Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – The president of the United Nations General Assembly should be fired for his verbal attacks on Israel this week, a Jewish human rights group said Tuesday.
Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Nicaraguan diplomat who is presiding over the assembly’s 2008-2009 session, on Monday labeled Israel an “apartheid state,” and called for a campaign of “boycott, sanctions and divestment” against it.
He also accused Israel of “crucifying our Palestinian brothers and sisters.”
The language is deeply provocative: Perpetrators of persecution and pogroms against Jews over the centuries have frequently cited Jesus’ crucifixion as “justification” for their acts.
D’Escoto’s use of the term was not lost on critics.
Anne Bayefsky of Eye on the UN, a project of the Hudson Institute, said d’Escoto had come close to using an anti-Semitic slur.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center went further: “As a Catholic priest, d’Escoto Brockmann should well know the connection between his words and the charges of deicide against the Jewish people, which were finally refuted by Vatican II,” said Dr. Shimon Samuels, the organization’s international director.
(The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s officially refuted the charge that the Jews of Jesus’ day and ever since were collectively responsible for Jesus’ death and deserving of human and divine punishment. “The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God,” stated the council’s Nostra Aetate document, promulgated in 1965 by Pope Paul VI.)
Samuels’ comment is contained in a letter to the Latin American and Caribbean nations at the U.N., known the as GLULAC bloc. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is calling on GRULAC to remove d’Escoto from his post.
Writing to the current and incoming GRULAC presidents, Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley and Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez, Samuels and SWC Latin American representative Sergio Widder called d’Escoto’s statements “an abuse of the honorable position that he holds” and urged GRULAC “to withdraw Nicaragua as the bloc’s representative as president of the General Assembly.”
Queries sent to the Chilean and Colombian foreign ministries and missions to the U.N. elicited no response by press time.
‘Meant to be a unifier’
D’Escoto is a controversial figure to be presiding over the 192-member assembly’s 63rd session. A foreign minister in the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s, he has a record of criticism of the United States and Israel.
In a 2004 interview, he called President Ronald Reagan “the butcher of my people” and said both Reagan and President George W. Bush were “possessed by the demons of manifest destiny.”
Last June, after he was named as General Assembly president – GRULAC put him up and he was “elected” without a vote – d’Escoto in an acceptance speech called the Iraq and Afghanistan wars “acts of aggression,” prompting U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad to remind him in comments to reporters that “his role is to bring the assembly together – he’s not representing his government in any partisan aspect of policy.”
“We have been led to believe that he understands that,” Khalilzad said. “We’ll wait and see.”
In September the U.S. envoy again chided the Nicaraguan for remarks in which he said “it makes no sense to wage wars of aggression that kills hundreds of thousands of people with the purported aim of supporting democracy, while at the same time using every imaginable means and pretext to prevent a process to democratize the United Nations itself.”
Khalilzad then reiterated that d’Escoto’s role was to be “a unifier … rather than picking on some members [and] siding with others.”
D’Escoto also drew criticism in September for publicly embracing the visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
This week’s remarks came as the U.N. marked the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” on Monday.
In two separate forums, d’Escoto likened Israel’s policies in the disputed territories to South Africa’s pre-1994 system of legally entrenched racial segregation.
D’Escoto said it was important to use the term and “not be afraid to call something what it is,” since the U.N. had passed an international convention saying that practices of “official discrimination must be outlawed wherever they occur.”
Recalling that the U.N. two decades ago had followed the lead of civil society and imposed sanctions on Pretoria, he said, “Today, perhaps we in the United Nations should consider following the lead of a new generation of civil society, who are calling for a similar non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel.”
‘He’s a fool’
A South African pastor living in Jerusalem called d’Escoto's comments foolish and insulting, saying that anyone who compares Israeli policies to apartheid does not know what he is talking about.
“It’s an insult to the 40 million black people in South Africa to even remotely equate Israel with the apartheid system,” said Malcolm Hedding, director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, a pro-Israel organization.
Hedding preached against apartheid at his church in South Africa in the 1980s. He told CNSNews.com he was forced to leave his country after being threatened with detention without trial and followed by security police who installed an informant in his congregation.
Of those using the apartheid comparison, he said “these are people that never lived there, never grew up there and know nothing about the system.”
“It’s just convenient to use a highly emotive word like ‘apartheid’ to bash Israel. So he’s a fool. To even make that comparison shows that he knows nothing.”
Bayefsky of Eye on the UN said d’Escoto had grossly abused his position.
“He knows full well that his outrageous personal views will be translated into six languages and webcast around the world,” she said in a statement.
Bayefsky said d’Escoto’s call for sanctions “was in effect, a call for the political destruction of Israel by means of the same strategy adopted against apartheid South Africa.”
U.N.’s greatest single failure’
Monday’s event at the U.N. was an annual one marking the adoption of a 1947 U.N. plan to partition the then British mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Jewish inhabitants accepted the plan and declared independence as the State of Israel the following year; the Arab inhabitants – they did not call themselves Palestinians then – rejected it and, assisted by five Arab armies, attacked the nascent Jewish state in a bid to destroy it.
D’Escoto on Monday said the fact that no Palestinian state exists 61 years after the U.N. plan was adopted was “the single greatest failure in the history of the United Nations.”
Addressing the same meeting, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said 2009 must be the year negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians “bear fruit.”
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyadh Malki said the support shown by participants in the meeting strengthened his conviction in the justness of the Palestinian cause. The Palestinians were committed to negotiations for resolving the conflict, he said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the day of solidarity event “totally discredits the people who hold it” and disqualifies them from taking part in negotiation process.
Palmor told CNSNews.com reaching an agreement would require effort on the part of the Palestinians. The real obstacle to a peace deal was extremist organizations that are promoting violence.
Some 5,000 Palestinians from radical factions, including Hamas, participated in a two-day meeting in Damascus this week, reportedly intended to show opposition to negotiations with Israel.