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By Elliot Leven, January 14, 2010

Once again, the Arab World has led the international charge against human rights for gays and lesbians.  On November 16, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted to delete “sexual orientation” from a resolution on summary and arbitrary executions. The resolution urges States to protect the right to life of all people, and calls on states to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds.  For the past decade, the text of the resolution has included “sexual orientation” in the list of these discriminatory grounds.  Not this year.

The amendment to omit “sexual orientation” was sponsored by Benin, and passed with 79 votes for, 70 against, 17 abstentions, and 26 states absent.

Among the nations that voted to remove “sexual orientation” were such paragons of human rights as China, Cuba, North Korea, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. (Russia may have elections now, but it has a lot to learn about human rights!)

Most democracies, including Canada, India, Israel, and the United States voted against.  South Africa was the most disappointing exception – it voted with the first group.

Some smaller nations, including Singapore and Thailand, abstained.  A few smaller nations, including Honduras and Turkey, were absent for the vote.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) proclaimed itself “deeply disappointed” with the outcome.  IGLHRC Executive Director Alan Johnson called the vote “a dangerous and disturbing development”. 

International lesbian-gay organization ARC International was equally upset.  “It is a matter of great shame that the responsible committee of the United Nations General Assembly failed in its responsibility to explicitly condemn well-documented killings based on sexual orientation,” observed ARC Co-Director John Fisher.

In a November 23 National Post commentary, columnist Jonathan Kay commented that the results of the vote “show that a nation's attitude toward homosexuality can more or less be taken as a reliable proxy for the general health of its society.”  Kay pointed out that the nations that voted to exclude sexual orientation tend to be autocracies and police states.

Zionists can be proud that Israel voted along with the democratic world on this vote, as it does on most issues pertaining to sexual orientation.  Israel is not perfect (it offers neither same-sex marriage nor same-sex domestic partnership); but it is generally a decent place to be gay or lesbian.  Tel Aviv in particular is a progressive city for lesbians and gays.

I have commented in these pages before that Israel has its fair share of shortcomings and there is no reason why these flaws cannot be publicly debated.  Defending Israel does not require that we pretend that Israel is perfect.  Pointing out Israel’s imperfections certainly does not make one anti-Semitic.

Blue-ribbon international organizations like Amnesty International and Freedom House level objective criticism at Israel when such criticism is warranted.  However, these organizations are equally objective about criticizing other nations, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, for blatant human rights violations.  They are not unduly obsessed with Israel.

Israel has many critics, some of whom do appear to be obsessed with the Jewish State.  I only wish that all of these critics would devote as much energy to defending the rights of lesbians and gays in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, as they do to denouncing Israel’s every flaw.

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