Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tore into the U.N. Monday at a press conference with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, blasting the international agency’s “absurd obsession” with Israel — before saying it is “time to restore moral clarity” at the U.N.
The two leaders met as part of Guterres’ tour of the region, which will include meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. But with Israel consistently pushing back against what it sees as anti-Israel bias at the U.N., Guterres’ reception was likely to be rocky.
At the press conference, Netanyahu praised Guterres for describing calls for the destruction of Israel as a “modern form of anti-Semitism” and said that, since Guterres took office at the beginning of 2017, he has shown a desire “to turn a new page in the relations between Israel and the UN.” He added that he was looking forward to working with Guterres on that mission but then highlighted Israel’s grievances with the body.
“There is no question we’ve had a troubled relationship with the UN. I think it has an absurd obsession with Israel, flagrantly discriminatory tactics, you don’t have to be the Israeli prime minister to understand that, and I think people of good faith and common sense understand that,” he said.
Netanyahu went on to say that, in regard to Israel, the U.N. had failed to live up to its mandate to advance peace and security and international cooperation. He pointed specifically to the refusal by the U.N. cultural body, UNESCO, to affirm a connection between Israel and Jerusalem.
“The UN is mandated to pursue peace but it allows Palestinian hate speech to flourish in its institutions. The UN is mandated to stand up for human rights but it allows in its various forms the worst human rights violators to take up the cudgel and to accuse Israel of violating human rights,” he added.
But Netanyahu said the most immediate problem the U.N. and Israel face is the amassing of weaponry by Iran-backed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The U.N.’s peacekeeping force in the region, UNIFIL, is due to have its mandate renewed this week, and both Israel and the U.S. have called for a tougher mandate with a greater focus on Hezbollah.
“Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as war fronts [for] its declared goal to eradicate Israel. It is also building sites to produce precision guided missile toward that end in both Syria and in Lebanon,” Netanyahu said.
“This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the UN should not accept,” he added, before saying, “the time has come to restore moral clarity at the UN.”
In his remarks, Guterres said that “the right of existence of the State of Israel is clear and the right of existence in security of the State of Israel is clear.” He went on to say that his role is to be an impartial messenger for peace, and he also has to respect the sovereignty of other member states:
As you mentioned, Mr. Prime Minister, Member States are sovereign states. Member States define their positions based on their interests, their values and their convictions. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I believe it is my duty to be simultaneously an honest broker and the messenger for peace and to be an honest broker means to be impartial.
Guterres pointed to “complexities” in the peace process and noted one area of disagreement concerns activities in Israeli settlements — something about which multiple U.N. bodies have complained. After repeating his hope for peace — specifically a two-state solution where both Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace after a political process — he also mentioned the UNIFIL mandate.
“I will do everything in my capacity to make sure that UNIFIL fully meets its mandate and I understand the security concerns of Israel, and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the State of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he said.
Guterres is scheduled to return to New York Wednesday, the same day as a decision on UNIFIL’s mandate is expected to be made by the Security Council.
Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.