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How Human Rights Morphed into Antisemitism

A powerful group of hypocrites has subverted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and exploited its principles and institutions to demonize Israel and the Jewish people.
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December 13, 2023
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

In December 1948, the members of the United Nations adopted two important statements — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Both were written in the shadow of the Holocaust, ostensibly to ensure that the horrors of Nazi Germany and its allies would not be repeated.

After 75 years, these idealistic texts and the institutions created to implement them are clearly a total failure, and worse — the language of human rights has been weaponized for the most vicious antisemitic attacks since the Holocaust. 

However, after 75 years, these idealistic texts and the institutions created to implement them are clearly a total failure, and worse — the language of human rights has been weaponized for the most vicious antisemitic attacks since the Holocaust. Real and horrible human rights abuses in Russia, China, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere are all but ignored, while armies of haters march through university campuses and city streets attacking Jews, and chanting slogans labeling Zionists (most Jews) and Israelis as guilty of war crimes, genocide and apartheid. 

The U.N. Human Rights Council is a center for hate propaganda and 21st-century blood libels, accompanied by a powerful and corrupt industry of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), led by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International. These organizations publish pseudo-reports citing invented evidence (lies) painting Israel and self-determination for the Jewish people as “apartheid,” and self-defense as “genocide.” Israelis who were brutally slaughtered and kidnapped as hostages by Hamas are erased or reduced to token mentions used to claim “balance,” and quickly forgotten. University programs advertised under the headings of “human rights and international law” are often staffed by propagandists who share and promote this form of hate. 

Looking back over the past 75 years, the causes of this travesty are clearly visible. Not surprisingly, antisemitism is central, beginning with the Soviet Union and the Arab League. In U.N. debates on human rights and racism during the 1960s, when the U.S. and Israel condemned the USSR for oppressing its 3 million Jewish citizens, the Kremlin countered with attacks against Zionism. These forces produced the infamously antisemitic 1975 “Zionism is Racism“ Resolution 3379 in the General Assembly. And although the resolution was repealed in 1991, the accompanying U.N. committees and funding mechanisms for demonizing Israel and any form of Jewish self-determination remain. 

In 2001, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, headed by Mary Robinson, revived the antisemitic attack at the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001. Representatives of 1,500 NGOs repeated accusations of war crimes, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing, as well as blocking representatives of “Zionist” NGOs from participating. The hate campaign gained momentum and visibility, backed by massive budgets. The U.N. Human Rights Council (renamed in 2006) has an automatic majority of states from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and allied dictatorships, controlling the agenda and appointing officials, such as Francesca Albanese, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory, and the members of a permanent Commission of Inquiry – a 21st-century version of the Inquisition. Their ritual condemnations are parroted by journalists and U.N. officials, including the head of UNICEF and Secretary General António Guterres. For the most part, the hypocrites from European democracies add their votes to signal “solidarity” with the Palestinians, or, at best, abstain.   

In parallel, organizations linked to Christian and Moslem religious frameworks have joined in singling out Israel. Under headings such as “liberation theology,” church groups have combined classical theological antisemitism with the terminology (or slogans) of international law and embraced the myths of Palestinian victimhood. Israel (the Jewish State) is denied the right to self-defense against heinous pogroms, and the IDF is portrayed as bloodthirsty killers of children. Similarly, in mosques around the world, imams quote verses of the Quran that portray Jews as treacherous idolaters, and have adopted many of the Christian themes, particularly blood libels.

Human rights antisemitism is accompanied and amplified by the theology of the neo-Marxist left, which is focused on opposing “racist, capitalist, imperialist, colonial oppressors.” Under slogans such as “intersectional solidarity” and DEI, (diversity, equality, and inclusion — except for Jews) these ideologues have conquered the leading universities, claiming to speak for ostensibly oppressed peoples (many of which are led by terror regimes) in the “global south,” while Israel, particularly after the 1967 war, is branded as the tool of American and European imperialism. In this tortured version of morality and human rights, western nationalism, including Zionism, is automatically “evil,” but Third World nationalism and “liberation” movements are good — the victims can never be unjust oppressors (even when they engage in indescribable brutality), and the “colonialists” cannot be righteous victims. 

Top officials of organizations such HRW and Amnesty International are among the high priests of this ideology, replacing the universality that was declared to be the moral foundation of the post-Holocaust human rights movement in 1948. Ken Roth, the 0former executive director of HRW, and other activists alienated from their Jewish backgrounds and harboring an obsessive hostility towards Israel and Zionism join the antisemites in demonizing Israel through the exploitation of human rights and international law. Backed with an annual budget of $100 million, including evidence that Qatar is among Roth’s main funders, the NGO role in the irrational hate directed at Israel is crucial.  

The results of this combination were highlighted a few weeks ago, when Danielle Haas, a long-time senior employee at HRW turned whistle-blower, condemned the “years of politicization” on Israel, violating “basic editorial standards related to rigor, balance, and collegiality.” As she wrote, HRW’s response to the Oct. 7th Hamas massacre referenced “the ‘context’ of ‘apartheid’ and ‘occupation’ before blood was even dry on bedroom walls.” Although Haas did not mention Ken Roth by name, his role was reflected in her description of the “shattered professionalism, abandoned principles of accuracy and fairness,” and the multiple ways in which HRW has “surrendered its duty to stand for the human rights of all.”

For these reasons and more, a powerful group of hypocrites has subverted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and exploited its principles and institutions to demonize Israel and the Jewish people. The brief window of morality after the Holocaust has been slammed shut. Restoring these principles will require a long and consistent campaign, beginning with the replacement of the “experts” and officials that have installed themselves as the arbiters of human rights.


Gerald M. Steinberg is professor emeritus of politics at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor in Israel.

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