CEO and Director of U.N. Affairs Joint Op-ed in JNS: At the UNHRC, why not focus on countries with egregious human-rights records?
The United States was again elected this month to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after an absence of more than three years. The United States fully deserves to be recognized as a global leader in promoting human rights.
Often, however, election to the world’s preeminent human-rights body is not founded upon countries’ merit but political horse-trading. In fact, none of the 18 vacant seats to be filled at the start of 2022 was contested; each will essentially have been claimed in advance by a “candidate” government without assurance of governments’ actual performance in protecting human rights or of equal opportunities for a stint on the council.
Case in point: Since the establishment of the council, around 120 of the 193 U.N. member states have enjoyed membership on it, some repeatedly.
Among the countries perennially left out is one subjected to far more harsh treatment by the body than any other: Israel.
This comes as no surprise to those within the U.N. system. After all, Israel is one of the United Nations most longstanding members, dating back to 1949, and it has also gotten more than its fair share of attention from the Security Council. Yet it has not been one of the 130 countries to have had at least one term in that powerful forum either. That’s unlike Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
To sum it up: Over the course of nearly 75 years, one side of the Arab-Israeli conflict has repeatedly had a voice, and vote, on relevant matters in key international institutions. The other hasn’t.
One side has wielded an automatic majority in these critical settings—there are some 60 Arab and Muslim U.N. member states—and the other is the world’s only Jewish state, Israel.
But the inequity is not limited to questions of mere representation.
When the United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council in 2018, The New York Times characterized the pullout as protesting “frequent criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” No country is immune to fair criticism, but this portrayal, sadly commonplace, represents nothing short of journalistic malpractice. What the council dishes out to Israel is not “criticism” but simple demonization—delegitimization and double standards.
The Human Rights Council was formed 15 years ago to replace its corrupt and utterly ineffective predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. But the council has been little better, particularly when it comes to Israel and the human rights of its diverse citizens.
At the council, what is the only country permanently probed under a dedicated agenda item? Israel. The only country even tarred as racist under yet another agenda item? Israel. The country targeted with more condemnatory resolutions than all others? Israel. The country that has been the subject of more “emergency” sessions than all others? Israel. The country repeatedly targeted with so-called fact-finding missions whose one-sided findings are endorsed in advance? Israel. The country scrutinized in perpetuity, though not its violent adversaries, by a “special rapporteur”? Israel. The only country subjected to a discriminatory corporate blacklist? Israel.
Too many outsiders assume that the U.N.’s sky-high output of anti-Israel excoriations reflects the real-world misbehavior of a uniquely and wildly aggressive Israel.
In actuality, Israel serves as a convenient target for scapegoating and unjust isolation at the world body, despite an astonishingly humane record in the face of practically unequaled and unending existential threats.
Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad—all openly committed not to limited territorial or political claims but to the outright destruction of the Jewish state—have never been condemned by the Human Rights Council for their fanaticism and terror.
Meanwhile, more Arabs have been killed in just 10 years of civil war in Syria than in nearly a century of conflict over Jews’ return to sovereignty in their small and sole ancestral homeland.
Fortunately, with more and more Arab and Muslim leaders now recognizing not only the permanence of Israel but also its legitimacy and potential to help forge a thriving Middle East, forces long accustomed to weaponizing the United Nations for cynical political purposes may find increasingly little enthusiasm for that stale cause.
As America rejoins the UNHRC, it must make clear that the body’s own legitimacy rests upon abandoning bias and bigotry in the pursuit of human dignity. Only concrete and substantial change at the council will make the body worthy of American membership and sustained investment. That change should start with ending the council’s singular fixation upon defaming Israel at the expense of highlighting the world’s most egregious and systemic human-rights abusers.
Read Mariaschin and Michaels' take in JNS.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International.
CEO Op-ed in JNS: U.N. Human Rights Council: When It Comes to Israel, Still Driving on Biased Retreads
(July 27, 2021 / JNS) That “history repeats itself” is not only a shopworn axiom, it is, like other clichés, oftentimes true.
The appointment last week of Navi Pillay, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to head up an investigation of the “root causes” and “systemic abuses” emanating from the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May comes as no surprise.
The mandate of the investigation is to look at “all underlying root causes or recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systemic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”
In other words, using kangaroo-court vernacular for singling out Israel for defending itself in the face of daily barrages of indiscriminate fire emanating from Hamas rocket-launchers in Gaza. Furthermore, this newly named commission has no specified shelf life and can continue to investigate Israel indefinitely.
We’ve seen this call to criticize before, especially on Pillay’s watch at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). During her six-year tenure at the UNHRC in Geneva, she more than once held her thumb on the scale when opining on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2010, Pillay oversaw the work of the special commission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, tasked by the UNHRC with investigating the fighting between Israel and Hamas in 2008 and 2009. That report, which was biased against Israel and distorted the facts surrounding that three-week war, concluded that Israel may have been guilty of war crimes.
In 2014, Pillay convened another investigation into fighting between Israel and Hamas, again showing her biased hand in evaluating the causes and the outcome of that war. “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated,” she said, “in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
She criticized Israel for use of disproportionate force and for its disregard for civilian lives. The UNHRC, in what has become the usual feverish diplomatic hysteria that surrounds fighting between Israel and Hamas, created “an independent commission of inquiry” that would look into “all violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”
Once again, the Human Rights Council demonstrated its bias and callous disregard for the facts. It should be recalled that Israel had actually withdrawn from Gaza in 2005, nine years before the 2014 resolution, citing “the occupied Gaza Strip,” was adopted. More important to note, though, is the broad band of responsibility that the resolution arrogated to the investigative committee: indeed, what did “East Jerusalem” have to do with Israel defending itself against Hamas rockets?
In both 2010 and again in 2014, Pillay did mention Hamas rocket fire into Israel. But given the heavy-handed focus on Israeli military actions, the reports’ references to Hamas had the look and feel of throwaways, as an afterthought placed in the texts of these resolutions to cover the UNHRC’s tracks.
Indeed, in 2014, Pillay accused Hamas of not practicing “the principle of distinction and precaution.” In other words, “disproportionate response” was being tossed around liberally by her and others with regard to Israel, while Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli population centers was lightly let off the hook with diplomatic language that required three readings to understand exactly what was “distinction and precaution.”
And if there is still any doubt as to where Pillay stands on the issue, consider this: In 2014, she pointedly criticized the United States for not sharing Iron Dome technology (that has allowed Israel to shoot down most incoming rockets targeting its populated areas) with Hamas. At the time, Pillay said, “No such protection has been provided to the Gazans against the shelling.” In other words, why isn’t the United States arming terrorists?
In May, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and an incessant critic of Israel in her own right, said that Israeli attacks on Gaza might constitute war crimes. That led to the appointment of one of her predecessors, Pillay, to begin the process of publicly flaying Israel for the third time in 15 years. Even though the naming of Pillay to the post was done in the name of the current UNHRC president, there is little doubt that Bachelet’s influence was in play.
The United Nations is now in its 76th year, but it has been apparent for decades that many of its agencies and committees, like the Human Rights Council, stocked as they are with countries that participate in bloc voting and who engage in oftentimes mindless herd mentality, can be counted on to pounce on Israel whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Investigations into Israel’s justified responses to rocket attacks from Hamas, or its earlier and current responses to innumerable terrorist attacks, only serve to politicize and marginalize the organization. The United Nations, whose original mission was to promote peace in the international community, now often appears as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian narrative—predictable and yet dangerous because such activity only serves to reward terrorism, and raises expectations of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that they have the international community at their backs.
We should not be surprised by the outcome of the upcoming UNHRC “investigation” into the recent fighting in Gaza. Indeed, this commission of inquiry will no doubt pull from the shelf reports filed by the Goldstone Commission and that which the UNHRC inquiry produced in 2014. Which is to say: The Pillay Commission’s findings are likely already written.
The good news, I suppose, is that the Abraham Accords, which brought four Arab countries into the peace fold with Israel, will soon observe its first anniversary. The spirit of those agreements represents the future; they are a promising pathway to cooperation and co-existence.
Rather than convene yet another commission to castigate Israel, the UNHRC would have done far better to establish a commission to investigate why the Palestinians—now approaching 28 years after the Oslo Accords—refuse to engage in serious negotiations with Israel. Or, perhaps, a report focusing on Hamas’s obsession with bringing about Israel’s demise.
Now that would be a real contribution to advancing human rights.
Read Mariaschin's expert analysis in JNS.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
As COVID-19 continues to plague our nation, Congress has spent months debating the best way to respond to the pandemic. It has debated economic stimulus for individuals, small businesses, state and local governments and the private sector. In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide an economic jolt to a stalled economy.
While stimulus checks and small business loans got most of the publicity, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) senior housing also received financial resources to better meet the challenges from COVID-19. B’nai B’rith’s Center for Senior Services, as the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income, nonsectarian housing for seniors in the United States, is taking a keen interest in how stimulus legislation will impact senior housing. While the money in the CARES Act is helpful and appreciated, the virus is still impacting our country and requires further stimulus legislation.
Therefore, it was encouraging to see the House of Representatives pass the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which provided a financial boost for HUD assisted senior housing. This legislation provides $1.2 billion, which will enable buildings to hire more staff, purchase more personal protective equipment (PPE) and deal with decreased rents because of the virus. In addition, this money could help advance service coordination for buildings that have and don’t have a service coordinator. A service coordinator is a social service staff person that connects residents with services in the community.
Recently Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) and Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) introduced the Emergency Housing Assistance for Older Adults Act of 2020 in Congress. Like the HEROES Act, this legislation provides funding, but this bill specifically allocates $50 million in funding for increasing WiFi accessibility in senior housing. Additional funding for WiFi is crucial because it makes telehealth more readily available for older Americans and allows service coordinators to speak with residents while practicing social distancing.
As Congress deliberates further COVID-19 stimulus legislation, I hope the provisions from the Emergency Housing Assistance for Older Adults Act make their way into the final draft. During a time of national crisis, we are thankful that Rep. Porter and Chairwoman Waters are leading the efforts to ensure that senior housing has the resources in light of the pandemic.
B’nai B’rith has and will continue to advocate to congressional offices on how critical additional funding is for HUD assisted housing to combat the pandemic. The House has done their part passing the HEROES Act. It’s now time for Senate to do their own heavy lifting. Congress must reach a deal to ensure that senior housing and countless people, programs and state and local governments have the appropriate resources to meet the challenges of the day!
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
The United Nations is warning countries to undertake all possible efforts to protect civilian populations, cautioning that the spread of coronavirus must not be wielded as a weapon to abuse power.
“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement. “They should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic – nothing more, nothing less.”
At the same time, Bachelet noted that countries are within their rights to implement restrictions to protect public health, but she argued they must be "necessary, proportionate, and non-discriminatory." But when the U.N. speaks of “proportionate,” it immediately calls to mind the disproportionate judgement and speeches replete with rhetorical flourishes that the body is known for.
Bachelet warned that the U.N. is aware of numerous reports that authorities across different regions have used excessive force by attempting to enforce lockdowns or curfews, and these situations have been happening in the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population. She also called on states to safely release people who have been detained for violating emergency measures, arguing that putting people in jail for breaking curfew has the reverse effect.
Georgette Gagnon, the office's director of field operations, described in an online policy briefing with reporters how many countries are responding excessively to the virus.
In particular, she pointed to the “heavy-handed” and “highly militarized” security response to the virus in places like South Africa, where they have seen authorities using rubber bullets, tear gas, water guns and whips to maintain social distancing in shopping lines.
Gagnon identified other places (the Philippines, Peru, Honduras, Sri Lanka and El Salvador) that are also displaying “highly militarized" responses to those who violate curfew or lockdown orders or excessive detention.
It may look encouraging that the High Comissioner and the Human Rights Office is concerned about the violation of human rights in the world today, and every day. But it is not real. The accusation of abuses does not include Venezuela, Cuba and Iran. So nothing is changing. The Human Rights Council (HRC) and the High Commissioner are again endorsing – this time with silence – what happens in those countries which are the greater abusers of human rights.
Moreover, there has not been one word from the Office of the High Commissioner about the ongoing campaign of accusations of conspiracy against Israel and against the Jewish people. When Bachelet speaks about violations against freedom, she should have condemned the vicious message of hatred from Iran, the Palestinians,and their proxies accusing the Jews of the pandemic. These accusations were spread in the Middle Ages for the “Black Death”.The silence of the High Commissioner is unacceptable.
Although it is one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world, and the most brutal in the Americas, Venezuela is a member of the HRC. Is this a reason why the High Commissioner did not mention Venezuela in her speech against those who are human rights abusers in this pandemic?.
In Venezuela, in mid-March, the country’s health system was collapsing. Hospitals have closed or are operating at a fraction of their capacity, many without regular access to electricity or water. The public health infrastructure is so weak that in 2019, Venezuela had the world’s steepest rise in malaria cases. Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria have already returned long before the epidemic hit.
It is difficult to know how many coronavirus cases are in Venezuela. Maduro´s regime announced on April 30th that there have been only 10 coronavirus deaths and only several hundred cases. It is hard to believe, but both U.N. political agencies and the World Health Organization accept Venezuela’s official numbers as truthful.
In such a dangerous context, every country neighboring Venezuela is concerned with its own battle against the epidemic, and the Venezuelan humanitarian tragedy is not the main issue. Instead, Colombia and Ecuador are focused on protecting their own interests and closing their borders.
Venezuela’s health care infrastructure is so weak that the most basic recommendation—handwashing—is difficult even for health care providers, who work under difficult conditions. The Venezuelan doctors and nurses say that soap and disinfectants are virtually nonexistent in their clinics and hospitals. Public hospitals in Caracas, the capital, are also suffering regular water shortages. In remote hospitals, the shortages have lasted weeks to months. Patients and personnel are required to bring their own water for drinking and sometimes for flushing toilets.
This is the country that holds a seat in the HRC, and this is the country that the High Commissioner “forgets.” The High Commissioner’s omission is even more egregious because today Venezuela is worse than ever in its humanitarian crisis.
Bloomberg reported this week that “Out of cash and desperate for help in propping up its oil industry, Venezuela is raiding its gold vaults and handing tons of gold bars to its long-time ally Iran, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. Government officials piled some 9 tons of gold -- an amount equal to about $500 million -- on Tehran-bound jets this month as payment for Iran’s assistance in reviving Venezuela’s crippled gasoline refineries, For Iran, the deals provide a fresh source of revenue. For Venezuela, they ensure that its supply of gasoline doesn’t totally run out.The sanctioned Tehran-based carrier Mahan Air has flown more than half a dozen jets to the South American nation in the past week alone. Most delivered gasoline additives, parts and technicians to help repair a key refinery along Venezuela’s northwestern coast. Meanwhile, Mahan has sent other planes to the international airport outside of Caracas, where they are loaded with the gold bars to take back to Tehran.”
What benefit does a collapsed Venezuela provide (health, economy, insecurity) to the HRC? Of course, none. Just a confirmation of the unfortunate role of the commission and those who silently accept the unacceptable.
Anti-Semitism has not vanished due to the pandemic. It can still be seen on social media and in several countries. The Iranians traveling every week to South America through the open doors of Venezuela is not new, and it is not the first time it has happened. But in the time of pandemic, the Iranian presence and Hezbollah´s presence present a clear and present danger of more anti-Semitism.
Unfortunately, this is another issue that the High Commissioner is not speaking about when she says she is worried with increasing dangers to freedom in Latin America.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
In late December 2019, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague, Fatou Bensouda, announced that a “basis” exists to investigate the “situation in Palestine” and whether Israel committed war crimes during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, as well as the Gaza border conflict of 2018-2019. Earlier this month, the court gave the green light for Bensouda to open an investigation of alleged war crimes committed by American servicemen during the United States’ war with Afghanistan.
If it sounds worrisome for Israel and the U.S., that’s because it is. Both Israel and the U.S. are not members of the ICC and did not ratify the court’s founding Rome Treaty, precisely because both countries feared it was a structurally biased institution and would become the politicized body it has. The ICC does not try states, but individuals. That means although the U.S. and Israel are not parties to the Rome Treaty, their citizens, leaders and soldiers are not immune from indictment, prosecution and arrest warrants in countries that are parties to the treaty (and there are 123 member countries of the ICC).
The International Criminal Court was created in 2002 to prosecute individuals for international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The institution was meant to function as a “court of last resort," which means it should step in when rogue nations do not hold ostensible perpetrators of war crimes accountable. In this sense, the ICC is a powerful resource to maintain law and order around the globe and to serve as a deterrent to tyrants from committing grave crimes. However, as we have witnessed another international body, the United Nations Human Rights Council, stray from their noble cause into a political farce, so too has the International Criminal Court.
The United States and Israel both have vibrant democracies, each with some of the world’s most respected judicial systems that investigate alleged wrongdoings by their militaries. The notion that the ICC would open inquiries into both countries is obscene. The U.S. and Israel currently view the court as a politicized and illegitimate institution. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently called the most recent ruling on Afghanistan a “truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body,” and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon referred to the investigation of Operation Protective Edge as “diplomatic terrorism.”
For years, the Palestinian Authority (PA) along with several Palestinian NGOs, backed by thousands of euros from European governments, has threatened to open a probe of war crimes against Israel. In 2015, the PA joined the Rome Treaty and several countries recognized Palestine as an independent state. However, contrary to some wishes, Palestine is still not a sovereign state according to the Vienna Convention, upon which the Rome Statue is based. Therefore, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has argued that “only sovereign states can delegate criminal jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court. The PA does not meet the criteria.” It’s quite straightforward. The ICC has no jurisdiction to investigate the PA’s request, and it certainly has no jurisdiction over Israel, which is not a party to the institution.
In over two decades, the ICC has only ever convicted three people in trials of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Given the last decade and the atrocities out of Syria or human rights abuses out of Iran, let alone the nearly daily war crimes committed by Hamas, e.g. sending incendiary balloons across the Gaza border to land in school yards, that there has been little interest in prosecuting such crimes speaks volumes about the political agenda and anti-Israel bias of the court.
Israel's short history has been consumed by Palestinian warfare since before the state’s creation, from terrorism to the battlefield, to the media and the BDS and delegitimization campaign and now through lawfare. We cannot underestimate the use of lawfare as a weapon against the Jewish State and dismiss it as mere politics. It may be a political show, but this time Israel cannot dismiss the ICC’s legal positions in the same way it dismisses rulings by the U.N. General Assembly. International law carries with it very real consequences and not just from a P.R. perspective of assigning the label of war criminal to an Israeli leader. If said person refuses to submit to interrogation by the ICC prosecutor and travels to an ICC member state like Germany or England (as well as much of the rest of Europe, South America and Africa), that person could theoretically be arrested as soon as their plane lands on foreign soil. That scenario would lead to an international scandal of epic proportions, causing severe diplomatic rifts—rifts Israel cannot afford.
The ICC Pretrial Chamber is expected to decide sometime after this month whether or not it will recognize a “State of Palestine,” (meaning whether or not it actually has jurisdiction), and determine if they will proceed with a full criminal investigation. For now, we will watch as things unfold, continue to advocate on Israel’s behalf and hope Israel continues to mount a multi-layered defense against this delegitimization.
For years, we have made the case that Israel continues to be subjected to unequal footing and outright systemic bias within the international community. The latest moves by the ICC add it to the growing list of anti-Israel, arguably anti-Semitic, international bodies. The real tragedy here is that victims of actual crimes against humanity may never see justice because a pervasive international obsession with the one Jewish State trumps all else.
Rebecca Rose is Associate Director of Development & Special Projects at B’nai B’rith International. She holds an M.A. in Political Science in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
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