PETER HITCHENS: The UN chief should know that there is no historical injustice that can be used to justify or excuse Hamas’s atrocities

If someone pressures you to put an evil act in context, they will generally apologize for it.

What would you think if someone said that the crimes of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady “didn’t happen in a vacuum”?

I would think I was in the presence of an apologist for evil, expecting a disgusting lecture about the unfortunate lives of the two murderers or something similar. However, few things happen completely out of the blue, including ill-advised and offensive comments from international bureaucrats.

So let us also note that the shocking words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – that the Hamas massacre on October 7th did not take place in a vacuum – also have a context. And that context is the persistent, deep anti-Israel bias of the United Nations itself.

In Israel, the United Nations is generally viewed as the enemy, and there is evidence that the United Nations views the Jewish state in much the same way.

Israel is calling for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to resign after he said the Hamas attack “did not happen in a vacuum,” but he says his comments were misrepresented

The United Nations General Assembly has a particular penchant for heaping hostile resolutions on Jerusalem.

Most famously, the assembly once passed a terrible resolution numbered 3379, which said that Zionism – the movement that supports the creation of a Jewish state – was itself racism. Really?

Zionism developed as a reluctant but necessary response to the incessant and often violent racial bigotry against Jews. Israel reasonably viewed Resolution 3379 as a gross insult. But with the support of the old Soviet bloc, itself seething with anti-Jewish hatred, and the Arab-Muslim world, it was passed with 72 votes in favour, 35 against and 32 abstentions.

The then US Ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, protested that by agreeing to this slander, the United Nations had made anti-Semitism international law. But it was only in December 1991 that it could be struck from the UN books – because the anti-Israel Soviet Union and its empire had crumbled into dust. But the endless hostility remains.

Countless UN General Assembly resolutions condemn Israel, while other countries with perhaps even worse reputations rarely face such criticism. So Mr. Guterres’ comments should not have surprised anyone in Israel. They will also be well received in many of the dirtier corners of the UN.

How did that happen? Mr. Guterres is a veteran Portuguese socialist politician who figures prominently on the European international left, where he has heard a lot of anti-Israel rhetoric over the last half century and not done much about it.

The European left, once sympathetic to Israel as an underdog, began to switch sides after Israel’s crushing victory over its Arab neighbors in 1967.

British immigration minister Robert Jenrick said it was

British immigration minister Robert Jenrick said it was “wrong” to claim there was any justification for the murder of 1,400 people, including women and babies

This transformed Israel in the eyes of many from a likeable David to an unpleasant Goliath. Instead of a tiny pioneer democracy of refugees surrounded by millions of wealthy, well-armed and despotic enemies determined to wipe Israel off the map (which it still is), Israel was instead viewed as a regional superpower that cruelly oppressed its Arab minority population . This must be one of the most effective propaganda achievements of modern times.

Those of us with long memories know that both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict did terrible things. In Israel’s early years, it was subjected to numerous brutal cross-border raids by so-called fedayeen. The 1960s, 70s and 80s were full of heinous terrorist murders and kidnappings, mostly targeting civilians, from Munich to Entebbe and the seizure of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by anti-Israel gangsters.

On the other side of the balance, Israeli terrorists – who certainly existed in 1948 – undoubtedly committed shameful atrocities against Arabs in the war that founded Israel’s existence. The worst of these was the infamous Deir Yassin massacre, in which Israelis killed dozens of Arab villagers, including women and children.

The United Nations had tried in 1947 to reach an agreed partition of the so-called Palestine Mandate – in reality a British colony in the region that we could no longer afford to hold on to. The Arab leaders had rejected this plan and the surrounding Arab states, particularly Egypt and what was then Transjordan, invaded the area almost immediately after the withdrawal of British forces.

It was not an easy Israeli victory. The fight was often hard. Egypt conquered what is now the Gaza Strip. Transjordan became Jordan after occupying what is now the West Bank and much of Jerusalem.

As a striking example of how the international left and right have switched sides on this issue, note that one of New Israel’s main supporters was Joseph Stalin in the Kremlin – and the Jewish state purchased many of its guns and bullets from New Israel Communist Czechoslovakia.

Aerial photo shows abandoned and torched vehicles at the site of the Oct. 7 attack by Palestinian militants on the Supernova desert music festival near Kibbutz Reim in the Negev Desert of southern Israel on Oct. 13

Aerial photo shows abandoned and torched vehicles at the site of the Oct. 7 attack by Palestinian militants on the Supernova desert music festival near Kibbutz Reim in the Negev Desert of southern Israel on Oct. 13

Israeli soldiers inspect the site of a music festival near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel on Friday, October 13

Israeli soldiers inspect the site of a music festival near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel on Friday, October 13

How things change. But perhaps the most profound and obvious point is that the Jews who already lived in this area would not have expected much mercy if the Arab armies had won in 1948.

The new state faced decades of hostilities, cross-border attacks and threats, and finally, in 1973, a large-scale two-front armed invasion by Moscow through Syria and Egypt. Israel eventually fought back, but if things had turned out differently, where would the Jewish state and its people be now?

This is a very old, deep dispute with a lot at stake for the Israelis if they ever lose. Many centuries before these events, Jews in the Holy Land had been third-class citizens under Ottoman Turkish rule.

When Jewish migrants settled there in large numbers in the 1930s, they encountered fierce resistance led by the unpleasant fanatic Haj Amin al Husseini, the British-appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

Al Husseini (supposedly a hero of late Fatah leader Yasser Arafat) hated Jews so much that he worked for Hitler during World War II, recruiting Balkan Muslims for the Waffen-SS.

To say, as Mr. Guterres does, that the events of October 7 “did not take place in a vacuum” is in some ways stating the obvious.

So why say that? It is a two-sided battle that has cost enough blood and that did not begin 56 years ago, as Mr. Guterres seems to believe.

When you understand what is really going on in this part of the world, you realize that enough innocent blood has already been shed and far too many people have tried to justify it when they shouldn’t have.

In fact, I share Mr. Guterres’ view that the Israeli bombing of Gaza should stop (it should never have started) and that Gaza’s electricity and water supplies should be restored. But there is no context or historical injustice that in any way influences the proper human response to the Hamas pogrom.

This reaction must be complete disgust and condemnation without any reservation. Therefore, he should not be surprised if many people think that he made excuses for the murder, since he works for an organization that has long shown a bias against Israel.

Bradford Betz

Bradford Betz is a WSTPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Bradford Betz joined WSTPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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