The UN Cop for Israel

Richard Falk is a one-off type. No other cop in the world polices a whole nation -- even one no bigger than Israel -- or is duty-bound to bring the nation to book, and blow the whistle before he even sets off on his policeman rounds. And what other cop is a foreign appointee, beholden to people looking out to slap a criminal image on one scapegoat nation?

That's Richard Falk, the American UN policeman for Israel. A Princeton law professor, with facial features that Hitler and Goebbels liked to plaster around the Third Reich to orchestrate the oldest of hatreds, and unabashedly hostile to all things Jewish, Falk was lately removed from the board of Human Rights Watch, the global NGO.

That step was a long time coming. Falk is not your policeman's policeman. He has a record. There was the cartoon he posted of a Jew in the guise of a slavering dog; a cozy partisanship for the Hamas terrorist group of Gaza; the oddball book he recommended, titled The Wandering Who? and more wayward than all else, his conspiratorial beliefs. How many Western law professors can there be who espouse the 'Israel was behind 9/11' theory? It's not what you'd expect from a guardian of human rights. That, anyhow, was what the HRW board thought, looking over Falk's shoulder before telling him to go.

But poison for one body can nourish another. Members of the UN Human Rights Council, including the member for the U.S., receive and debate Falk's indictments of Israel and see in their appointed cop nothing to render him unfit for the job. So he gets to keep the grandiloquent title: 'Special Rapporteur to the UN Council on Human Rights on violation of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.'

A mouthful of a sonorous title. But broken up into chunky bites it yields the full story -- the evolutionary beliefs and commitments that lawman Falk must bring to the job.

Bite one -- "violation of human rights" means that before he sets foot in 'Palestine' Falk is duty bound to bring home a bagful of Israeli crimes. Forget the principle of 'Innocent until proven guilty' that Falk would deliver from his lecture podium at Princeton.

Bite two -- Violations, when committed by Palestinians and not Israelis, are not Falk's concern. Indeed, he's obligated to turn a blind eye. 'What Palestinian crimes -- I don't see any?' is virtually engraved on his badge of office. Why tell the Human Rights Council what Palestinians get up to? They want to hear about Israel breaking laws. Remember, they appointed Falk to find Israel guilty.

Hence the UN cop is duty-bound to look away from Palestine's youth on the front lines. In Gaza City and Ramallah he must walk by street corner justice metered out to suspected informers; ignore weapon stores in classrooms and mosques; shut his ears to clerics exhorting mothers to let children be human bombs. No matter what Palestinians get up to Falk's job is to 'see no evil, hear no evil, report no evil.'

Bite three: Falk's job title has more legal flaws than a UN resolution. No law provides for Palestinian territory, or makes Israel an illegal occupier. Egypt and Jordan, which lost the territories in their 1967 defeat, could make a song and dance -- a token one -- but not Palestinians. Falk's title anticipates a settlement between two parties, of which Israel would need to be one. His title referring to 'Palestinian territory' is more than premature, it's presumptuous. What entitled Falk to remove Israel from the equation?

All in all, the UN cop's title is a mine of disinformation: historically empty, legally flawed, overtly anti-Israel.

What qualified him for the cop job? What does it mean to be a rapporteur for the Human Rights Council? Looking into it and you'll find that a rapporteur is a kind of loose cannon. Falk does not represent the council head, nor is he a council employee. Member states appointed him, and he reports directly to them.

They are supposed to select the rapporteur on six criteria: (a) expertise; (b) experience in the field of law and human rights; (c) independence; (d) impartiality; (e) personal integrity; (f) objectivity. Supposed: how diligently members apply the criteria is no longer a question, owing to Falk.

In going about the work of declaring Israel guilty he could not possibly be independent of UN Council members -- chiefly the Arab bloc -- that appointed him. Nor, by any stretch of meaning, could he be impartial. To begin with, the council members would have to select Falk from candidates short-listed by ideology. Before any other quality, the rapporteur would have to be anti-Israel. Why else would he take on a mandate obligating him to find Israel guilty? Why else would he be willing to turn a blind eye to Palestinian crimes? By definition he must be ideologically driven, or he would not have been appointed to begin with. Hence the problem: how can selection based on ideology be squared with a position meant to be independent, objective, and impartial? Are those qualities not mutually exclusive?

So the job designation tells all, fairly yelling at Falk not to be objective or impartial. Another thing, why would Falk volunteer his expensive time? A rapporteur is not paid. Now a man who is prepared to work for nothing would have to be driven by beliefs -- articles of faith, ideology.

Everything considered, how is it possible for the policeman over Israel to conduct himself with integrity? It boils down to the mode of his brain. When throwing the book at Israel, ideology would be Falk's primal impulse, not the international law he teaches at Princeton.

Steve Apfel is director of the School of Management  Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book, Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics (2012) and a contributor to, War by other Means. (Israel Affairs, Special Issue. July 2012). His new book, How the West was won is due out in 2013