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Opinion: Reforming the UN Security Council – The US’s pro-Israel bully pulpit

If you flick to Justin Bieber’s Instagram right now, you’ll glimpse comments such as “UNFOLLOWED” and “You should name the baby in your photo Gaza,” as hashtag activists tackle the singer for briefly sharing a “Praying for Israel” post to his story.  

Instagram activism is what my generation seems to do best, but virtue signaling to JB is a prodigious waste of time if we want to mitigate the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s time to make this criticism constructive by shifting the conversation: we need to reform the United Nations Security Council by suspending the veto in times of mass atrocities.  

After the Palestinian militant group Hamas killed over 1,400 Israelis in the terrorist attack of October 7, the Israeli government formally declared war on Hamas, cutting off food, electricity, and water to over 2 million trapped Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. Israel is now upping the frequency of their air strikes, despite the Gaza death toll passing 8,000 with little hope of a ceasefire. 

The UN Security Council, an organ of 15 members, has rejected proposals of a humanitarian corridor and ceasefire. The five permanent members, colloquially called the “P5,” have veto powers; the US vetoed the Brazilian proposal on October 18, which called for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver aid to the millions of civilians in Gaza, while condemning violence against civilians. The US purportedly disliked that the proposal failed to mention Israel’s right to self-defense.  

Granted, since 1972, America the Beautiful has vetoed at least 53 UNSC resolutions that were critical of Israel.  

They flouted resolutions condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and 1990 investigations into the killing of Palestinian workers. In 2018, the US vetoed a resolution concerning escalation of violence and casualties of Palestinian civilians and children, as they protested for the right to return after the 1948 “Nakbah,” when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled.  

It seems the only thing Democrat and Republican politicians can agree on is consistent US backing of Israel—that and daylight-saving time.  

Just last week, we saw the resignation of prominent State Department Official Josh Paul, who regulated arms transfers for 10-plus years. He loathed the US’s “blind support” for Israel’s response: rushing arms to one side of the conflict, despite precedents like the Geneva conventions and the “Responsibility to Protect” in the face of war crimes. In his letter, he expresses that “for those of us who are third parties, the side we must pick is not that of one of the combatants, but that of the people caught in the middle, and that of the generations yet to come.” 

Our history of steadfast support for the Israeli state stems from its creation in 1948, to the 1967 Israeli war against Arab nations that unsuccessfully attacked Israel from all sides, to 2016 when Obama agreed to give $38 billion to Israel in military support over the next 10 years. Israel has the whip hand over Palestine when it comes to its military, resources, and power, and the US is complicit in its prowess.  

And so, it is time to reform this system that continually oppresses Palestinians and has built up to the monstrous asymmetric warfare tactics of Hamas. 

First, the Security Council should reflect international power dynamics that are different from 1945. In 1965 the UN augmented membership from 11 to 15, so reform is possible, as told by Linda Fasulo in An Insider’s Guide to the UN (2021). But adding permanent and nonpermanent states, or removing the veto, is admittedly unrealistic.   

We do know that even if the UNSC is merely condemning violence or human rights violations through resolutions, states care about their reputations: as Chong says in Debating Human Rights, “Although Israel ultimately withdrew from the UNHRC, international criticism has led Israel to conduct internal investigations of its military actions in Lebanon and Gaza” (2014).  

Thus, I support that veto use be suspended when mass atrocity crimes are occurring, as proposed by France and Mexico. Much of Scandinavia supports this, and while a standing mandate was passed, it is time to include African nations in the draft resolutions and once again propose a suspension of the veto. Biden has called for UNSC reform before, and perhaps he will come around after the obligatory grandstanding.  

This is a call to turn our activism away from Instagram and all things Justin Bieber, and towards suspending the veto of the P5 in the UNSC. So for the US, it may be “too late now to say sorry,” but it’s not too late to support reform.  

“UNFOLLOWING” the UNSC doesn’t seem to be an option, after all. 

          Chong. Debating Human Rights. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2014. 

Fasulo, Linda M. An Insider’s Guide to the UN. Yale University Press, 2021. 

“War and International Humanitarian Law.” ICRC, 29 Oct. 2010, 

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