As another telling example of how the UN has lost its moral compass, on March 9, just one day after International Women’s Day marked the achievement and continued challenges of women, the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, passed the only country-specific resolution condemning Israel for the supposed intolerable living conditions of Palestinian women.
No action was taken against Iran, where girls are stoned to death for allegedly committing adultery, or Syria, where women are indiscriminately tortured, raped, and murdered by the Assad regime. The plight of Saudi Arabian women who are treated as chattel under monarchy-sanctioned gender apartheid was altogether ignored. The United Nations only censured Israel, one of the world’s most progressive defenders of women’s rights, for exclusive and unwarranted opprobrium.
The UN’s preoccupation with Israel will saw one of its own organization’s pass a resolution decrying that the “Israeli occupation” in territories, including east Jerusalem, is the main obstacle for the advancement of Palestinian woman. Not a peep from the UN about the internal Palestinian conditions that stymie female self-determination. Israel’s envoy to the UN, Ron Proser, rightly proclaimed that this council’s resolution “bring levels of absurdity and cynicism to new heights.”
Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East and stalwart protector of women, is cast by the UN as the foremost oppressor of women. In a region where the terms “Middle East” and “women’s rights” are contradictory and not complementary, Israel stands out as a beacon for the rights of women, not its serial abuser.
It’s no wonder that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the UN General Assembly this past September, he referred to the UN as “a house of many lies” and a “theatre of the absurd.” A place where “Israel is unjustly singled out for condemnation more often than all the nations of the world combined” and where Israel is “not only cast as the villain, but where real villains are cast in leading roles.”To support his argument, Netanyahu pointed out how Libya chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights under Gaddafi’s ruthless and tyrannical reign. He referred to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq which headed the UN committee on disarmament and how the UN described the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest accessible site as “occupied Palestinian territory”.
In a place where automatic majorities decide anything, it’s no wonder that also this week another UN organ body, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) approved a resolution to keep Syria on the agency’s human rights committee. Talk about farcical. A leading violator of human rights which has by some estimates killed close to 7,500 of its own people, sits on a UN committee tasked with instilling, nurturing, and enforcing international human rights.
In reality, Israel’s sterling record on women’s rights stands in sharp contrast to the sordid history of its Arab neighbour’s treatment of its own females. Israeli women like the late Prime Minister Golda Meir and current head of the Kadima political party, Tzipi Livni, have led their country with distinguished honour. Israel recently ranked 11th place among 59 developed countries for the participation of women in the workplace. Israeli women serve in Israel’s independent judiciaries, civil service and public sectors, and are leaders in the business and labour communities, all while serving important roles in the Israel Defense Forces. Next week in fact, Israeli women will take part in the “Slutwalk” protest. In a show of solidarity, Israeli women are joining this peaceful protest movement that started in Canada in response to a policeman’s comment that to avoid being attacked, women shouldn’t dress like “sluts”.
Interestingly, International Women’s Day this year took place on the same day as the Jewish holiday of Purim, a festival that remembers and honours Esther, a Jewish-Persian queen, for preventing a massacre of the Jewish people from the hands of the evil Haman. In Israel and around the world, Jews celebrate the biblical Esther as a heroine of the Jewish people. Whereas in Egypt, women who recently stood up for their rights and for the liberties of others in Tahrir Square were oppressed, abused, and imprisoned. In the Gaza Strip, 58.1 percent of women are subjected to violence by their husbands. According to Human Rights Watch, Hamas’ “morality policy” harass, jail, and abuse women for purported violations of Islamic law. In the broader Middle East there is sadly much of the same: women are victims of honour killings, domestic violence, genital mutilation, human trafficking, and forced marriage.
It’s for these reasons that we must remain cognizant of the many obstacles that women face particularly in the Arab world, the broader Middle East, and North Africa when we celebrate the many advancements women’s rights have made globally. In order to foster fundamental freedoms and human rights, we need important world bodies like the United Nations and our mainstream media to focus their attention on the plight of these women, and not just simply vilify and scapegoat Israel. In doing so, our policy makers can make informed decisions that promote the personal freedoms and professional opportunities of women in the region.
Mike Fegelman is Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada, a non-profit organization which ensures fair and accurate Canadian media coverage of Israel.
Courtesy of the National Post.