some Israeli officials were embarrassed by this operation, but that didn't stop them from publicly lying about it.[2]
SC Res. 106 1955 The Council "condemns" Israel's attack on Gaza. Israel claimed to be doing this in response to Egypt's anti-Semitic hanging of 2 Egyptian Jews, hiding the fact that Israel had used these Jews to plant incendiary devices in western theaters and libraries in Egypt.[3]
SC Res. 111 1956 The Council "condemns" Israel's "flagrant" and unjustified attack on Syria, and "expresses its grave concern" at Israel's failure to comply with its obligations.  
SC Res. 119 1956 Following veto by UK and France of draft resolution supported by the United States condemning the Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt, the Council votes to send the matter to the General Assembly. It is now known that at a secret planning meeting in France Ben Gurion proposed that Israel take not just the Sinai, but southern Lebanon, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.[4]
SC Res. 127 1958 The Council asks Israel to suspend its activities in the Israel-Jordan demilitarized zone.  
SC Res. 138 1958 The Council asks Israel to pay reparations to Argentina for violating its sovereignty to seize Adolf Eichmann.  
SC Res. 162 1962 The Council "urges" Israel to comply with the decision of the Israel-Jordan Mixed Armistice Commission.  
SC Res. 171 1962 The Council "determines" that an Israeli attack on Syria is a "flagrant violation" and "calls upon" Israel scrupulously to refrain from such action in the future.  
SC Res. 228 1966 The Council "censures" Israel for a particularly large scale attack on the Jordanian village of Sammu.  
SC Res. 236 1967 On June 11, in the middle of the Six Day War, the Council condemns violations of the ceasefire and tells the parties to return to the lines of the previous day; but only Israel had advanced, and it fails to comply.  
SC Res. 237 1967 At the close of the war, the Council tells Israel to allow the return of those who fled during the fighting. Israel fails to comply.[5]
SC Res. 248 1968 The Council "condemns" a large-scale Israeli military action against Jordan.  
SC Res. 250 1968 The Council "calls upon" Israel not to hold a provocative military parade in Jerusalem, now fully conquered by Israel.  
SC Res. 251 1968 The Council "deeply deplores" Israel's action in ignoring SC Res. 250.  
SC Res. 256 1968 The Council "condemns" "massive" Israeli air attacks on Jordan.  
SC Res. 262 1968 The Council "condemns" attack on Beirut's civil airport, and considers that Lebanon is entitled to compensation.  
SC Res. 267 1969 The Council "deplores" Israel's failure to show any regard for General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem; "censures in the strongest terms" all measures taken to change the status of Jerusalem; and again declares all such measures invalid. U.S. had abstained on earlier resolution, SC Res. 252.  
SC Res. 270 1969 The Council "condemns" an Israeli air attack on Lebanon.  
SC Res. 279 1970 The Council "demands" that Israel remove all its military forces from Lebanon.  
SC Res. 298 1971 The Council again "deplores" Israel's failure to respect its resolutions on Jerusalem.  
SC Res. 313 1972 The Council "demands" that Israel desist from military action in Lebanon and withdraw its forces forthwith.  
SC Res. 337 1973 The Council "condemns" Israel's hijacking of a Lebanese civilian airliner.  
SC Res. 339 1973 During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Council calls for a cease-fire and "urges" a return to the cease-fire lines (only Israel had advanced beyond the previous cease-fire lines). Kissinger was secretly encouraging Israel to violate the cease-fire and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir informed Kissinger through her ambassador that Israel would not return to the cease-fire line.[6]
SC Res. 340 1973 The Council again "demands" a cease-fire and a return to the cease-fire lines as of 1650 on Oct. 22.  
SC Res. 347 1974 The Council "condemns" Israeli attacks in Lebanon and "calls upon Israel forthwith to release and return to Lebanon the abducted Lebanese civilians." In later years (1985 and 1989) the Council would twice pass a general resolution on hostage-taking, condemning the practice, and calling on all states who had not yet done so to become a party to an international treaty outlawing the practice. Some 160 states have ratified the treaty. As of 2010, Israel has not.[7]
SC Res. 425 1978 The Council "calls upon" Israel to cease military action in Lebanon and to withdraw its troops from that country.  
SC Res. 427 1978 Two months later the Council notes that there have been some Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon, but it "calls upon" Israel to fully withdraw.  
SC Res. 444 1979 The Council "deplores" the lack of cooperation, particularly on the part of Israel, with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, including its support to irregular armed groups.  
SC Res. 450 1979 The Council "strongly deplores" acts of violence against Lebanon, and "calls upon" Israel to cease all actions against Lebanon, including assistance to "irresponsible armed groups."  
SC Res. 465 1980 The Council "strongly deplores" Israel's refusal to allow a Palestinian mayor to attend a meeting of the Security Council; terms Israel's actions in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, illegal, in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions; "strongly deplores" Israel's settlement policy, calling on it to rescind all such measures, and declaring that no state should give any aid to Israel that might support the settlements.  
SC Res. 484 1980 The Council reaffirms the applicability of the Geneva Convention to the occupied territories, "calls upon" Israel to comply with the Convention, and "declares it imperative" that the expelled mayors be returned to their homes. US had earlier abstained SC Res. 468 urging Israel to rescind its expulsion of 3 Palestinian officials from the occupied territories.
SC Res. 487 1981 The Council "strongly condemns" Israel's attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osiraq, and "calls upon Israel urgently" to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards.  
SC Res. 497 1981 The Council "decides" Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights null and void and "demands" that Israel rescind the annexation.  
SC Res. 498 1981 The Council reaffirms Resolution 425, which "calls upon" Israel to cease military action in Lebanon and withdraw its troops.  
SC Res. 501 1982 The Council again reaffirms Resolution 425, which "calls upon" Israel to cease military action in Lebanon and withdraw its troops.  
SC Res. 509 1982 On June 6, 1982, after Israel invaded deep into Lebanon, the Council demands that Israel withdraw its troops and that there be an immediate cease-fire.  
SC Res. 513 1982 The Council calls for the restoration of normal supply of vital facilities, especially in Beirut. Israel not named, but it was Israel that was laying siege to Beirut.
SC Res. 518 1982 The Council demands that Israel and all parties strictly observe the cease-fire in Lebanon and that Israel immediately lift all restrictions it has imposed on getting supplies into Beirut.  
SC Res. 520 1982 The Council condemns the murder of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel (not by Israel), and Israeli incursions into Beirut, demanding that as a first step forces return to their positions of two days earlier. Two days later, the Council condemned (in SC Res. 521, with U.S. approval) the massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. These were carried out by Lebanese Phalangists, with Israeli complicity.[8]
SC Res. 607 1988 The Council calls on Israel to refrain from deporting Palestinian civilians from the occupied territories.  
SC Res. 672 1990 Council condemns especially the acts of violence committed by Israeli security forces in the occupied Palestinian territories leading to deaths and injuries, calls on Israel to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention, and welcomes the decision of the Secretary General to send a mission to the region.  
SC Res. 673 1990 The Council deplores Israel's refusal to receive the Secretary General's mission.  
SC Res. 681 1990 The Council expresses its "grave concern" over Israel's rejection of resolutions 672 and 673; deplores Israel's decision to resume deportations of Palestinians; and urges Israel to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention.  
SC Res. 694 1991 Council declares that the Israeli deportations violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and that it deplores the Israeli actions.  
SC Res. 726 1992 The Council again declares that the Israeli deportations violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, reaffirms the applicability of the Convention, and requests Israel to refrain from deportations and all the return of those already deported.  
SC Res. 799 1992 Council strongly condemns the Israeli deportations; reaffirms the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to all the occupied Palestinian territories; affirms that the deportation of civilians violates the Convention; and demands that Israel return those deported.  
SC Res. 904 1994 Following 50 Palestinian civilian deaths in a massacre in Hebron and the aftermath, the Council reaffirms the applicability of the Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, and calls for Israel to confiscate arms to prevent illegal settler violence and a temporary international presence to protect Palestinian civilians. Israel's official response rejected the inclusion of Jerusalem as being part of the occupied territories, and was silent on the specific recommendations of confiscating arms and allowing an international presence.[9]
SC Res. 1402 2002 The Council calls for a cease-fire and for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian cities.  
SC Res. 1403 2002 The Council "demands" implementation of SC Res. 1402.  
SC Res 1405 2002 The Council emphasizes the urgency of access by medical and humanitarian organizations to Palestinians ("calling for the lifting of restrictions imposed").  


Notes to Appendix

  1. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians, Cambridge: South End Press 1983, updated edition 1999, p. 486. [back]
  2. Walid Khalidi and Neil Caplan, "The 1953 Qibya Raid Revisited," Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 31, no. 4 (Summer 2002), pp. 77-98. [back]
  3. See Joel Beinin, The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. [back]
  4. Avi Shlaim, "The Protocol of Sevres, 1956: Anatomy of a War Plot," International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs), Vol. 73, No. 3 (Jul., 1997), pp. 509-530. [back]
  5. Fred J. Khouri, The Arab-Israeli Dilemma, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2nd ed., 1976, pp. 149-161. [back]
  6. Patrick Tyler, A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East -- from the Cold War to the War on Terror, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, pp. 164, 168, 170. [back]
  7. See here. Israel signed, but did not ratify. Syria and Indonesia are not parties. [back]
  8. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut (The Kahan Commission) (February 8, 1983); and, much more critically, Ammon Kapeliouk, Sabra and Shatila: Inquiry into a Massacre, Belmont, MA: Association of Arab-American University Graduates. AAUG Press, 1984). [back]
  9. Israel, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Israel's Response To Security Council Resolution 904," (Communicated by Foreign Ministry Spokesman) 19 March 1994. [back]