The dynamics at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) slowly started changing in a slightly more positive direction at the recently concluded session. It should be clarified at the beginning of this post, though, that the changes are relatively minor in the broad scheme of things, and—at most—merely the beginning of a wholly necessary (and long-overdue) process to transform the council from an anti-Israel forum to a body seriously concerned about universal human rights.
The shift in the council is due in part to more countries that are friendly to Israel joining the UNHRC as members in recent years, including Australia, Togo, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Australia, it should be pointed out, was the only country to courageously vote against all the anti-Israel resolutions in this session, as they have since they joined the council. The United Kingdom has been threatening for the past few sessions to vote against resolutions falling under Agenda Item 7—the agenda item that singles out Israel for criticism at each council session while all other countries are examined under a different agenda item. This session, the U.K. went through with its threat, followed by another EU member state: Denmark. Denmark’s decision was a bit of a surprise, as the Scandinavian country is not normally seen to be in the staunchly pro-Israel camp within the EU.
The U.K. and Denmark did not vote against a resolution on “ensuring accountability,” only abstaining from the vote when the Palestinians, perhaps sensing that the tide was starting to turn on this particular resolution, moved the resolution to a different agenda item. This resolution endorsed the report of the council’s biased “Commission of Inquiry” into the rioting along the Gaza border last year. The conclusions in the report largely ignored Hamas instrumentalizing the “protests” as a cover for attacks against Israel, despite the fact that Hamas openly bragged that this was exactly what they were doing. The commission also deposited with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) a secret dossier with a list of Israelis that the commission believes could be threatened with prosecution by the International Criminal Court (which also is looking into the justified Israeli response to the violent riots). The resolution passed, but only with 23 votes in favor, meaning that more countries either voted against, abstained or did not vote than voted in favor.
Spain’s vote in favor of this resolution was especially outrageous. It was the only European country to do so. Even Iceland, which I would normally not include in a list of close friends of Israel, criticized the resolution and abstained. On the other hand, Brazil is to be commended for changing its voting pattern under the new administration and voting against both this shameful resolution and an absurd resolution on the Golan Heights.
The voting on the “ensuring accountability” resolution shows the limits of the change at the council, however. The U.K. and Denmark only promised to vote against Item 7 resolutions, and when it was moved to a different item, they abstained (despite the fact that other EU states did vote against it).
Item 7 is perhaps the most glaring example of bigotry in the entire U.N. system, but it is not the only issue. The resolutions, with their instructions to OHCHR to operate against Israel, are a major problem, and merely shifting resolutions to another agenda item means that the UNHRC is still continuing its anti-Israel modus operandi, just under a different guise. If the council were to eliminate Item 7 (which, in and of itself, might be a very difficult task), but keep the overall action the same, the result will not be a greatly improved UNHRC.
Similarly, there were complaints at the council that the number of anti-Israel resolutions was too high and that they need to be streamlined. The excessive number of resolutions and reports on Israel is another glaring deficiency at the council, but simply wrapping all of them into one or two resolutions is not a meaningful change. It’s just a cosmetic change to make it appear that the council is functioning better, when in fact the anti-Semitism at the heart of the matter has not actually changed.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Click here to view more of his additional content.
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