One would expect a diplomat to present the best face of his or her country and to avoid attracting unwelcome attention to its flaws.  But apparently that’s not the way Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN sees his role.  In an April 1 editorial in the New York Times, he openly wondered why his country, "the only democracy in the Middle East” and "a thriving society,” is singled out for widespread criticism on the part of UN bodies, when countries with worse human rights records such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Syria go practically scot-free. 

The one plausible explanation he finds is that the UN, a “once great global body[,] has been overrun by repressive regimes that violate human rights and undermine international security,” a sweeping indictment that is sure to rankle many of his colleagues as well as the countries they represent.   That might have been enough of a faux pas to prompt the diplomat’s recall, but he doesn’t stop there. 


He goes on to boast that Israel “speak[s] tirelessly for those who are denied a voice in most of the Middle East, women, minorities and the LGBT community.”  For people who are even slightly familiar with Israel’s history and current situation, that raises the inevitable question: but what about the Palestinians?  Are they not among those denied a voice in the Middle East and deserving of Israel’s tireless support?

For example, Palestinian citizens of Israel do not have the same rights as other Israelis.  Public services like education, transport, water supply, garbage collection, etc., are of vastly inferior quality and sometimes non-existent, compared to those available to the Jewish-Israeli population.   For Palestinians construction permits are extremely hard and expensive to come by.  House expropriations and demolitions are routine and Palestinians are even made to foot the bill for having their own houses demolished for lack of permits.

In the West Bank, Palestinians are living under military occupation and their rights are severely curtailed.  As I personally observed during a November 2013 trip to the region, in Hebron, for instance, Palestinians are confined to one side of the street and are not allowed to use motor vehicles.  Many of the formerly thriving Palestinian stores were closed permanently right after the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli terrorist, opened fire on unarmed Palestinian Muslims praying inside the Mosque, killing 29 people outright and wounding 125 more. (Baruch is still revered by some settlers as a hero and a martyr).  Inside the Hebron market the alleys are covered with netting to protect the merchants and their customers from the trash that the settlers living above the market shower down on them.  

For the Palestinians, life under occupation becomes a daily series of humiliations and deprivations, not to mention frequent incarcerations, maimings, and killings.  

On a macro scale, the ongoing occupation imposes enormous costs on the Palestinian economy.  A 2013 World Bank study of the impact of restricting Palestinian access to Area C which remains under exclusive Israeli control, estimates that “if businesses and farms were permitted to develop in Area C, this would add as much as 35 percent to the Palestinian GDP,” leading to a 35 percent increase in Palestinian employment. 

It is not just UN institutions that have been critical of Israel.  There are countless Israeli and international human rights organizations that have documented the Israeli government’s human rights violations and its oppression of the Palestinians, including Bt’selem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, among others. 

Moreover, an increasing number of European countries, long-time and generous supporters of Israel, have recently recognized Palestine as a state and made it clear that the Israeli occupation must come to an end.  A growing citizenry around the world has similarly concluded that since Israel appears unwilling or unable to change by itself and since Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is undermining international security, it has become necessary to bring outside pressure to bear on Israel in the form of a non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, such as the one that was used against the South African apartheid regime. 

The ambassador’s criticism of the UN is a desperate reaction to the world community finally beginning to hold Israel responsible for several decades of human rights violations. Attempts by Israeli diplomats to divert the world’s attention to other human rights abusers will no longer do the trick.

Karcher is a former division chief for Population and Human Resources at the World Bank, Washington, DC.