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Picture David J. Michaels

I write this upon return from Geneva, where B’nai B’rith has engaged in urgent advocacy to international representatives at the United Nations Human Rights Council. 

In just four days, our leadership delegation met with the ambassadors and other senior diplomats of some 40 countries on nearly every continent. This count is in addition to the many officials who participated in B’nai B’rith’s diplomatic reception at the Palais des Nations, the world body’s European hub. 

At that event, the chief of staff of the Office of the Director-General of the U.N. in Geneva took the occasion to publicly “salute” B’nai B’rith for being a “leader… in this capital of human rights,” a role for which, he believes, “the council is better.” The American ambassador to the council, who also addressed the assemblage, told B’nai B’rith, “the United States stands with you.”

This message, truly important, might nonetheless somewhat accentuate anxieties concerning the body, coming in advance of the termination of American membership on the council at the end of this year. The U.S., having now served two terms as a council member, is ineligible to vie for the immediate renewal of its membership; while it will be able to continue speaking and engaging actively at the council, Washington will not enjoy the right to cast a vote within it. 

This said, even with full U.S. participation in the work of the council, the body’s performance, at least with regard to treatment of the Middle East’s only democracy, has hardly shifted. The U.S. has often cast a lone vote against wildly unjust council resolutions on Israel.

Of the U.N.’s 193 member states, it is only the small, beleaguered Jewish democracy, Israel, that remains subjected to scrutiny under a dedicated, permanent agenda item standing apart from the one under which all other countries are considered. 

At the council, both routine motions and “emergency” special sessions inordinately focus on assailing Israel alone. And a so-called special rapporteur is devoted to “investigating” and publicizing only alleged Israeli misdeeds against Palestinians – not any of the incessant violence perpetrated by Palestinians and others against Israelis, Jewish and otherwise.

True, the council has recently afforded some limited attention to other, acute human rights crises, such as the endless bloodletting in Syria and domestic repression in Iran. And Israel, which newly engaged with the council after its singular marginalization was eased with long-overdue inclusion in the Western regional working group, has encountered somewhat improved circumstances with the departure of a U.N. human rights commissioner and, especially, a special rapporteur distinguished by antipathy to the Jewish state. 


But Israel remains the target of an unparalleled parade of ritualistic condemnatory resolutions and reports – rubber-stamped by a body on which bloc voting and hypocritical politics abound – which are to overtake the council agenda on March 23. 

Moreover, it was only after the resignation of the probe’s partisan chair, upon revelation of his past paid consultancy for the Palestine Liberation Organization, that the anticipated report of the council’s “commission of inquiry” on last year’s Gaza hostilities has been deferred. 

The circumstances prompting the deferral of this latest inquest’s conclusions – conclusions that were somehow to be deemed credible despite the fact that the very resolution launching the probe had excoriated Israel in advance, with no mention of Hamas at all – were not acknowledged in the commission’s postponement notice.

Some discerning observers’ focus on Lake Geneva may now shift, appropriately, to the international negotiations with Iran – intended to reach at least a tentative outcome by the end of this month – over Tehran’s illicit nuclear program, which has roiled Arabs and Israelis alike in an already unstable region. 

However, perhaps feeling unencumbered following Israel’s parliamentary elections, Palestinian Authority officials seem geared to escalate an explicit strategy of “internationalizing” their conflict with Israel, an approach that has not brought progress toward peace between the parties but has exacerbated and exported divisions while distracting from the region’s foremost challenges. 

Beyond Palestinians’ unilateral pursuit of upgraded status in intergovernmental bodies, and agitation against Israel within them, this approach could soon culminate in steps to practically hinder Israeli counterterrorism efforts by threatening the prosecution of civilian leaders and military personnel at the International Criminal Court for any difficult operational decisions. 

Palestinians, who have obtained premature recognition as the “State of Palestine” by the U.N. General Assembly but not the essential endorsement of the Security Council, expect to be considered a “state” party of the court beginning in April.

Tragically, if judicial authorities in The Hague do acquiesce to Palestinian politicization of the ICC, the result will be not merely a deterioration of Palestinian-Israeli relations both on the ground and in multilateral institutions. Rather, an important strategic victory would also be handed to the proliferating array of fanatic Islamist non-state actors. 

Those forces are, on the whole, still shielded from the accountability demanded of (some) governments within a global system that has failed to effectively tackle the chief contemporary threat to international stability, security and human rights. 

What the world most needs at this stage in its history is collaborative, consistent action to undercut terrorism – not measures that permit it to fester unchallenged.


David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University.To view some of his additional content, Click Here.