Home inFocus The War of Independence 2.0 (Spring 2024) The Failure of International Organizations

The Failure of International Organizations

Joseph H. Tipograph and Richard Heideman Spring 2024
Human Rights Council session in 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo: UN Photo / Elma Okic)

The failure of international organizations today mirrors the failure of the League of Nations, as assessed by Samuel Flagg Bemis, the esteemed, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning American diplomatic historian whose career spanned the League’s 1920 creation and 1946 dissolution:

The League of Nations has been a disappointing failure. … because the great powers have been unwilling to apply sanctions except where it suited their individual national interests to do so, and because Democracy, on which the original concepts of the League rested for support, has collapsed over half the world.

Today, 70 percent of the world reportedly lives under dictatorships, which have joined forces to leverage the power of democracy that they themselves deny their people—to aid, abet, enable, and manipulate the UN into permitting, perpetuating, and even participating in acts of human rights violations and violent conflict, the antithesis of the United Nations’ mandate.

Under the guise of promoting peace, the conduct of these countries at the UN works to harm the marginalized people the UN claims to protect and serve; as well as the UN’s peace-loving, human-rights respecting, democratic benefactors, including the United States.  Decade after decade, countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, the former Qaddafi-controlled Libyan regime and others band together to castigate good and work to control the one-country one-vote outcomes at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), permitting bias and prejudice to control the voice and pronounced “accomplishments” of the UN. Except through the exercise of vetoes by the permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on issues of particular concern to those countries, Western powers have been unable to remedy the failures of the international organization’s machinery or provide justice to citizens of non-democratic UN members.

Compounding the issue, propaganda generated by international organizations and funded by UN arms and organs works to influence public opinion and voters in democratic countries to be more sympathetic to the whims of enemy authoritarian regimes and more hostile to their own freer systems of government.  Consequently, the sympathies of well-minded people seeking to empower the downtrodden develop a bias against the wrong countries, deepening the suffering of those in need in an endless downward spiral.

Failure at the United Nations

International organizations trace their origins back to Immanuel Kant’s 1795 book, Perpetual Peace. At that time, all of Europe was consumed by war.  In 1815, the Concert of Europe was launched as the first international co-operative effort to promote collective security.  After a century and with the outbreak of World War I, the Concert dissolved, subsequently followed by the establishment of the League of Nations and, at the end of World War II, the United Nations.

One major failure of the UN’s international organization network is the deafening silence regarding the most egregious human suffering wrought by the world’s most flagrant human rights abusers and militant aggressors such as the dictators controlling Russia, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, and elsewhere.  These authoritarian regimes lack incentive to sanction each other for crimes against humanity similar to what they themselves are committing; and use their accusations against other countries, particularly Israel, at least in part to divert attention from their own malfeasance. 

According to data from the non-profit UN Watch, dictators enjoy majority voting on the UNHRC (Human Rights Council, 64 percent), the UN Commission on the Status of Women (57 percent), Committee on NGOs (non-governmental organizations, with the power to grant and suspend NGO’s UN credentials, 74 percent), UN Women Executive Board (56 percent), and UNESCO (Educational, Social and Cultural Organization, 61 percent).

Dictators have masterfully leveraged these bodies, their collective voting power in other organs, and their willingness to exploit their countries limited resources, to direct the bulk of international organizational sanctioning at the lone democracy in the Middle East, the Jewish State of Israel.

Israel was admitted to the UN as a fully accredited member-state in 1949 by a two-thirds majority of the then-members of the UNGA.  A flood of Arab, Islamic, and other totalitarian regimes admitted after Israel, seized control and forever changed the UN from an organization that could effectively advance the interests of peace into a tool for pronouncing destructive propaganda disguised as international policy.

This practice started with the Arab League, established in 1944, whose 22 members, in 1975, sponsored the first anti-Israel resolution (the Zionism=Racism resolution).  The League enjoys special status at the UN, as does the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which touts itself as the “second largest [international] organization after the [UN] with a membership of 57 states spread over four continents.”  While the OIC purports to represent the unified Muslim voice on a range of issues, its activity at the UN, where its members comprise approximately 30 percent  of UNGA votes, appears singularly focused on promoting the Palestinian narrative through the demonization of Israel on all Palestinian-Israeli matters.

This critical mass of votes was leveraged to also exclude Israel from the Asian Pacific Regional Group, thereby denying Israel eligibility to be elected to a rotating UN Security Council seat, which are allocated by regional groupings.  It was not until 2004 that Israel found a permanent home in the Western Europe and Other States group, accepted with conditions; and it was not until recently that any Israeli diplomat was elected to serve in a UN leadership role.

Embedded Anti-Israel Bias 

The UN system includes bodies such as the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, funded from within the UN budget, that are specifically focused on the promotion of Palestinian issues, which includes castigating Israel at every turn.

Today, Israel remains uniquely targeted by discriminatory voting.  Data compiled by UN Watch shows the following prevalence of resolutions condemning Israel.


Since 2015



Since 2006



Since 2015


Percent resolutions condemning a single country which specifically target and condemn the State of Israel.

The UN Charter does nothing to prevent such discrimination, nor to ensure resolutions focus on the more flagrant threats to world peace and human rights.  Thus, UN policy documents simply reflect the will of an undemocratic plurality of countries acting out of their own self-interest. NGOs seeking UN credentials adopt the picture these resolutions wrongly paint of Israel, as the ultimate global villain: a racist, apartheid criminal state always allegedly acting in violation of international law.  The accusations have been effective in manipulating the body of nations, the press and the court of public opinion to advance the discriminatory focus upon Israel.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s world court has repeatedly accepted jurisdiction over requests for Advisory Opinions and other proceedings initiated against Israel, to then substitute the biased findings of the UN policy documents in place of the evidence-based fact-finding that stands as a fundamental characteristic of a democratic tribunal. 

The October 7 Massacre

On October 7, 2023 Hamas, the acronym for the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, a US-designated Foreign Terror Organization, committed the most heinous, barbaric, brutal and evil attack upon citizens, civilians, police, and soldiers guarding the border between the Gaza Strip and the sovereign State of Israel.  Thousands were massacred or maimed, with many burned in their homes, beheaded, and raped; and more than 240 children, women, and men of various nationalities were taken hostage.  At this writing, 134 hostages remain in the hands of Hamas, many believed to have been raped and murdered in captivity.

The world’s momentary expression of profound disgust was quickly drowned out by proclamations that the terrorist invasion was caused by – and is the fault of – Israel itself, attributed to various issues ranging from where Israeli Jewish people live to how the country defends them. UN bodies are again passing propaganda laden-resolutions and rulings.  At the ICJ, South Africa launched a meritless case acting as a shill for Hamas and accusing Israel of genocide.

Every country in the world has the primary right and obligation to protect its citizens and cannot tolerate acts of brutality, or the raining of missiles into its territory from across its border.  Every world leader should ask themselves:  what would they do if Hamas, ISIS, or the Nazis invaded and brutalized their population? Would the unfortunate likelihood of civilian casualties, bolstered by the use of human shields, deter them from striking back?

Like never before, Israel’s re-entry into the Gaza Strip, from which it unilaterally withdrew in 2005, has uncovered evidence of malignant conduct by UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), which purports to serve Palestinian refugees with education and aid, but in practice seems primarily to  serve Hamas. 

UNRWA on October 7

Among other things, UNRWA employees were found to have aided, encouraged, and/or participated in the October 7 atrocities, including kidnappings, transfers of dead bodies and weapons, and rampages on some of the 22 Israeli communities across southern Israel, including in Kibbutz Be’eri, and the Nova Music Festival where civilians  were gunned down or murdered in their cars, in fields, in safe rooms, and on the roads.

Israel estimates that about ten percent of UNRWA’s 13,000 employees in the Gaza Strip are themselves members of Hamas or other Islamist terrorist groups, and 50 percent have immediate family members in terrorist organizations.  As UNRWA and the terror groups combined comprise less than three percent of Gaza’s population of more than  2.2 million, the statistically significant overlap between them is staggering and is not a coincidence.   

Since the news of UNRWA workers’ misconduct broke, the United States and other countries announced they would suspend funding pending an investigation into the accusations and circumvent UNRWA in the provision of humanitarian assistance to Gaza in the meantime, although sentiment is increasing to resume funding for UNRWA from various political and governmental quarters.

While nine UNRWA employees have thus far been terminated for participating in the grotesquely violent unprovoked Hamas attack on Israel, this is but a drop in the bucket.

Israel security forces have reportedly found military drones in UNRWA donations to the region, and Hamas terrorist tunnels and weapons under and in UNRWA buildings.  The food, fuel and construction materials given to UNRWA as humanitarian aid for the Gazan population is frequently redirected to Hamas for its own terrorist use.

The Broader Problem

As a UN organ, UNRWA must promote international peace and security, but much of its unusual function of serving only Palestinian refugees is clearly disruptive to these ends, particularly when contrasted with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which serves the rest of the world’s refugees.

Where UNHCR’s budget is primarily dedicated to supporting infrastructure and employment, more than half of UNRWA’s budget goes to its schools, which indoctrinate students to hate Jews and Israel. UNHCR operates in 130 countries with a staff of 11,000 and has resettled well over 1 million refugees in the last 20 years.  By contrast, UNRWA operates in 4 countries, employs 30,000 people, reports to no one, and has not resettled any Palestinian refugees in its 70+ year existence. UNRWA’s very definition of refugee prevents resettlement.

Unlike the children of refugees resettled by UNHCR – who enjoy citizenship of their birth countries – children of Palestinian refugees inherit their parents’ refugee status and later pass it on to their children. In preserving Palestinian refugee status, UNRWA has asserted that each of these intergenerational refugees and only these refugees enjoy a “right of return,” not just to Palestinian Arab majority territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip but also to all of Israel proper. Their home countries, namely Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria discriminatorily deny them citizenship, prohibit them from engaging in many different professions, and keep them marginalized.

This unique and problematic dictation of a UN member state’s immigration policy is an intentional design of the UN, and until it is properly addressed, it will only continue to fuel increasingly violent wars. Through the inclusion of lineal descendants, the number of Palestinian refugees—committed to the destruction of Israel and maintained in a perpetual state of victimhood—has exploded, growing from an estimated 650,000 in 1948 to a claimed 5.2 million today.   

UNRWA’s annual budget exceeds $1 billion and is supported by other programs mandated by UNGA to shape public opinion around the world in support of the conflict-perpetuating status that UNRWA uniquely confers on Palestinian Arabs.  The promoted narrative is that Israel is the oppressor of the Palestinian people, despite everything Israel has done over the generations to help improve their security, stability, growth, employment, educational opportunities, and standard of living.

Evasion of Accountability

Consistent with this framework, a recipe for perpetuated conflict, UN staff and beneficiaries have killed, injured, or taken hostage dozens of American and other Western civilians, and their governments have done little about it.

UNRWA should be held accountable for its support of Hamas.  Obstacles, however, abound.  Typically, US federal courts hold liable foreign governments and non-state entities that provide similar, and in some cases, much less support for terrorist acts to the American victims of those acts and their American family members. But the UN and UNRWA itself surely will claim to be shielded from such liability, as US federal courts have found in certain cases that the UN enjoys absolute immunity, citing a series of UN treaties to which the US has acceded.

Challenges to such immunity claims, however, are expected to be undertaken.

A solution to this robust immunity claim could also develop in the form of a waiver by and consent of those entities, including at the UN and/or its organs, which could be as a condition of future funding.  Additionally, Congress might undertake a legislative fix akin to the terrorism exception under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. In order to help facilitate litigation against international organizations which provide material support to, or aid and abet the commission of acts of international terror, it permits the designation of Foreign Terror Organizations.

The failure of international organizations today is no different than what brought about the 1946 failure of the League of Nations as identified by Bemis:  a world that mostly rejects democracy sanctioning only out of self-interest.

The leaders of the free world must more fully acknowledge and more forcefully address this gross defect: the tacit encouragement of and support for the facilitation of terrorism committed under the guise of freedom fighting.

Unless and until they do, the UN and their own citizens can and will continue to be manipulated by authoritarian regimes, to the detriment, harm and denial of justice of innocent people everywhere.

Richard D. Heideman is Senior Counsel of Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, PC, which has represented American victims of terror seeking legal accountability for acts of terror and antisemitism. Joseph H. Tipograph is an attorney with the firm of Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, PC. He co-authored with Heideman and David Matas the legal brief submitted to the ICJ for inclusion in the public record and co-authored a separate brief in the matter of South Africa v. Israel.