The UN removed portions of an Israeli exhibition at the international body’s headquarters in New York this week that alleged Israel’s equal treatment of Palestinian citizens and touted Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, claims deemed by the UN as falling out of line with international law.
Two panels out of 13 in the display were barred as the exhibition launched Monday, in order that it “conform with the purposes and principles” of the UN, Farhan Haq, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, told Mondoweiss.
Of those removed was a panel entitled “Israeli Arabs: Equal citizens under the law, the only proven democracy in the Middle East.”
The panel said Israel’s Palestinian citizens are not only treated the same as Israeli Jews, but also “serve in the Israeli parliament, vote in all elections, and enrich Israel’s diverse culture,” falling in direct contradiction to the recent suspension of three Palestinian members of Knesset and Israeli policies that have long placed Palestinians as second-class citizens.
Another poster removed from the exhibition by the UN referred to Jerusalem as “the spiritual and physical capital of the Jewish people.”
Referring to the poster’s removal, Haq said: “We try to make sure, among other things, that displays are in line with international law, as, for example, regarding the question of Jerusalem.” Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem as its capital nor its illegal occupation of East Jerusalem since 1967 have been accepted by the majority of the international community as legal.
“We also try to the best of our ability to keep these spaces [UN exhibits for Member States] free from polemics: While you may promote your country, that should not be done at the expense of others who cannot immediately respond,” Haq added.
Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon lambasted the decision to remove the panels as “outrageous” and demanded the UN “apologize to the Jewish people,” during an address to Israeli media delivered the day before the exhibition launched.
While an initial UN decision was made to also discard a panel on Zionism, the panel was returned shortly after what Haq termed a “miscommunication” with the Israeli mission regarding the use of a photo on the panel.
The panel refers to Zionism as the liberation movement of the Jewish people who sought to overcome 1,900 years of oppression and regain self-determination in their indigenous homeland.
The panel fails to mention the 750,000 indigenous Palestinians who were expelled and became refugees during the establishment of Israel, the majority of whom still reside in UN-run refugee camps and now number in the millions.
Following the initial call to remove the panel, a “protest exhibit” was set up featuring the banned panel on Zionism stamped with the word “censored” in large red letters, and the UN later allowed the original panel to be displayed.
The US-based NGO Stand With Us which partook in the exhibition’s development called UN decision to ban the Zionism display an “affront” to Israel. The group referenced a UN resolution passed 40 years ago equating Zionism with racism, and alleged the UN was abiding by the resolution despite its reversal 16 years later.
Ambassador Danon said the decision to include the Zionism panel was a “clear win for Israeli diplomacy and a victory for the truth about Israel,” according to a statement released by Stand With Us.
“This is a step in the right direction, but the UN must reverse its earlier decision entirely and allow the exhibit to be displayed without censoring the truth about Israel and Jerusalem – the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” Danon said.
This week’s rift marked the most recent in a long line of disputes to arise between the UN and Israeli leadership regarding Israel’s flagrant violations of international law.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late last month called any criticism of Israel’s military forces “outrageous and unacceptable,” shortly after the UN slammed the behavior of an Israeli soldier who shot through the head a Palestinian lying wounded on the ground as “gruesome and immoral.”
Weeks prior — following a UN decision to create a database of companies conducting business in illegal Israeli settlements — the PM labelled the UN Human Rights Council an “anti-Israel circus,” and called on “responsible governments not to honor the decisions of the Council that discriminate against Israel.”
Despite allegations by Israeli leadership that the UN singles out Israel for violations of international law, critics point to the long history of failure by the international community to either enforce or approve UN measures regarding Israel.
UN human rights monitor to the occupied Palestinian territory Makarim Wibisono last month criticized the international community for failing to hold Israel accountable for its rights violations.
“I have been struck by the abundance of information documenting violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and the seeming inability of the international community to match what is known of the situation with more effective protection of Palestinians,” Wibisono said during his end-of-term address.