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Picture Oren Drori

On Monday, William Schabas quit his position as head of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s (HRC) “Commission of Inquiry” into Israel’s defensive operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. 

Schabas resigned after it was revealed that he had done paid consultative work for the PLO (the Palestine Liberation Organization), which created a conflict of interest. His resignation, however, will not save the report of the commission from its predetermined destiny of illegitimacy.

From the beginning, Schabas stood for everything that was wrong in the process, a process that began in July with the HRC’s emergency session on Gaza (the seventh such session called to focus solely on Israel). That session produced a biased resolution that created the commission. 


As is common practice when it comes to Israel, the HRC determined that Israel was guilty of various crimes and asked the newly-formed commission to “investigate.” Hamas was not mentioned in the resolution, despite being the instigator of the conflict. A few weeks later, Schabas was announced as the head of the commission.

Under normal circumstances, Schabas would have been quickly recognized as a poor choice to sit on an “independent” investigative panel, let alone be the head of it. His many past statements on the conflict have shown a consistent bias against Israel—he famously once said that he would like to see Benjamin Netanyahu be put on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

And yet, when an Israeli television station interviewed Schabas after his appointment on whether he would also be investigating Hamas violations (as the prior major U.N. investigation of Israel—the Goldstone commission—had at least feigned to do, albeit in a rather terse and dissatisfactory manner), he was noncommittal. And when asked if he thought Hamas was a terrorist organization, he replied that it would be “inappropriate” for him to answer because the question had to be studied in “as neutral and objective manner as possible.” 

He was judicious and cautious when it came to Hamas, but he was quite outspoken in his opinions on Israel, and those who picked him likely knew it.

In his resignation letter, Schabas states that when the U.N. asked him to lead the investigation, he was not asked about previous statements on the conflict, and that, indeed, his views were very public and well-known. 

The HRC also neglected to ask him about any prior activities or ties that would create a clear conflict of interest. It was not the first error that the U.N. made in rushing to put together a panel that could best delegitimize Israel’s counter-terrorism operations. 

In a rather obvious play for publicity, Amal Alamuddin (then fiancée, now wife of George Clooney) was originally announced as commission member, only to have her quickly decline the invitation. The announcement of a celebrity panelist did bring the desired attention, though. 

Just last month, Tina Fey made a joke at the Golden Globes that included Alamuddin’s invitation to join this panel as one of her many accomplishments in the field of human rights law (meanwhile, the joke’s target—George Clooney, merely an actor—was getting the Globes’ lifetime achievement award).

The U.N. has already announced that it will move forward as planned with the report. One of the other panelists, Mary McGowan Davis, will take over as chair, but Schabas’s fingerprints will be all over the report. 

Schabas has resigned the month before the final product is due. All of the “evidence” has already been gathered. In a press release on Tuesday, the HRC claimed that by resigning, Schabas has preserved “the integrity of the process.” 

In truth, his resignation lays bare for all the bias in that process. The HRC has set up a kangaroo court to try Israel, and impartiality is not an asset.


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. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.