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PolitiFact Florida: DeSantis wrong about U.N. resolutions against Israel

Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Republican candidate for governor, recently went head-to-head with an audience member after criticizing the United Nations’ treatment of Israel in the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

"I don’t know really what they do other than attack Israel," DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, said during a Jan. 11 event at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative organization. "In that year, they did 24 resolutions, and 20 of them were against Israel."

An unnamed person in the audience objected to that point after the speech, saying it "was very disgraceful and sad that you said something as an elected official that’s blatantly not true." The man offered another statistic for anti-Israel resolutions and told DeSantis to "double-check your facts."

"I will. This stuff has been widely reported," DeSantis said. "I don’t think it’s much up for dispute."

PolitiFact Florida wanted to see about that.

DeSantis was referring to a more narrow count of resolutions from the U.N. General Assembly, and not the U.N. system. That’s important to know, because the United Nations adopted hundreds of resolutions in 2016 — not just 24.

Any United Nations body can issue a resolution, which is a formal text or statement. But the most resolutions are issued by the Security Council or the General Assembly.

The 15-member Security Council is the only body of the U.N. that can pass binding resolutions, which member states are required to implement under the U.N. Charter. The council can pass economic sanctions and launch investigations and peacekeeping missions.

For example, the Security Council adopted resolution 2397 in December 2017 in response to Pyongyang’s Nov. 29 ballistic missile test. It established sanctions against North Korea that restricted fuel imports as well as the ability of its citizens to work abroad.

Then there’s the U.N. General Assembly, composed of all 193 member states. Unlike the Security Council, General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding and do not carry any legal force on member states.

Some resolutions take public policy stances on serious issues and conflicts, while others are less significant. Resolution 71/124 designated May 2 as World Tuna Day. Resolution 71/4 appointed António Guterres as U.N. secretary-general.

DeSantis spokeswoman Elizabeth Fusick said he was referring to resolutions passed during the 71st session of the U.N. General Assembly from September 2016 to September 2017.

But the Assembly adopted some 330 resolutions during that time. So where is DeSantis getting his information?

Fusick pointed to an analysis by UN Watch, a pro-Israel watchdog group that monitors criticism by the United Nations.

UN Watch’s analysis does not pertain to all of 2016, however. It only looks at resolutions passed in the last two months of 2016. In that time frame, the UN Watch analysis showed the General Assembly adopted 20 resolutions that "singled out" Israel.

In contrast, only four other resolutions were adopted condemning other nations: one each against Ukraine and Iran, and two about Syria. In a subsequent December 2016 story, UN Watch added two more resolutions against Syria and North Korea.

The General Assembly resolutions against Israel are largely symbolic. Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that a 2017 General Assembly vote against Israel was followed by no concrete steps in an issue brief.

So why adopt them at all? Michael Koplow, Israel Policy Forum’s policy director, said the resolutions are an easy way for Arab and Muslim states to indicate their opposition to Israel and single out the United States.

We will note that there are conflicting opinions on whether some of those resolutions should count as "anti-Israel."

Koplow pointed to UN Watch’s inclusion of resolution 71/126, which he said does not "single-out" Israel. Instead it welcomes humanitarian assistance and economic aid for Gaza, and reiterates multiple times the need for the Palestinian Authority to be in charge of implementing development projects rather than Hamas.

The situation is reversed for resolutions passed by the powerful Security Council.

Mainstream news reports in December 2016 did mention the Security Council’s resolution 2334, which condemned Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories as "constituting a flagrant violation under international law."

The vote was significant, because the United States abstained. For this reason, the U.N. Security Council was able to adopt the resolution — which usually doesn’t happen.

"Israel is shielded from critical resolutions for the most part, because of the United States," said Louis Charbonneau, director of the United Nations program at Human Rights Watch.

A single vote from one permanent member on the Security Council can veto a resolution. Charbonneau said the United States has a history of vetoing resolutions that are critical of Israel, especially under the Trump administration.

DeSantis’ effort to boil down a complex system into a sound bite doesn’t check out. We rate this claim False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/florida.

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