Why did UN participate in Israeli conference with Nazi sympathizer?

NIckolay Mladenov

What was the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process doing at an Israeli counterterrorism conference in the company of genocide advocates and right-wing ideologues who view the world as a conflict between Judeo-Christian civilization and its enemies?

Nickolay Mladenov’s very presence at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s annual conference in Herzliya, as well as his remarks as a keynote speaker, are troubling.

During an improvised bit before delivering his prepared remarks, Mladenov stated that in the future, Europe, like Israel, will increasingly debate “the balance between individual human rights and security, between the state and the individual, and between what one can and one should do, and what one can and shouldn’t do, under the laws of the state and international law in fighting terror.”

That rights aren’t non-negotiable, but something to be “balanced,” is a strange notion for a senior UN official to suggest.

Mladenov’s speech was delivered in the presence of Israel’s justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, who once promoted a genocidal call for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers “who give birth to little snakes.”

She shared that call on her Facebook page just before Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014 that left more than one in every 1,000 Palestinians there dead.

Individual rights vs. Zionism

Shaked has more recently decried the very judicial system over which she presides for what she says is its deference to individual rights at the expense of Zionism, Israel’s state ideology.

“Zionism should not continue, and I say here, it will not continue to bow down to the system of individual rights interpreted in a universal way that divorces them from the history of the Knesset [Israel’s parliament] and the history of legislation that we all know,” Shaked declared.

She described Israel’s so-called “nation-state bill” – which compels Israel’s highest court to favor the “Jewish character” of the state over its “democratic” one – as a “moral and political revolution.”

It was in the presence of ethnocratic hardliners like Shaked who reject the concept universal rights that Mladenov stated that “standing up firmly to terror must be an integral part of any peace process,” and that “We need to stand up against terror whenever and wherever it takes place.”

One of Mladenov’s co-speakers at the conference was Gilad Erdan, Israel’s strategic affairs minister who oversees a “black ops” program to combat the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) in support of Palestinian rights.

Those operations, according to a veteran Israeli analyst, may involve “defamation campaigns, harassment and threats to the lives of activists” as well as “infringing on and violating their privacy.”

Threats against human rights defender

Erdan has vowed that BDS activists “will know they will pay a price for it,” openly threatening Palestinian human rights defender and BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti.

Erdan has also declared that “every terrorist should know that he will not survive the attack he is about to perpetrate,” a shoot-to-kill policy applied to scores of alleged Palestinian assailants, including children, which amounts to a de facto death sentence – despite the ban on capital punishment in Israel.

Does Mladenov agree with Israel’s policy that the “balance” between individual rights and security necessitates a compromise to an individual’s very right to life?

In any case, Mladenov seems to think that Palestinians don’t have the right to self-defense or resistance.

During his speech he boasted of the report issued last year by the so-called Quartet for Middle East Peace (the UN, EU, US and Russia) which identified “militant build-up” by Palestinian groups and – in Mladenov’s words – “what is happening in Gaza” – as an obstacle to peace.

His comments echo the position taken by his colleague Robert Piper, the UN’s chief humanitarian coordinator in Palestine.

Piper’s office issued a report this year signaling the world body’s alignment with Israel and its international backers in pushing for Gaza’s total surrender.

That report deems Hamas’ rule there illegitimate – despite the party’s victory in the most recently held Palestinian legislative elections – because of its refusal to comply with the Quartet’s demand that it “recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence.”

No such demand is made on Israel to renounce violence and recognize Palestinians’ right to exist.

Resistance to state terror

Mladenov told the conference in Herzliya that Israel has “lived with terror for decades,” but did not acknowledge that the state itself was founded on terror and ethnic cleansing.

Nor did he acknowledge that Palestinians, like any other occupied people, have the right to self-defense – a right upheld by international law.

But counterterrorism is the paradigm by which states like the US and Israel – using massive and indiscriminate violence against civilians for which they are never held accountable – to advance their own hegemonic interests.

An unending, belligerent military occupation also allows Israel to market its “counterterror” expertise and weaponry as “battle-tested” – on the bodies of Palestinians.

Counterterrorism is the saw-toothed edge of “Brand Israel” and the UN has seemingly bought into it.

During his speech, Mladenov mentioned that the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, has newly established an office for counterterrorism – an effort that has entailed “extensive discussions” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and figures in the Israeli military.

Mladenov did pay lip service to the need for a political horizon that maintains hope of a better future in the Middle East.

“Human sacrifices”

He did not evoke a clash of civilizations like David Friedman, the bankruptcy lawyer and settlement financier serving as Trump’s envoy to Israel.

Friedman repeatedly referred to “radical Islamic terrorists” during his speech at the conference.

Friedman, who, like Mladenov, delivered his remarks on the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, stated:

“We know that Israelis share not only our grief in the face of terrorism but also our determination to strike at radical Islamic terrorists wherever they are and to make sure that the tactics of radical Islamic terrorists never become political successes.”

He read off a list of attacks waged by Palestinians against Israelis, and condolence calls he recently made to the families of Israelis killed by Palestinian assailants, including two police officers who he said were slain by “radical Islamic terrorists” – conflating Palestinians resisting Israel’s military occupation with Islamic State fighters in Syria.

Friedman insisted that Israelis were not the only ones in the region suffering from terrorism, but he did not mean Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces.

Channeling the debunked talking point that Palestinian schools teach “incitement,” Friedman stated: “Palestinian kids taught to hate Jews instead of being taught math and science are the human sacrifices in the cause of radical extremism.”

Never mind that Israeli forces killed nearly three dozen Palestinian children in 2016 – making it the deadliest year for Palestinian children in the West Bank in more than a decade – and killed children in their Gaza homes by the dozens in the summer of 2014.

Most media attention around the counterterrorism conference in Herzliya concerned the participation of Sebastian Gorka, the recently ousted adviser to Donald Trump and pseudo intellectual with ties to Nazi and violent anti-Semitic groups in Europe.

Gorka enjoyed a warm reception as he assured an appreciative audience that “America and Israel are founding members of the Judeo-Christian civilization and together we will defeat our common enemies.”

What business does a UN peace envoy have in such company?

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Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.