How to fix the UN’s anti-Israel club of dictators


Forget about college basketball. It was March Madness this week at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This is a bracket where human rights abusers like China, Cuba, Pakistan, and Venezuela always advance to the next round unscathed while Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is sure to lose.

The UN created the Council in 2006 after abolishing its predecessor, partly for its anti-Israel bias.

The UNHRC has fared no better. Following two separate Hamas-Israel wars, the Council initiated commissions of inquiry that effectively presumed Israeli guilt. Similarly, the UNHRC’s special rapporteurs for “human rights in the Palestinian territories” have a mandate to investigate only “Israel’s violations,” to the exclusion of those perpetrated by Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority allegedly accused one of these rapporteurs, Richard Falk, of being a “partisan of Hamas.”

{mosads}But, without a doubt, the most egregious manifestation of the UNHRC’s double standard for the Jewish state is its dedication of a standing agenda item to criticism of Israel.

Agenda Item Seven, the only standing item directed at a specific country, requires the examination of Israel’s human rights record at each of the Council’s three annual sessions. Most other issues of humanitarian concern are brought up under Agenda Item 4. Because of this skewed system, the Council has targeted Israel with more condemnatory country-specific resolutions than the rest of the world combined. When the Council voted on March 22-23, Israel was the target of censure in five separate resolutions, while flagrant human rights abusers North Korea (political prisons and crimes against humanity), Iran (funding terrorism and political prisoners) and Syria (mass atrocities and chemical weapons) only received four. Many other Council members with abysmal records of their own almost entirely avoided scrutiny.

There are signs, however, of a gathering backlash against such hypocrisy. Just last year, the UK announced that it was putting the UNHRC “on notice” for its abusive treatment of Israel, a call it reinforced this year. The last straw was the UNHRC’s criticism of Israel’s presence in the Golan Heights, coupled with its deafening silence on the Assad regime’s atrocities in Syria.

“Nowhere is the disproportionate focus on Israel starker and more absurd than in the case of today’s resolution on the occupation of Syria’s Golan,” read the UK statement.

Over the past few years, following America’s lead, most Western countries have refused to participate in the Agenda Item Seven debate, recognizing that it discriminates against Israel.

But the fouls against Israel continue nonetheless. In March 2016, the Council passed a resolution requesting that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan, “produce a database” of companies operating in Israeli-controlled areas. Potentially, the list may serve as an instruction manual for anti-Israel boycotts of Israel, and it will bear the United Nations’ imprimatur.

In January 2018, Prince Zeid released a report in which he said that 206 unnamed companies – 22 of which are American – have assisted Israel’s presence in the West Bank. The High Commissioner vowed to release the names at a later date and he has further set the stage for a boycott by releasing a report that falsely accuses Israeli settlements in the West Bank of constituting “war crimes.”

While treating Israel as a pariah, the Council recently offered a platform to Alireza Avaei, Iran’s Justice Minister, who has been sanctioned by the European Union for his role overseeing torture against pro-democracy dissidents. He and other serial human rights abusers scapegoat Israel, and ensure that the Council is so hyper-focused on the Jewish state that it cannot properly address humanitarian issues elsewhere.

As U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, the UNHRC has become a “haven for dictators.” Their outsized role at the UNHRC has undermined the Council’s legitimacy.

The need to reform the Human Rights Council is painfully obvious. The UN should have a permanent body dedicated to the investigation and condemnation of the atrocities that remain disturbingly common. Israel should certainly not be exempt from criticism. Yet for as long as some of the world’s worst human rights abusers hold positions on the Council, many of the most egregious human rights violations will languish in darkness.

The first step toward improving the Council is open voting for membership by the UN General Assembly, instead of secret ballots. This would force every country that votes for serial rights abusers to face a measure of public accountability.

Next, there should be safeguards to prevent noncompetitive elections within certain regional groupings, which usually redound the benefit of dictators.

There should also be some basic standard of respect for human rights as a prerequisite to UNHRC membership. Currently, 14 of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council received Freedom House’s worst ranking of “Not Free.”

Once it has a more respectable membership, the UNHRC should remove all of its anti-Israel laws and mandates, starting with Agenda Item Seven.

Unless these changes are made, the dictators club will continue to protect its own while bashing the only democratic state in the Middle East. That is madness.

David May is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Prior to joining FDD, David was a senior research analyst at AIPAC where he focused on Israeli-Palestinian issues and the United Nations Follow David on Twitter @DavidSamuelMay and FDD @FDD.

Tags Hamas Human rights in Israel Israeli–Palestinian conflict Middle East Nikki Haley Palestinian territories United Nations United Nations Human Rights Council
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