UN Recognises Jewish Holiday for the First Time

UN Recognises Jewish Holiday for the First Time

From CNN:

For the first time in its 70-year history, the United Nations has officially recognized a Jewish holiday.

U.N. employees who observe the Jewish faith will have the day off and no official meetings will take place on this date from now on, according to the Israeli mission to the organization.

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, considered the most important Jewish religious holiday, will join two of the world’s other monotheistic religions in having one of its high holidays observed by the world body.

Christmas Day, Good Friday, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha have all been recognized by the United Nations as official religious holidays.

This is an excellent decision on the UN’s part — its recognition of multiple Christian and Muslim holidays but not even one Jewish holiday has never made sense. And in a perfect world, the decision would be greeted with approval by individuals of all political stripes.

But this is Israel, of course, where there is no such thing as apolitical. On the “pro” Israel side, there are factually-challenged editorials like this one, in which the authors argue that recognising a Jewish holiday is somehow necessary to compensate for the UN’s supposed anti-Israel bias:

But over time, Israel has been a target for exceptional mistreatment at the United Nations. A pluralistic democracy facing extremists sworn to its destruction, Israel is routinely condemned by the body’s Human Rights Council, more than any other member state. Israel’s assailants at the United Nations often assert that they respect Jews and Judaism — and reserve their shrill disdain only for Israeli policies and Zionism. But the demonization of Israel calls their motives into question.

And on the “anti” Israel side, there are tweets like this one, bizarrely claiming that the UN is somehow honouring Israel by recognising Yom Kippur and that doing so will somehow increase anti-Semitism:

I expect better, particularly from the “antis.” Those of us who support progressive change in Israel have argued for years that there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions. And there is increasing evidence that eliding the difference between the two in order to insulate Israel from criticism has lost much of its rhetorical power. Tweets like the one above risk undermining all the good work we have done.

It’s really pretty simple: the UN is not honouring Israel by recognising Yom Kippur. It is recognising Judaism, one of the world’s major religions, as it has recognised others. And it’s about time it did.

Topics
Featured, International Human Rights Law
Notify of
Guy
Guy

In fairness, I have always thought it must not be easy for an international organisation to choose its official holidays – do you look at what your constituency (Member States) would more easily agree to? And, if so, do you go for a fair proportion of religious/state holidays of all of your member States, counting one State one vote, or do you go on the basis of those States’ population? On this account, Jewish holidays would be established only after Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh ones – which I do not believe the UN recognises.
However, you probably have to factor in the holidays of the city/country you have your seat in (after all, if you work on days when everybody else is on holiday in that country, it might not be very productive with contractors, service providers, and clients…), plus what (most of) your staff would prefer, or else you’ll soon get a lot of disgruntled employees, taking leave on their preferred holidays and thus effectively disrupting your operations on those days anyway.
In sum, I think the choice should be eminently practical, and therefore any political reading should be avoided, ideally.

Non liquet
Non liquet

For my part, I am happy to suffer as many vacation days as possible. Happy to celebrate any and all religion’s holidays. It’s even better when it’s not “your” holiday. No family stress!

RJ
RJ

“the UN’s supposed anti-Israel bias”? Supposed? Come on, you should know better. One simply has to check out how often the HRC has condemned last year in comparison to states like Syria or North Korea.

David Schraub

I find this a very odd post. On the one hand, it seems strange that you would characterize the “pro” Israel side’s claim as “recognising a Jewish holiday is somehow necessary to compensate for the UN’s supposed anti-Israel bias.” I doubt that the “pros” can be bought off so easily (“I used to think the UN was biased against Israel, but thankfully this Yom Kippur recognition compensates”)! One suspects their argument (and it is notable that the editorial you link to was published over a year ago) is at least a bit more subtle: they believe that the reason why the UN delayed recognizing Yom Kippur for so long was due to logic akin to Mr. Abunimah’s — that is to say, a elision of hostility to Israel and hostility to Jews which made anything that seems to honor or respect the latter intolerable. At the very least, this doesn’t seem to be an *implausible* explanation for why this decision took this long, no? And on the other side, the following passage is equally odd: “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions. And there is increasing evidence that eliding the difference between the two in order… Read more »

Kevin Jon Heller

I don’t find this post odd at all. Your suspicion regarding the editorial is contradicted by the editorial itself, as the quoted passage indicates. There is nothing remotely subtle about the claim that the UN subjects Israel to “exceptional mistreatment.” And I certainly did not argue that recognising Yom Kippur would “buy off” the pros; I simply pointed out that the decision was being politicised by those who view the UN as anti-Israel. As for your points about the antis, you are simply attacking a strawman. I did not claim that all criticisms of Israel are dismissed as antisemitic, nor did I claim that no criticism of Israel could ever be antisemitic. So nothing you point out in (a) to (d) contradicts what I wrote. As for (e), I completely disagree that most attempts to dismiss criticism of Israel as antisemitic reflect “bona fide controversies” over the nature of antisemitism; if you think that, you need to follow more ultra-right Israel apologists on twitter and brush up on the ravings of people like Alan Dershowitz. As for your final point, I won’t disagree. I’m sure there are good-faith criticisms of antisemitic comments about Israel that are unfairly dismissed by invoking… Read more »

Kevin Jon Heller

Funny: less than 15 minutes after I wrote the above, Yisrael Medad made my point for me in a comment to my post on Breaking the Silence…

http://opiniojuris.org/2015/12/18/why-do-israelis-hate-break-the-silence/#comments

David Schraub

KJH: Thank you for your reply. I’m willing to let the “pro” issue rest; agreeing to disagree on the interpretation of the column (since it seems silly to argue over the semantics of a year-old essay). But on the “antis”, there is more to be said. You claim not to disagree with any of my points a-d, and I did not expect you to. But the point is that accepting those contentions means that the statement “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions” is an empty one; it does not respond to any live position or add any argument not already agreed to by all participants. Put another way, that statement could mean one of two things. One is that “There is nothing [ever] anti-Semitic about criticizing Israel.” You disavow this in agreeing with [b], and I was quite confident you were not arguing this. The other is “There is nothing [necessarily] anti-Semitic about criticizing Israel.” This seems to be the point of the statement, but the problem is that you agree is not actually disputed by anyone, since everyone agrees *some* criticisms of Israel aren’t anti-Semitic ]a]. The statement “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about… Read more »

Kevin Jon Heller

David, I think the problem is that you are a fantastic analytic philosopher surrounded by individuals who don’t express themselves with the precision analytic philosophers expect and don’t care about rational debate in the way that analytic philosophers do. As for my statements, I think you understand that when I wrote “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions,” I was not saying that such criticism cannot be anti-Semitic. It’s a blog post; I was writing in shorthand. I probably should have said “nothing inherently anti-Semitic.” But I think you are evading the critical issue when you say that “everyone agrees *some* criticisms of Israel aren’t anti-Semitic.” Yes, I imagine the Alan Dershowitzes of the world would be willing to accept that some mild and non-threatening criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. (As well as right-wing criticisms like Israel is not doing enough to punish Gazans for supporting Hamas.) But there are vast numbers of right-wing Israel apologists who brand all significant criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. And, of course, that is the criticisms we are interested in. As for YM’s comment, I’ll concede that it is possible to read his comment as claiming BtS simply despises… Read more »

Anon
Anon

What makes criticism of Israel significant?

David Schraub

KJH: Thank you for this thoughtful reply (and your kind words about my analytic ability). Surely, the fact that many people on the internet make terrible arguments is neither novel nor unique to ultra-right pro-Israel sorts. But I don’t think that this issue is properly restricted to that segment of the population, and which bad argument is the “bigger” issue will depend on the forum. It strikes me as probable that preemptive dismissal of pro-Palestinian arguments (for any reason) is a “bigger” problem in, say, an American congressional committee or the Texas GOP convention or ZOA’s annual meeting. I’d wager the opposite in Turtle Bay, or Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, or in a Berkeley humanities department. I think a lot of your argument rests on+the terms “right-wing” and “significant.” On the former, I can attest that there is no noticeable difference in how anti-Semitism allegations are dismissed when their sources are left- versus right-of-center (my original comment, recall, complained about the inability to discuss this in “progressive circles”). Indeed, in my experience the bare act of raising anti-Semitism as an issue is enough to be identified and dismissed as a “right-wing troll.” Steve Cohen, the “anti-Zionist Zionist” author of “That’s… Read more »

Kevin Jon Heller

David,

Thanks for the excellent discussion. In the end, I don’t think we disagree about very much. I imagine our differences involve (1) an empirical assessment of how frequently criticism of Israel is ascribed to antisemitism and by whom, and (2) whether BDS is antisemitic either by intent or structurally. I don’t have time to delve into the latter; I will simply say (probably not surprisingly) that although I accept that a social movement can be structurally antisemitic even if (in theory) not a single supporter of that movement is consciously antisemitic, I do not believe that BDS is structurally antisemitic. In my view, as I have written before, it is perhaps the only promising mechanism of fundamental change in Israel, given that the alternatives are nothing (leaving Israel, with its increasingly undemocratic nature, to its own devices) or more Palestinian violence.

David Schraub

Thank you for partaking in this discussion as well. I generally agree about our points of contention, though I’d amend the first to say “how frequently criticism of Israel is *unreasonably* ascribed to antisemitism.” After all, there’s presumably nothing objectionable with people making *reasonable* arguments regarding antisemitism (even if, on considered reflection, we conclude that some of these arguments are wrong). I agree that this is not the space to delve into BDS, though as a committed OneVoicer it pains me to hear that such a strategy is not even “promising” as a mechanism for change in Israel. I would observe that it is entirely possible (though I do not believe) that BDS is both anti-Semitic and the most promising avenue for change in Israel. That would be a depressing conclusion, but not an invalid one, and arguably not even an implausible one. Anti-Semitism is one of the most powerful social forces the world has ever seen. It would not be surprising if a social movement that managed to harness it would be comparatively more successful than competitors in achieving its ends (whatever those may be). Commitment to avoiding oppression is, in part, a side constraint — it should bar… Read more »