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.
With the one-year delay of the 2020 Olympics due to COVID-19, the Tokyo Games of 2021 are one year closer to the 50th anniversary of the Munich Massacre by the Palestinian terror group Black September. In 1972, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) promised to remember, even declaring, "We will never forget." But that message, too commonly repeated since the Holocaust, never seems to sink in.
Days before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC maintains its history of rejecting any "moment of silence" for the Munich 11, which arguably introduced the free world to international terrorism. The lobbying effort by victims' families, at least in the past decade, has been rejected or ignored by the IOC. In contrast, the IOC allowed American athletes in 2002 to enter the stadium with a flag from the recently torpedoed and collapsed World Trade Center. The IOC maintains that, under Avery Brundage's leadership, it memorialized the 11 murdered Israelis with a service a day after the September 5, 1972 murders.
In place of a moment of silence every four years, host countries today spend fortunes—600 million pounds at the 2012 Games in London and $895 million at the Rio Games of 2016—to ensure the safety of more than 200 national athletic delegations. The Olympic Games, founded in the spirit of international harmony, were once considered bulletproof from a hostage-taking episode.
War was reserved for military battlefields—not the well-kept apartments of an Olympic village. American distance runner Kenny Moore, then 28, recalled in 2012: "I had believed the Olympics immune somehow to the threats of the larger world. It was an illusion, but it had been a hell of a strong illusion and it rocked me personally to have that shattered."
The 1972 games were supposed to be the games of peace—an example of German redemption from the 1936 Games in Berlin, which coincided with the heinous Nazi era that led to the systemic extermination of 11 million innocents, including at least 6 million Jews. In Munich, Germany wanted to show the world that it had reformed its image; that these Olympics could be peacefully policed without the menacing muscle of German force. They were unprepared and were barely armed.
Today, following 9/11, all major sporting events—not just the Olympics—prepare for the possibility of terrorism.
Just as the Nazis introduced the world to gas chambers and the reduction of atrophied bodies to dust through crematoria, so too did the Palestinians introduce the world to international terrorism at the Munich Games.
Almost 50 years later, many still remember the image of a white ski-masked gunman standing on a balcony of the Olympic Village, brandishing a machine gun. In what today is just part of a history of hostage-taking and hijacking for the purposes of trading Israeli Jews for hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian captives, the Munich mission sought 200 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 11 Israeli Olympians.
Two Jews were shot initially to underline the threat. Negotiations led to an attempt to facilitate the release of the hostages, but the Palestinians took advantage of a bungled rescue attempt by German police, allowing one fleeting moment for a terrorist leader to toss a grenade into a helicopter, killing the remaining nine Israelis. Five of the terrorists were killed during a failed attempt to rescue the hostages, as was a West German police officer. The three Palestinian survivors were arrested and released by West German officials less than two months later.
Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan directed Mossad to lead a retaliation effort. With the assistance of European intelligence agencies, 10 Palestine Liberation Organization bases in Syria and Lebanon were bombed. This was part of a broader Israeli assassination campaign, dubbed Operation Wrath of God, that eliminated all perpetrators and planners of the Munich raid by 1979.
Forty-five years after the massacre, a memorial at Munich's Olympic Park was unveiled with families of the victims in attendance. Reuven Rivlin, then-president of Israel, proclaimed the Munich Games as "the blood Olympics." Then-German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "It should never have happened."
The IOC insists that Olympics opening ceremonies are inappropriate moments for remembering the Munich victims. But, if not every four years, when?
The IOC executive board agreed in 2015 that the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 would offer "a mourning place" to remember "all those who have lost their lives at the Olympic Games." The monument included two stones from ancient Olympia and a memorial for Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in a luge track crash the day before the 2010 Vancouver Games began. The IOC acknowledged that the moment of reflection could include the murdered Israelis in Munich. An engraved base with the interlocking Olympic rings reads: "We will always remember you forever in our hearts."
Remember who, for what, and why?
The IOC must put forward a gold-medal effort after almost 50 years to remind the world of the Munich Massacre.
Read President Kaufman's analysis in Newsweek.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
Between June 21 and June 28, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on major setbacks on human rights taking place in a number of different countries, including several in Latin America. “To recover from the biggest and most serious setbacks in human rights that we have ever seen, we must have a life-changing vision and concerted action to put it into practice,” Bachelet told members of the Human Rights Council in the first week of three of the 47th session of the UNHRC.
The High Commissioner is almost right. Almost.
There are violations of human rights in Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua. And much worse in Venezuela and Iran, which perpetrated the horrible bombings of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina 25 years ago and the AMIA bombing 27 years ago, and still today justice has not been served in both cases. But it is very curious that the High Commissioner puts every tragedy in one bag.
Venezuela has been a dictatorship for more than two decades and has created (according to U.N. information) the second largest humanitarian crisis in the world in the last ten years after Syria, which has the first place. More than 5 million Venezuelans have fled from their country due to misery, poverty and ongoing violations of human rights. What has any U.N. High Commissioner, including the present one, done to stop the ongoing tragedy in Venezuela, except for an isolated speech here and there against the Venezuelan leader, Nicolas Maduro? Selectivity in human rights violations is a major setback of effectiveness and fairness in the UNHRC.
Bachelet is alarmed at the “high level of political violence” during the campaign for the Mexican legislative elections held at the beginning of June. “At least 91 politicians and party members, including 36 electoral candidates, were assassinated during the electoral period that began in September 2020,” Bachelet said. It is unfortunately certain and reprehensible. But like it or not, Mexico is not Venezuela. Mexico is a democracy with flaws, but a democratic country for more than a century.
Bachelet also addressed the wave of anti-government protests that broke out at the end of April in Colombia. "My office has expressed grave concern over allegations of serious human rights violations by the security forces,” she said.
Yes, there were riots in the streets and there were 59 civilians and two policemen dead. Riots were not peaceful as the High Commissioner said, and Colombia, which is a democracy, after several days of violence, addressed the confrontation and installed a negotiating table between the government and the leaders of the riots. Nothing even similar could take place in Venezuela or Iran, so, again, it is a very harmful mistake to put everything in one basket.
Bachelet also stressed that in Colombia, “although the majority of demonstrations were peaceful, there were some episodes of violence” and encouraged “dialogue to resolve the crisis.” Dialogue is what is going on these days, something that is unthinkable not only in Venezuela but also in Nicaragua. Colombian President Duque suffered an attack against his helicopter when he was on an official mission with his closest aides on June 29, but even this very serious incident did not stop the negotiations with the civil society to keep the democratic dialogue in Colombia.
Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan dictator, has decided to have elections by the end of this year but in the meantime, he is sending every possible candidate to jail, and other candidates have fled the country due to the persecution. Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, fear defeat in November. Although he still leads the Sandinista party, rather than adhere to its socialist past, Ortega has, since 2007, ruled with nepotism and dynastic pretensions. While taking control of the legislature, the judiciary and the electoral authority and muzzling the media, he kept support among the poor with social programs paid for by Venezuela. When this dried up, austerity prompted a national uprising in 2018 and more than 300 people were murdered. Will the Ortegas get away with this? The Organization of American States (OAS) has condemned the persecution of political leaders. Bachelet has also condemned the farce of an election the Ortegas are preparing, but at the end of the day, Nicaragua and Venezuela receive condemnations and sanctions, but stay still because Iran or some big powers, and sometimes both together, help these rogue dictatorships to stay in power and of course, for Iran, Venezuela is a “democratic friend.”
Why did we write in the beginning of this article that the High Commissioner is “almost right” when she speaks out about violation of human rights all over the world? Mixing riots in democratic countries with crimes in dictatorships is not a fair way to expose the weak and poor situation of human rights. We fully agree that from the Office of the High Commissioner, violations of human rights are denounced. But it is far from enough to selectively denounce human rights violations.
Serial human rights abusers in Latin American can say with high hypocrisy that the allegations against their governments are “illegal interference in their internal affairs,” but the truth of the matter is that the allegations show the unacceptable and cruel reality their people are suffering.
What the U.N. and the High Commissioner can't forget is that terrorism must be strongly condemned, and the fact that there was no mention of the terrorist attacks with rockets from Hamas to the Israeli civilians in the most recent conflict, was a dangerous form of incitement. Worse, there was a rude comment from the High Commissioner against the “Israeli disproportionate use of force.”
These are the U.N. attitudes and comments that erodes, day after day, the credibility of this international U.N. agency. Why is the High Commissioner loud and clear with some dictatorships, but when Israel is defending its citizens from a terrorist attack, the disproportion comes from the attacked country and not from the aggressor?
This narrative harms the necessary credibility that the international agencies must have to combat the evil of dictatorships violating human rights. Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, all of them are aware that there can be investigations and speeches about their regimes, but at the same time, they are also aware that after the speeches and maybe some sanctions, they will keep their power fully. Without credibility and trust, the future will be more and more speeches, no real sanctions and more impunity.
(June 27, 2021 / JNS) Young adults fresh out of school understand the anxiety associated with taking a test. The amount of preparation can be daunting. But when it comes to taking a test about anti-Semitism, Judaism or Israel, how much do young adults really know these days? I framed this question at the first B’nai B’rith Portugal European Young Leaders Program on June 21 at the new Oporto Holocaust Museum, the first such institution in the country.
The adults in the audience, young and older, certainly could relate to the universal pressures of taking an important test, whether their subjects were marketing, management or dentistry. But in a time when young adults generally are far less knowledgeable or savvy about such matters as Judaism and the Jewish state, one wonders more broadly how prepared the next generation is to handle the challenges facing them on college campuses or in the workplace, where Jews have felt pressures heaped on them recently by antagonizing and attacking anti-Israel/anti-Semitic forces.
Sadly, most students are woefully ill-prepared or ill-informed about such matters, leaving them vulnerable to believing whatever they are told by peers, and fearful as to what attacker may lurk around the corner. Perhaps students, armed with the truth, would be able to defend themselves.
Clearly the Jewish people have been tested through time. They have survived adversity through great civilizations, tyrants, impossible circumstances, expulsions, pogroms and gas chambers. Amid all of their wondrous achievements and successes, they have faced inexorable pain. Portugal witnessed 20 percent of its population evaporate in 1497 from the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews, and Europe lost at least 33 percent of its Jews from 1933 to 1945.
For thousands of years, Jews have absorbed being demonized, persecuted and subjected to blood libels that stripped them of their humanity. The defense in common libel matters of American jurisprudence is the truth.
So, the young adults in Porto’s Holocaust museum this day were advised that the truth is readily available, and that they must pursue it to counter—and hopefully reduce—damaging falsehoods. The test for which they must prepare will require time and commitment for study. They must have the mentorship and guidance of an older generation, thus making this process something that is delivered from generation to generation.
The Porto conference taught them about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism from Ambassador Luis Barreiros, Portugal’s delegation head to the IHRA committee. The definition has been adopted by more than 30 countries, universities, organizations, large businesses, even premier sports leagues.
However, some groups, even Jewish groups, have considered it “not perfect,” as it is “misunderstood and misused” because of its support for the existence and defense of the State of Israel. “But it is the best tool,” Barreiros said, “to fight the scourges of anti-Semitism, so let’s use it.”
He added that the definition helps identify warning lights and signs against Jew-hatred. “Half-truths are more dangerous than a full lie,” he said.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, whose organization endorses and promotes the IHRA definition, praised the measure and actually participated in the earliest meetings in Stockholm during the late 1990s.
“Israel’s enemies and those who seek to undermine it consistently hide behind the “free speech” argument,” Mariaschin said. “Theirs is surely not critical opinion; it is the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater. Their language is that of incitement. When one says that Israel is an ‘apartheid state,’ that it engages in ‘state terror’ and that its security fence is akin to the Warsaw Ghetto, they are deliberately engaging in what amounts to anti-Semitic smear tactics.”
Other red lines crossed, Mariaschin said, included a U.N. resolution in 1975 equating Zionism with racism, suggesting that if you are a Zionist—someone who identifies Israel as the eternal homeland for the Jewish people—then you are a racist. The effects of that resolution are very much with us today. He said that Jews need to re-double efforts at educating ourselves about Jewish and Israeli history to counter the verbal assaults.
“We live in a time when historical context is deemed expendable,” Mariaschin said. “We mustn’t allow those who seek to delegitimize and demonize Israel to selectively put forth wildly biased narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s why it is vitally important to know our own history, if we are to push back effectively in a time when Israel is demeaned daily, especially on social media.”
Raphael Gamzou, Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, reminded the audience that Israel was bombarded mercilessly with “moral equivalency arguments” in assessing responses to thousands of missiles raining down on Israel from Gaza.
“I never claim Israel is a flawless country, but the missile attacks were such a flagrant violation, and to follow up with comments about moral equivalency is outrageous,” he said. “There is no more moral army in the world than the IDF. Our enemies are going to complain that we have a weapon that not only keeps rockets from falling on its own people, but keeps rockets from falling on Palestinians. We wish we didn’t have to protect ourselves from missile attacks, but we do. This is war.”
Asked about the prospects of another Holocaust against the Jews and the rise of anti-Semitism, he said, “With Israel as a thriving nation, I see no option for another Holocaust against the Jewish people,” he said. “We will have to continue developing Israel as a moral and democratic country to encourage additional agreements, such as the Abraham Accords. And we will need to continue building bridges between the Diaspora and a healthy Israel. As for anti-Semitism, we’ve faced it for thousands of years, and I’m afraid it is here for the long haul … unfortunately.”
Jews will continue to be tested, so you are urged to study Jewish and Israel history very diligently. Only with such preparation will today’s and tomorrow’s generations be able to survive.
The conference concluded the next day with roundtable discussions and congratulatory messages from Porto community benefactors Michael Kadoorie and Jacob Safra.
Read President Kaufman's analysis on JNS.org.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
Remarkably few people know that the United Nations – with nearly 60 Muslim and Arab member states – condemns Israel more than it does all other countries combined.The only state routinely criticized by the Commission on the Status of Women? Israel.
The only state attacked by the World Health Assembly? Israel. The only state targeted by a permanent agenda item at the Human Rights Council? Not North Korea or Iran, but Israel.
One effort, though, to weaponize the UN against Israel was so offensive that it was repealed 30 years ago. In 1991, the General Assembly rescinded a resolution that singled out Jews’ self-determination movement, Zionism, for equation with racism.
Zionism simply means support for Israel’s right to exist in Jews’ sole historic homeland. Recognition of that right is almost universal.
As George H.W. Bush put it at the time, “To equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and, indeed, throughout history. To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself.... This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel’s right to exist.”
Only a decade after Zionism-is-racism was repealed, however, its specter rose again. The UN’s 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, perversely became the latest symbol of anti-Zionism as the predominant contemporary assault on Jews’ identity, legitimacy and equal rights.
With a backdrop of shocking antisemitic rhetoric and attacks on Jewish attendees, Durban’s outcome document implied that Israel alone was a racist state. Its forum of non-governmental organizations went even further, calling Israel alone a “racist, apartheid regime” and featuring calls for economic warfare against it. Even Mary Robinson, the conference chairwoman, later acknowledged, “There was horrible antisemitism present.”
Nonetheless, in 2009, the follow-up Durban Review Conference hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust-denier known for saying Israel would be wiped “off the map.” This September, the UN will “commemorate” Durban’s 20th anniversary.
And now, after the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas – a terrorist group whose explicitly antisemitic charter pledges Israel’s destruction – an unusual alliance between Palestinian activists and global progressives has not merely excoriated Israeli policy, but called it racist.
For these voices, Palestinian nationalism is embraced, but Israeli nationalism is demonized. Those who shun majoritarianism elsewhere, and would otherwise cry “no person is illegal,” overlook Arab conquests and discrimination, and stigmatize Jews as a “colonial” presence in the land from which they had been collectively exiled.
SINCE ISRAEL’S establishment, the number of Palestinians in the land has increased five-fold. In Arab countries, the number of Jews has plummeted from 850,000 to barely 5,000.
Of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has nothing to do with skin color, just territory and security.
No society is free of inequities or of prejudices. But in Israel – the Middle East’s sole democracy – Arabs, let alone Jews and other regional minorities, enjoy far more civil liberties than in any Arab country.
Moreover, Zionists span the political spectrum. On horrifying but exceedingly rare occasions when fringe Jewish fanatics have perpetrated lethal attacks against Arab civilians – in 1994, 2005 and 2015 – Israelis from Left to Right, including their national leaders, have reacted with nothing less than revulsion and denunciation.
During the same period, innumerable suicide bombings, rocket bombardments, shootings, stabbings, stoning attacks and hostage-takings have targeted Israelis. Not just do jihadists often celebrate this deliberate bloodshed by distributing candies on Palestinian streets, but mainstream Palestinian leaders regularly glorify the attackers as heroes and “martyrs.”
Over the past 75 years, Muslim citizens, mosques, Islamic schools and halal restaurants have not been attacked, by Zionists, as have Jews and Jewish institutions in the name of Palestinian nationalism across Europe and elsewhere. Such violence was repeated over recent days from Berlin to Los Angeles.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has now repeatedly called Israeli leaders “racist,” a label he hasn’t afforded Arabs or others. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, too, has smeared Israel alone as an “apartheid” state.
Jews and Arabs do not represent different “races,” and there is nothing more racist about Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, than the dozens of Christian, Muslim and other countries whose identity is reflected in their state symbols.
To call Israel – with its Arab justices, parliamentarians, diplomats, academics and business leaders – an apartheid state is to not know the meaning of apartheid. It also is to not know substantial Israeli attempts at peace with the Palestinians.
Martin Luther King Jr. and other luminaries of the civil rights movement recognized Jews’ disproportionate contribution to their struggle. In turn, they consistently defended Israel’s own right to acceptance and security. Said King, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews.”
On the hard Left no less than the hard Right, words matter and truth matters. The fight against racism is too important to be tarnished by ignorance, politics and bigotry.
Read David's expert analysis in the Jerusalem Post.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: