What happened to U.N. on road to millennium

We can now expect a sea change in the way the world will be organized. A change in the United Nations will certainly affect everyone, but it will have special relevance for Jews.

In 1945, Jews were largely delighted by the creation of the United Nations in San Francisco. After all, it was created by the nations that had vanquished Hitler — and it promised a world marked not just by peace but also by the advancement of democracy and human rights. It was also the United Nations that put the legal imprint on the state of Israel.

But second thoughts began to percolate quickly — not among the right-wing crackpots, who always saw something sinister in anything international, but among those who had supported the United Nations and the idea of a peaceful world order.

So what happened on the way to the millennium?

For one thing, the United Nations turned into a bigoted weapon aimed at the heart of Israel. Such a bias not only disturbed Jews, it revealed to a lot of other people that something was generally rotten in this august body. After watching the continuous anti-Israel festival, one U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, remarked that it "more closely represents a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving."

In 1975, U.N. Resolution 379 proclaimed, "Zionism is racism." It stood and was quoted for 16 years, repealed in 1991 only because of the arm-twisting by the United States, the U.N.'s sugar daddy. But a constant stream of U.N. resolutions and fulminations has continued to poison world opinion, and Israel has been excluded from most influential positions in the body. This was symptomatic of the basic flaws in the United Nations as well as misconceptions about its purpose.

The United Nations was never meant to be a world government but a clearinghouse. It could not be a world government because, despite all the lofty documents signed by so many with tongue in cheek, there was no agreement among the nations about the principles on which governments should govern. In 1948, the Soviet Union, then the most repressive regime in the world, signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document was significant as an educational standard, but the Soviet Union never actually honored it.

A whopping number of U.N. members reflect the whims of dictators and autarchic regimes, and are not constitutionally accountable to any popular constituencies. This reality corrupted not only the General Assembly but also the Security Council, whose five permanent members are the major nations responsible for the defeat of Hitler and company. (France was included as a sentimental gesture.) Six rotating members are elected by blocs in the General Assembly. These blocs routinely excluded Israel, a U.N. member since 1949. Thus, Israel has never been elected to the Security Council, but more than a dozen Arab League nations have been. All this reveals the extent to which the United Nations has become a bizarre bazaar of cynical backroom deals. Just note that Libya is now chairing the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

But the major miscalculation may have been the romantic notion that major conflicts between nations could be resolved if they would just sit down and negotiate with sweet reason. That can only be done, and then with difficulty, among democratic nations. This world, in the adolescence of its human governance, is still hostage to power arrangements. No one was ready to face it when the Soviet Union invaded Eastern Europe, and the United Nations was silent. When the Soviet Union prepared to place nuclear weapons in Cuba, it was not the United Nations but the United States that averted a world war. The United Nations lathered endless layers of sweet reason on Saddam Hussein, but it could not check his proliferation of deadly weaponry or keep him from invading Kuwait. Only the United States could accomplish that.

The hope, the goal, is that the good guys will have the power, and the will, to avert major assaults on peace and human rights. At the moment, we are lucky on that score, and we have to make the moment count.

The United Nations need not be dismantled. It still has value as a clearinghouse and as an agency to promote and coordinate humanitarian efforts in such arenas as food, health and refugees. But to achieve peace in the arena of major international conflict, the United Nations must be reined in and demythologized. It is urgent, in the light of the advanced technology of weaponry, that an independent association of democratic nations be strengthened and its mission broadened. Only in such a clear-headed world can peace on earth — and the safety of Israel and the Jews — be potentially assured.