Milestone Victory Against Bigotry

— by Hillel Neuer

After decades of being excluded from all of the UN Human Rights Council’s regional groups in Geneva, Israel will be formally invited to join the Western group on Monday.  This is a historic, milestone victory for the cause of equality, a memorable step forward in the long struggle ahead against injustice at the United Nations. UN Watch salutes Israel on its diplomatic achievement, and expresses special gratitude to Canada, the UK, France, Germany and the US for playing a key role in ending one form of bias within the pattern and practice of anti-Israel prejudice at the UN.

More after the jump.
For two decades UN Watch fought publicly and privately to overturn the blatantly discriminatory practice whereby the Jewish state was segregated -— in direct violation of the UN Charter’s equality guarantee — into a category of its own, the only nation excluded from a regional group. It’s gratifying to see this victory today.  Contrary to several news reports, admission to WEOG in Geneva is unrelated to membership on the 47-nation council. And regrettably it will not detract from the Arab states’ continued ability to target Israel in resolutions, urgent sessions and a special agenda item.  Rather, WEOG admission will allow Israel to participate together with all 192 other UN member states in receiving regular briefings, and to have its small say in the selection of council investigators, known as special rapporteurs. More than anything, what regional group admission means for Israel is a sign of equal treatment — the removal of a symbol of bigotry and of an ugly stain upon the reputation of the UN.

Hillel Neuer is the executive director of UN Watch.  UN Watch is a Geneva-based human rights organization founded in 1993 to monitor UN compliance with the principles of its Charter.

B’nai B’rith Addresses Anti-Israel U.N. Human Rights Council Session‏


Canadian politicians criticize Falk

Yesterday, B’nai B’rith International spoke before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva during the anti-Israel “agenda item 7” session. B’nai B’rith addressed UNHRC special rapporteur Richard Falk’s appalling recent comments blaming the Boston Marathon bombings on the United States’ foreign policy, and urged his removal.

Klaus Netter, B’nai B’rith representative to the U.N. in Geneva, said:

Just a few weeks ago, the entire world was shocked to hear and see the bombing that occurred at the end of the Boston Marathon, resulting in the death of three and the injury of hundreds of innocent bystanders. Yet, there were a few contrary reactions, such as the one expressed by the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories… In the Foreign Policy Journal dated 21 April 2013, he wrote: ‘The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance… the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks.’

Continued after the jump.

A few days later, a U.N. spokesman said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Boston Marathon bombing and that he ‘strongly believed that nothing can justify such an attack.’ He rejected Falk’s comments and indicated that… such public comments by special rapporteurs ‘could undermine the U.N.’s credibility and the work of the United Nations.’

Separately, B’nai B’rith joined European representatives at the council and U.S. Ambassador to the UNHRC Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe in taking Falk to task on a biased report he delivered at the council, blasting Israeli policies toward Gaza.

Netter noted that only the council can remove Falk from his position, and added, “We strongly urge such action at this session of the council.”

Jewish Leaders Praise Amb. Rice for Pro-Israel Leadership at UN

— by Jason Berger

JTA’s Ron Kampeas provided a roundup of what Jewish leaders are saying about Ambassador Susan Rice, who could be nominated as Hillary Clinton’s successor for Secretary of State.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman stated:

She has proven herself as an ardent defender of major Israeli positions in an unfriendly forum… And I’m more comfortable with the person I know than the person I don’t know. She is close to the president and that’s important in that position if you have someone you can relate to and understands us.

Foxman was also “furious” at the recent attacks on Rice’s record:

People may differ about the effectiveness of certain tactics or, as we have often done, even seriously question whether bodies like the U.N. Human Rights Council will ever give Israel a fair hearing… But no one should use the U.N.’s anti-Israel record to cast aspersions on Ambassador Rice. She has earned her reputation as a fighter for Israel’s equality in a hostile forum where an automatic majority reflexively expresses its bias against Israel.

JTA quoted B’nai Brith International Executive Vice President Daniel Mariaschin:

‘One thing important to point out is that the votes have reflected administration policy.’ More specifically, in regards to Rice’s ‘no’ vote last week when the General Assembly elevated the Palestinians to non-member state status, Mariaschin exclaimed his approval. He stated, ‘There are ways of explaining your vote and ways of explaining your vote … She made kind of a good end to an otherwise disappointing day.’

In her vote explanation, Rice said, ‘Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade, and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.’

Veteran pro-Israel activist Steve Sheffey recounted Rice’s many pro-Israel accomplishments in his most recent piece for the Times of Israel. Last January, Rice said that defending Israel’s legitimacy at the UN is a “daily concern” for herself and America’s delegation. Rice’s work at the United Nations earned her the National Service Award from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in December 2011.  

UN in the Dock at UPenn

— by Lori Lowenthal Marcus

New York City wasn’t the only place in which the treatment of Israel at the United Nations was under discussion recently.

On Sunday evening, September 25, 2011, Penn Friends of Israel and the International Affairs Association hosted Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, at Houston Hall on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

UN Watch is a non-governmental organization the goal of which is to measure the performance of the UN according to its founding mission. Neuer’s topic was, “From Eleanor Roosevelt to Qaddafi: An Insider’s Account of the Rise and Fall of Human Rights at the U.N.”

More after the jump.
Neuer spoke to a packed crowd for well over an hour, during which time he discussed various venues and events at the UN which are perceived by many as biased against Israel. Neuer discussed the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the Durban Conference on Racism — from which UN Watch was barred — and the recent effort of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to evade negotiations with Israel and instead obtain Palestinian Statehood through the United Nations itself.

Repeatedly critical of certain aspects of the UN, stating that “one dictator, one vote” is often what passes as democracy at the United Nations, and that far too often the only expertise regarding human rights for member nations that sit on the UNHRC is their violations of it, Neuer seemed to surprise at least some members of the audience when he rejected the suggestion that perhaps it was time to do away with the global institution. “It is an indispensable forum,” because at least portions of it such as “the World Health Organization, international labor organizations, food groups, telecommunications,” are essential. “Even such critics as [President] Bush and [former US Ambassador to the UN John] Bolton, didn’t speak in terms of getting rid of the UN.”

Nevertheless, the bulk of Neuer’s talk was devoted to detailing the highly politicized and virulently anti-Israel theme at play throughout much of the United Nations. Of particular concern is what is now known as the Human Rights Council, formerly the Human Rights Commission, but according to Neuer by either name the body is nearly always run, and invariably dominated by the “greatest perpetrators of human rights abuses.” Neuer noted over the course of the past two years, China, Pakistan, Syria, Libya and Saudi Arabia have all held a seat on the UNHRC. And while the world’s worst human rights abuses have often gone ignored, “a disproportionate amount of time is spent singling out one member state for criticism, and that state is Israel” he said.

Neuer gave many examples of the ways in which, in the distorted world of the UNHRC, Israel is frequently presented as the grossest violator of human rights. For example, over the past five years, the Council has passed approximately sixty resolutions condemning a nation for committing human rights violations, forty of which have been directed at Israel. He pointed out that over the past six months more than 2500 Syrians have been massacred by their own government, yet Syria has not received a single rebuke from the UNHRC [between the time of Neuer’s talk and publication, the UN Security Council was presented with a condemnation of Syria’s brutal crackdown on pro-reform protesters, but it was vetoed by Russia and China]. Furthermore, the UNHRC has a standard agenda of ten general action items, one of which is always reserved for “addressing human rights violations against those in the occupied territories,” i.e., condemning Israel.

Another example of the way in which Israel is singled out unfairly at the UN is in the fact that while all countries in the world are divided into regional groups, Israel is barred from membership in the Asian group of which it should be a member, because the Arab nation members refuse to allow it. Yet one more example, amongst several others he gave, is that over the past five years the UNHRC has met in approximately a dozen emergency sessions, half of which were devoted to excoriating Israel. And the basis for those condemnations often ignored the context as, for instance, when Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted in June, 2006, Israel responded with military reprisals, yet only Israel’s actions were condemned, not that of Hamas in abducting the soldier. The Iranian clampdown on non-violent protesters of the Green Revolution of 2011 was never condemned, nor was the brutal government repression of Muslim Uighurs, only efforts by Israel, which efforts were motivated by aggression on the part of its enemy, has been addressed by the UNHRC.

Moving on to the UN General Assembly, Neuer explained that the effort of PA President Abbas to attain statehood through a resolution in the UN is likely to be approved, given that the combined Arab and Muslim Nations have an automatic majority in the GA. But Neuer believes there will not be a significant substantive change if the PA is elevated to non-voting member state status. It already has a contingent present at the UN, it has a place at a table, albeit towards the back of the room, and it has the name “Palestine” already displayed on a nameplate where its representatives are seated. The one area in which the change may have some bearing will be in the PA’s ability to engage, and have others engage on its behalf, in lawfare against the Jewish State.

Elias Okwara, a 23-year old Drexel Junior from Kenya, spent part of last summer in Jordan, as part of his school’s Peace Studies Program. Okwara is in Drexel’s International Area Studies program with a concentration in Justice and Human Rights, and his research focuses on contemporary approaches to international peace and security.

Okwara embraces the global model of the UN, and he had been told that the talk was going to be an anti-UN event. During the brief question and answer session, Okwara asked Neuer about the Goldstone Report, which was the outcome of a UN investigation into Israel’s incursion into Gaza known as Operation Cast Lead. The Report, written by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, “excoriated Israel and exonerated Hamas,” according to Neuer. It accused Israeli leadership of intentionally targeting civilians.

One of the other members of the investigation, Christine Chinkin, prior to her being appointed had signed a letter to the London Times accusing Israel of war crimes. Goldstone himself later recanted much of the most damaging portions of the report, but the UN considers the Goldstone Report, as written, to represent its official view of Cast Lead.

Despite hearing clear criticism of the UN by Neuer, Okwara said that it was “founded on very specific and detailed information, and I could not help but seriously reflect on the issues he raised.”

Okwara was glad he came because despite his own work in the field, he found Neuer’s talk to be “enlightening.” Okwara added, “I am a scholar and a keen believer in the UN, and for a person like me intent on playing my part in the international arena, I have no room to be dogmatic.”

Penn Friends of Israel is a new initiative that was created at the end of the last academic year in response to a perceived need for a group that wasn’t at one end of the spectrum or the other, but rather for a “group in the middle that could bring voices together from across the spectrum.” Noah Feit, president of the student group, started it along with sophomore Jeff Rollman. Feit, a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow, said he was very pleased with the event, both with the size of the audience and its makeup.

“The audience contained those interested in Israel, those passionate about international affairs, local community members, and students from other Philadelphia campuses. One of PFI’s primary goals is to reach beyond the pro-Israel community and to influence opinion by providing accurate information.”

Feit and his colleagues seem to have achieved their goal.

Syria Drops Bid for Seat on UN Human Rights Council

— by Sharon Bender

U.N. Must Address Flaws of System that Could Even Consider Syria as Human Rights Watchdog

B’nai B’rith International is encouraged to learn that Syria is likely to drop out of the May 20 election for a seat on the Human Rights Council. It is unthinkable that Syria could sit in judgment of other nations when it comes to their commitments to human rights.

More after the jump.
During the ongoing uprisings in Syria, the government has attacked its own people as they sought more freedoms. Hundreds are reportedly dead and scores have been arrested with uncertain outcomes.

In a March opinion piece protesting Syria’s candidacy, B’nai B’rith wrote, “Syria is a one-party state with no free elections….Syria is a major supporter of international terrorism-backing Hezbollah and hosting some of the leaders of Hamas.” And later: “The independent Freedom House, which for 70 years has observed global human rights and democracy issues, in its 2010 annual ‘Freedom of the World’ survey, included Syria near the bottom of the rating scale for both political rights and civil liberties issues. Does this sound like a government that should be determining which nations are committed to universal human rights?”

“There are very serious and compelling human rights issues in the world today. By admitting offender after offender, the United Nations is demonstrating that perhaps actually protecting human rights is not as important as talking about protecting rights. In the council’s five years, as a rule, politics trump human rights.”

B’nai B’rith has long opposed the election system for the council where notorious human rights abusers can sit on the world’s premier body overseeing universal human rights.

In countless U.N. forums, B’nai B’rith has called attention to the deep faults in a system that allows nations such as Syria to even be considered for a spot.

Amid reports that Syria may run again in the future, B’nai B’rith will continue its efforts in Geneva and New York to reform a system that lambastes the democracy of Israel at every turn-there have been about as many resolutions condemning Israel as there have been against the other 191-members of the U.N.-while turning a blind eye to human rights abusers such as Syria.

 

Administration Continues Fighting Anti-Israel Bias in UN Bodies

— Mark Tones, Acting Deputy Spokesman, U.S. Department of State

The United States is pleased to note the landmark achievements of the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council.

This session included bold, assertive action by the Council to highlight the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran by establishing a new Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in that country, the first country-specific mandate created by the Council since it came into being. The Council also charted a new course for global efforts to condemn intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on religion or belief while protecting and promoting freedom of expression. The Council established a Commission of Inquiry to examine serious abuses and violations of human rights in Cote d’Ivoire, and extended the Council’s scrutiny of the ongoing serious human rights abuses in Burma. And in conjunction with the session, the United States led a ground-breaking effort to get 85 UN member-states to join a statement supporting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Taken collectively, the actions taken by the 16th Human Rights Council represent a significant positive change in the Council’s trajectory.

However, much work remains to be done to ensure that the Council realizes fully its intended purpose. In particular, the United States remains determined to take all possible steps to end the Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel.

The United States maintains a vocal, principled stand against this focus, and will continue its robust efforts to end it. We also will continue to work to thwart the efforts to elect as Council members governments that clearly do not merit membership given their own human rights records. And the United States remains determined to continue to push the Council to address a broad range of urgent and serious human rights concerns worldwide. To this end, the United States Government intends to pursue a second term on the Council at the Human Rights Council elections in New York in May 2012.

We believe that U.S. engagement in the Human Rights Council has directly resulted in real progress. In our two years on the Council, we’ve not been happy with every outcome, and have firmly denounced Council actions we disagree with, but the Council has made important strides. Much work remains to be done for the Human Rights Council to sustain the gains of the last two years and to fully realize its potential, and the United States looks forward to continuing our efforts to do so.

Remarks by NJDC follow the jump.
— David Streeter

Today, the Obama Administration reiterated its commitment to fighting anti-Israel bias in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The State Department said in a statement:

However, much work remains to be done to ensure that the Council realizes fully its intended purpose. In particular, the United States remains determined to take all possible steps to end the Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel. The United States maintains a vocal, principled stand against this focus, and will continue its robust efforts to end it.

The State Department also said in a fact sheet that details the United States’ accomplishments in the UNHRC:

Much work remains before the Council can fully realize its mandate as the international community’s focal point for the protection and promotion of human rights. The United States will continue to work hard to diminish the Council’s biased disproportionate focus on Israel. The United States maintains a vocal, principled stand against this focus, and will continue its robust efforts to end it.

This declaration fits with the Obama Administration’s demonstrated record of standing up for Israel at the United Nations. Some of the Obama Administration’s accomplishments on defending Israel at the UN include: