We cannot allow the UN to use human rights as a weapon in Gaza

The United Nations Human Rights Council has received a report from a “Commission of Inquiry” on Israel’s behavior at the border with Gaza.

The 252-page report alleges that 183 Gaza residents, massed with thousands of others in a protest at the border with Israel in March 2018, were killed by live ammunition fired by Israeli soldiers. It claims that Israel committed “violations of international human rights and humanitarian law” that “may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

During my 16 years in Congress, I strongly supported the United Nations. I believed — and continue to believe — in human rights as a vital tenet of our foreign policy. And I’m repulsed by current U.S. policies that coddle dictators and diminish democracy.

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But inquiries such as this — one-sided, biased and deeply hypocritical — do no service to the U.N., or to the human rights movement. They must be exposed for what they are: sharp daggers pointed only at Israel, sheathed in the soft cover of concern for human rights.

We should mourn every death in this conflict. And we should be incensed at the role of Hamas in introducing — to a supposedly civilian protest — grenades, Molotov cocktails and improvised explosive devices that were carried into Israel by balloons.

We should hold Israel accountable for any violation of rules of engagement meant to minimize lethal force — and also hold Palestinian leaders accountable for their dismal failure to engage their citizens in rules that help develop a prosperous, stable state. In fact, it’s not just Israel that many residents of Gaza have protested. Unemployed citizens there have launched a “revolt of the hungry” against the economic failures of their leaders. 

As for the current Human Rights Commission — which received a summary of the report last month, and the finished product this past week — it has tragically stripped itself of any credibility to judge human rights fairly. It has condemned Israel with greater frequency than Syria (which frequently uses chemical weapons against children), North Korea (which employs prison camps against and ignores the starvation of its own population), Iran (which expansively uses the death penalty against its own people, including minors, and routinely persecutes religious and ethnic minorities), and many other despotic countries.

And what of the rights of the citizens of Gaza to live peacefully and prosperously under responsible, democratic governance? Where’s the cudgel against Hamas for using schools and hospitals to conceal rocket launchers? Palestinian leaders are organizing another mass demonstration on the border with Israel, on March 30. It will likely spawn another round of inquiries heavy on approbation, sharp on condemnation, light on facts.

Lost in the U.N.’s posturing is a profound truth.

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In August 2005, I stood at Israel’s border as the Israeli military completed its evacuation of Jews from Gaza. The Israeli government was handing that strip of land to the Palestinians, without a treaty, a guarantee or a simple agreement that it would receive peace and security in exchange. It was a bet on “land for peace,” based on a hope that the leaders of Gaza would build infrastructure and jobs, empower women, and educate young people. Instead, a civil war erupted. Hamas plunged in and built rockets and tunnels, and used Gaza as a virtual weapons system against its neighbor. 

Almost two weeks ago, rockets were launched from northern Gaza into Tel Aviv — the first since 2014. Following that initial attack, the situation escalated, with more rocket attacks from inside Gaza and Israeli forces commencing air strikes on Hamas targets and bolstering their presence along the border. After a rocket attack wounded seven in central Israel on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut his visit to the U.S. short and addressed the AIPAC Policy Conference via satellite. To date, it remains to be seen if what’s described as a “fragile truce” will hold.

For friends of the U.N. and proponents of human rights, inquiries like the one on Gaza pull hard at both our idealism and sensibilities. We can’t afford to cheapen the concept of universal human rights into brass knuckles to be used to pummel one side. We can’t afford to weaponize the issue to score rhetorical points.

Israel deserves scrutiny and criticism when it fails. But turning a blind eye to abuses elsewhere, under the auspices of the U.N., will ultimately make for a much darker world.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelBanning Omar and Tlaib will greatly damage American-Israeli relations The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? Why Republicans should think twice about increasing presidential power MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.