UN Bias Against Israel Continues

There’s an old Russian proverb, “Terminate what can’t be repaired.” Everyone interested in a just and lasting peace between Arabs and the State of Israel should apply this proverb to that absurd organization, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). To say that it is a flawed, if useful, instrument for advocating human rights is to argue that shifting chairs on the Titanic might have avoided the iceberg.

The UNHRC consists of 47 nations, elected for three-year terms. Most important for understanding the character of its resolutions and its outright bias against the State of Israel is its composition: the majority,  26 in all, are Asian and African countries; eight are Latin American: seven are Western; and six are Eastern European. 18 of the countries are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Among the present members in 2014 of this “human rights” body are countries that are not exactly heralded for their devotion to human rights, equal rights for women, or tolerance of Christianity, such as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and Russia. Until recently, other non-freedom loving countries such as Libya were members, and Syria might have been joined until even the UNHRC became conscious of the 130,000 deaths in the brutal civil war in that country.

The bias and bigotry exhibited by UNHRC has been apparent since its establishment in 2006 when it replaced the equally biased Human Rights Commission. Its creation was based on lofty and worthy sentiments. It was to be responsible for promoting universal respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner. Its mission was supposed to be applicable to all 192 countries in the world.

Sad to say, that lofty ideal has not been implemented. Instead, UNHRC has disproportionately concentrated its energies and financial resources on only one country, the alleged violations of human rights committed by the State of Israel. The figures are clear. Between 2006 and 2013, Israel was condemned in 45 of the general resolutions, almost as many as the other 192 countries together. Next on the list was Myanmar with 10 resolutions against it. Israel was also condemned in 46 per cent of resolutions devoted to specific countries: of the 12 emergency “special sessions” 2006-2009 relating to specific country situations, six were on Israel. All these resolutions were initiated by Arab states.

The financial figures are equally instructive. In the year 2013 the financial amount UNHRC spent on Middle East countries showed the bias. It spent $367 million on Jordan, $362 million on Lebanon, $316 million on Syria, $ 293 million on Iraq, and $3 million on Israel.

UNHRC, when it does occasionally refer to other countries, limits its admonition about their violations of human rights to “deep” or “serious concern.” Until very recently, there have been very few, if any, resolutions about the thousands of civilians being slaughtered in the Sudan, Syria, or Iran. The concern with Israel has not been limited to such gentle reproof. On June 30, 2006 the Council adopted Article Seven which made an annual review of alleged human rights abuses by Israel a permanent feature of its activity: Israel is the only country subject to this special treatment. This was accompanied by the appointment of a special rapporteur to advise on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Invariably, the person appointed has been an individual already known to be critical of Israel. This resolution on Article 7, and the appointment of the rapporteur was sponsored by the OIC, and was adopted by a vote of 29 to 12 with 5 abstentions.

As early as 2006 Kofi Annan, then UN secretary-general, declared that the Council should not have a disproportionate focus on violations by Israel. He held that UNHRC should give the same attention to grave violations committed by other states as it did to Israel. His advice was not heeded and the egregious hypocritical bias continued. Resolution 19/17 established an “independent” international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. The sponsors at the time were apparently reading Alice in Wonderland, “Verdict first and trial later.” 

Indeed, why waste money and time on an “independent” mission? The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, a South African of Indian Tamil origin, had a distinguished career as a lawyer and judge before her appointment to the position in July 2008.  Immediately, she knew that “The Israeli occupation of Palestine led to large scale violations of international law.” Even though one might think that someone who was educated partly at Harvard and the Harvard Law School might understand that judgment comes after considering all sides of an issue, her views have remained unilaterally critical of Israel.

On March 24, 2014 Pillay spoke of the Israeli settlements violating “the entire spectrum of Palestinians’ social, cultural, civil, and political rights.” Those settlements, she held, had devastating consequences for Palestinian civilians. However, she showed no similar concern for Israel civilians being attacked almost daily by Hamas terrorists. Her remark about Israel’s response to Hamas rocket fire on Israeli civilians was consistent: it was “excessive.”

Pillay did visit Israel but observed she had not met a single Palestinian citizen of the country. This was surprising because other people have met Israeli Arabs who are members of parliament, the diplomatic service, university professors, and a member of the Israeli Supreme Court. Perhaps, in April 2012, she may have insulted the group of countries, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ethiopia, Venezuela, that she declared as restricting human rights when she included Israel in the same group.

Should UNHRC, this blatantly anti-Israeli organization, be taken seriously? The Obama Administration has done so by applying for membership and being admitted in 2009, and again in 2013, contrary to the declaration by President George W. Bush that the U.S. would not seek a seat on the Council. Going even further than Bush, the U.S. Senate in September 2007 voted to cut U.S. funding for UNHRC. The U.S. accounts for 22 per cent of the general UN operating budget.

However, the Obama Administration took a different position, believing it is better to do something inside an organization rather than trying to change it from the outside. This way of thinking is a variation of the Chinese proverb: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, argued that in this “era of engagement” in U.S. foreign policy, the administration would work to improve the UN human rights system. Whatever that “work” has been, and it is not immediately obvious, there has been only a little difference in the activities of UNHRC since the U.S. joined it.

On March 28, 2014 the head of the U.S. delegation, Paula Schreifer, to UNHRC stated she was “deeply troubled … by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions” on the agenda. She was rightfully troubled. On that day the UNHRC passed five anti-Israeli resolutions. Four of them dealing with the poor treatment of Palestinians by Israel were passed by a vote of 46 to 1, the U.S. in dissent. The fifth, concerning the Golan Heights was passed by a vote of 33 to 1, with 13 abstentions. Presumably the 13 abstainers were now conscious of the 130,000 being slaughtered by Syrians not too far from Golan, and of what the UNHRC itself called the “massive displacement” of people from and inside Syria as a result of the conflict in the country.

There can of course be legitimate differences of opinion about the usefulness of being inside or outside the tent of a bizarre organization that has been harmful to hopes of a peace settlement. The better part of wisdom is that in view of the continuing animosity of UNHRC towards the State of Israel and its citizens, and its toleration of the worst violators of human rights in the world, it would be desirable for the U.S. to withdraw from UNHRC or at least to mount a protest against its bias by withdrawing its financial support.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.