Condemnation and condolence by the UN Secretary General — genuine or politically biased?
By Amb. Alan Baker
The recent tragic act of terrorism and hatred that caused the murder of a Palestinian child Ali Dawabsha in the West Bank and the serious wounding of the child’s family, cannot, and should not, in any way be minimized.
It is deserving of utter condemnation and repudiation by all elements of society, and has indeed been so condemned and rejected.
In the strong condemnation by the UN Secretary General dated July 31, 2015, issued hours after the tragic event, in a statement attributable to his spokesman, his expression of condolences to the family and his call for the perpetrators to be brought to justice were clearly pertinent and justified.
The Secretary General’s statement reads as follows:
However, the bona fide and genuinely heartfelt nature of the Secretary General’s condemnation and condolences would appear to be somewhat tempered by the unfortunate and unnecessary political message contained in the statement. He makes unproven assumptions and political accusations couched in terminology that can only serve to undermine the genuine and bona fide nature of the message.
To arbitrarily link this heinous act of violent extremism and terror to the “absence of a political process and Israel’s illegal settlement policy, as well as the harsh and unnecessary practice of demolishing Palestinian houses” is nothing more than a regrettable and unnecessary non-sequitur and a politicization of what should be a straightforward message of sorrow and condolence.
The Secretary General may well have the absolute prerogative, whenever he deems necessary, to express regret at the absence of a political process, and to criticize Israel’s settlement policies and other actions, and even to blame Israel for threatening the “legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for statehood.” This is his political viewpoint, and that of the organization he heads, whether it be correct or not. This prerogative is exercised frequently whenever the Secretary General finds the need to refer to the Israel-Palestinian issue.
However, as long as the Israeli police have not yet completed the investigation, he cannot and should not, within hours of the event itself, use the tragic event of the child’s murder to arbitrarily determine who committed the act. He cannot and should not render a political determination declaring that it was caused by the lack of a political process or by Israel’s settlement policy. This may well be his own opinion or value-judgment, but it has no place in a formal UN statement of this kind.
It is perhaps illustrative to compare the Secretary General’s recent strong reaction to the tragic murder of the Palestinian baby on 31 July 2015, with his hesitant and curt reaction to the 11 March 2011 murder of an Israeli family of five, – the Fogel family – including three children aged between three months and eleven years, in the village of Itamar.
In his two and a half line statement issued by his spokesperson, the Secretary General simply stated that he “condemns last night’s shocking murder of an Israeli family…”
He evidently felt that this no-less cruel and dastardly act did not warrant any “strong condemnation” or even any expression of condolence to the Israeli family that had been so brutally butchered in their sleep.
This cynical and insensitive lack of any expression of condolence vis-à-vis Israeli families repeated itself only a few days after the Itamar attack, on the 23 March 2011, when he strongly condemned a bomb attack at a Jerusalem bus stop which “reportedly” (as stated in his statement) killed one woman and injured over thirty civilians.
The practice of the Secretary General in condemning acts of terror and expressing condolence and calling for investigations would appear to have a standard pattern and format, when it relates to such acts of terror everywhere else in the world, and thus merits some consideration.
Three days prior to the July 31 2015 murder of Ali Dawabsha, the Secretary General condemned a 28 July 2015 terrorist bomb attack in the Bahrain village of Sitra that killed two policemen and injured several other civilians. He expressed deep condolences and called for a full and transparent investigation, but in this case he neither attached blame nor attributed the act to any particular circumstances, political or otherwise.
In his daily press briefing of 27 July 2015, the Secretary General’s spokesman, despite being asked to do so, markedly refrained from expressing any kind of condemnation, condolence or call for investigation of a missile attack on the town of Marib, Yemen, on 27 July 2015, which indiscriminately targeted civilian targets and in which hundreds of people were evidently killed and injured and a power station destroyed.
A terrorist suicide bombing of a hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, 26 July 2015, killing fifteen civilians, including a Chinese diplomat, was condemned “in the strongest terms” by the members of the Security Council in a statement issued on the same day, with an expression of sympathy and condolences.
In this case, the Security Council did not consider it necessary to attribute blame, nor to add political comment or criticism, apart from a reaffirmation that “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to peace and security and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable regardless of motivation and by whomsoever committed.”
When the Secretary General and Security Council issued a statement on 22 July 2015 condemning “in the strongest terms” the terrorist attack of 20 July in Suruc, Turkey, where at least 31 persons were killed and over 100 injured, he did not find it necessary either to attribute blame or to accuse any particular element in society for carrying out that heinous attack, despite the comparatively large number of victims.
A similar occurrence happened with the Secretary General’s mere condemnation (not “strongly condemns’ or “condemned in the strongest terms”) of a terrorist attack dated 17 July 2015 by the Boko Haram terror organization, that killed over 60 people in the towns of Gombe and Damatru in northeast Nigeria while the victims were conducting their festival prayers. He found no need in that case to attribute blame or to determine the cause of such a heinous and cruel act of terror.
His condemnations “in the strongest terms” of terrorist attacks committed on 26 June 2015 in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, as well as his condemnations of the 29 June 2015 terror attack in Cairo that killed the Egyptian Prosecutor General13 and the 25 June 2015 killing of former Lesotho Defense Force commander, made no determinations as to cause, circumstances or identity of whoever perpetrated such acts.
His strong condemnation of a 22 June 2015 terrorist assault on the Kabul parliament, following the killing of 16 civilians two days earlier, as well as the 19 June 2015 racially motivated killing of congregants of a church in Charleston, South Carolina constitute meaningful messages of sympathy and “condolences to loved ones of victims and solidarity to survivors”, but, in all these cases, without political overtones, innuendo, or any attempt to arbitrarily lay blame.
This evidently standard pattern of UN Secretary General condemnations, – whether “strong condemnations” or otherwise – together with expressions of condolence, whether heartfelt, sincere or otherwise, to the government and people of the particular state in which the act of terror occurred, and to the families of the victims and calls for investigation, has been consistently used as a matter of course following terrorist atrocities throughout the world.
However, none of these condemnations have presumed to attach blame or to arbitrarily proffer political value judgments.
However, in light of the above evidently standard pattern of condemnations, expressions of condolence and calls for investigation, one may wonder why the Secretary General and Security Council did not consider it necessary to condemn – neither strongly nor otherwise, nor to console families of victims – regarding the Turkish air strikes on the Kurdish village of Zargali in the Qandil mountains of Kurdistan, Northern Iraq on 1 August 2015, in which nine innocent civilians were murdered.
The brutal massacre of 200 civilians were by “Islamic State” terrorists in a Syrian border town between 24-26 June 2015 did not merit any condemnation or condolence message by the Secretary General and Security Council. The deaths of at least 30 people in a suicide bombing in the same border region of Turkey did not merit a condemnation either, despite the fact that Turkish president Erdogan condemned the bomb attack.
The brutal murder of 21 foreign tourists in the national museum of Tunis in March 2015, as well as the attack and killing of 38 tourists in the resort of Sousse, would appear to have been neglected by the Secretary General, despite the brutal and tragic nature of these killings and the large number of fatalities.
After analyzing the Secretary General’s reactions, or lack thereof, to acts of terror, one realizes that, as in most issues regarding Israel, the classical UN double-standard would appear to be universally applied, whatever the circumstances, – even for the condemnation of acts of violence and expressions of compassion and condolence.
One may indeed ask if this is a deliberate mode of behavior on the part of the Secretary General and his staff, or perhaps merely inadvertently singling-out Israel only.
Be that as it may, the Secretary General and his staff are urged to review their policy regarding expressions of condemnation, condolence, sympathy for families, governments and people, as well as calls for investigation and punishment, with a view to ensuring strict application of the basic UN Charter principles of fairness, good faith, equality and non-distinction.
Amb. Alan Baker, Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel's ambassador to Canada.