In December 2016, UN Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) published “International Legal Accountability Mechanisms – Palestinian Women Living under Occupation.” The report, produced by UN Women Palestine and authored by Wendy Isaack – former Human Rights Specialist for UN Women Palestine and current Human Rights Watch employee – claims to show “the ways in which the Israeli occupation results in a wide array of human rights violations that have a significant impact on women and to consider international legal accountability mechanisms for redress” (p. 6).
The report’s politicized content and faulty methodology (analyzed below) is yet another example in a recurring pattern of UN blunders caused by unchecked reliance on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that promote antisemitism, BDS, and reject a negotiated two state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Several of these NGOs are also linked to designated terror groups:
- On March 15, 2017, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) published “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid: Palestine and the Israeli Occupation, Issue No. 1.” The report, co-authored by the highly controversial Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley and relying heavily on NGO sources, accused Israel of being “guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid.” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres demanded the report’s removal. The head of UNESCWA resigned shortly thereafter.
- In March 2017, UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk promoted Palestinian activist Manal Tamimi as a human rights defender. Prior to the report’s publication, the Palestinian NGO Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) filed a complaint with the UN over the “Frequent targeting of Palestinian human rights defender: Mrs. Manal Tamimi.” Tamimi repeatedly utilizes antisemitic and violent rhetoric and imagery on social media, tweeting in September 2015: “Vampire zionist (sic) celebrating their Kebore day by drinking Palestinian bloods (sic), yes our blood is pure & delicious but it will kill u at the end.” NGO Monitor filed a complaint to the President of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Tamimi was removed from the report. A selection of Tamimi’s offensive tweets are annexed at the end of the complaint but there are many more.
- In May 2017, Norway froze funding to UN Women following reports that a Palestinian youth center, inaugurated by a Palestinian NGO and funded by Norway and UN Women, was named after a Palestinian terrorist who murdered 37 people including 12 children. Shortly after, the UN followed suit and pulled its support from the center.
The UN Women report was funded by Spain (Agency for International Development Cooperation, AECID), under the auspices of the project “Engendering Humanitarian Action in Palestine” (p. 1). As described in UN Women’s 2015 project proposal, the objectives are to “Strengthen gender mainstreaming in the humanitarian action in oPt to ensure that humanitarian responses contribute to gender equality and address the needs and priorities of men, women, boys and girls equitably and effectively.”1 The project received $165,929 from AECID in 2016. UN Women Palestine is not transparent in how this funding was specifically used. It appears that the bulk of this large amount of funding was used to create Isaack’s paper.
As shown in the following analysis, the report recommends legal measures (“lawfare”) against Israel, relying extensively on unverifiable accounts and legal interpretations of political NGOs and BDS activists, while misrepresenting a number of academic and legal sources. The report additionally advocates for enhanced financial and technical support for NGO lawfare activities, such as filing submissions to the International Criminal Court. This activity is blatantly political and is not in keeping with UN Women’s limited humanitarian mandate.
No Data and False Claims
The UN Women paper “aims at providing an analysis that articulates the particular impact of occupation on the rights of women and girls.” The bulk of the publication, however, simply repeats this same generalized allegation with few, if any, specifics provided. No data or statistical information is presented to support the author’s assertion. Instead, most of the examples offered do not support the claim of a disparate impact on women or girls, or that these outcomes are attributable to Israeli policy. Other claims are blatantly false.
For instance, in one of the few cases (p. 16) where an actual disparate impact on women is described, the paper claims that “the 2014 conflict in Gaza has had profound impacts on women: ‘700 women were widowed and now face difficulties in providing for their families.’” However, the publication goes on to admit that the cause of the impact is due to “female-headed households (sic) struggle to access humanitarian assistance and inherited assets due to social restrictions; women have limited or no control over benefits and entitlements due to unequal gender relations and male domination within the family,” and that “discriminatory inheritance and family laws and practices in Palestinian society exacerbate the impact of conflict on widowed and divorced women in Gaza, including in relation to their ability to receive humanitarian assistance.”
In other words, negative impacts disproportionately affecting women and girls in Gaza was due to cultural factors and personal status laws adopted by the Palestinian Authority that severely limit the rights of Palestinian women, not “Israeli occupation policies” as claimed by UN Women. See NGO Monitor’s monograph “Second Class Rights” to learn more about the destructive impact of personal status laws.
In another section, Isaack writes, “residency status grants Palestinians the right to live, travel and work inside Israel. However, Palestinian women generally seek employment in agriculture, the public and services sectors, none of which are available in East Jerusalem” (p. 19, emphasis added). There is no data or source offered for this preposterous claim, and it is simply false that there is no “employment in agriculture, the public and services sectors” available to Palestinian women in East Jerusalem. As even any brief visitor to Jerusalem can attest, Palestinian women are regularly employed in the health services, the Jerusalem municipality, diplomatic missions, schools, retail, NGOs, and many, many other areas. And as Isaack acknowledges, these women can also gain employment inside Israel, which they do.
References to Politicized NGOs & Reports
The UN Women paper repeatedly references politicized NGOs and reports authored by activists involved in BDS and “one state” campaigns, and reject a negotiated two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Several of these actors have promoted antisemtism or have links to designated terror organizations like the PFLP.
The Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) is highlighted as a main source in the Executive Summary.
WCLAC supports BDS and accuses Israel of “collective punishment,” “human rights violations,” and “women’s rights violations.” WCLAC’s General Director and former General Director of Al-Haq Randa Siniora has stated, “Although resistance against occupation and its arbitrary practices is legitimate under international law, and these acts are considered a part of the Palestinian people’s resistance and struggle against occupation in order to achieve their right to liberation and independence, the occupation forces call it ‘terrorism’ or ‘destructive acts.’”
Manal Tamimi, a WCLAC fieldworker, has repeatedly promoted violence and virulent antisemitism on her Twitter account. In August 2015, for example, Tamimi tweeted, “I do hate Israel ,i (sic) wish a thrid Intefada (sic) coming soon and people rais (sic) up and kills all these zionist settlers everywhere.” In September 2015, on Yom Kippur (a fast day and the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar), Tamimi tweeted: “Vampire zionist celebrating their Kebore day by drinking Palestinian bloods, yes our blood is pure & delicious but it will kill u at the end.”
Far from condemning her actions, WCLAC filed a complaint to the United Nations over the “Frequent targeting of Palestinian human rights defender: Mrs. Manal Tamimi.” The WCLAC source repeatedly cited in the UN Women paper also highlights Tamimi.
As mentioned above, Tamimi was removed from the report of UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, after NGO Monitor informed the President of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights of her social media activity. See our complaint for additional examples.
Another NGO featuring prominently in the UN Women paper is Al-Haq, twice described as a “mainstream human rights organization” (p. 11, p. 44).
Al-Haq is a leader of BDS and lawfare campaigns. This type of activity is actively praised and recommended in the report, which asserts that “Stronger collaboration between women’s organizations and mainstream human rights organizations such as Al-Haq should be nurtured particularly for engagement with the UN Human Rights Council” (p. 11).
The UN Women paper cites fringe publications, aimed at promoting BDS and “one state” campaigns, authored by these same activists and NGOs. For instance, the report revives the discredited “Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel´s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law,” a 2009 publication initiated by anti-Israel ideologue John Dugard, which falsely and tendentiously asserts that Israel’s “occupation of these territories has become a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.” The report seeks to vilify and even criminalize Israel’s existence, and delegitimizes self-defense measures as “inhumane act[s] of apartheid…perpetrated in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another” (emphasis added). Presented in the report as a mainstream academic publication, this publication is actually based largely on NGO contributors, including from Al-Haq’s “Legal Research and Advocacy Department.” Both the underlying premise of the research, the attempt to turn the conflict – a political dispute – into one involving race, and the published conclusions are immoral and without basis in international law. (The 2017 UNESCWA report, co-authored by Virginia Tilley who also edited the 2009 publication, was another attempt to revive this marginal publication.)
Richard Falk is also referenced in the UN Women publication as an authoritative source (p.13). Falk, former “UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,” co-authored the above-mentioned UNESCWA report along with Tilley, and is a “9/11 conspiracy theorist” who has been widely denounced, including by the former Secretary-General of the UN, for vile comments blaming the Boston terrorist attack on “the American global domination project” and “Tel Aviv.” He is also the author of an article “Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust” that compares Israel to Nazi Germany and has been condemned for publishing an antisemitic cartoon on his blog.
Misquotations and Misrepresentations of Academic and Legal Sources
In support of the claim that “the status of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza as occupied territory… has been firmly established under international law,” the report quotes the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Manufactured by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, and the PLO, this opinion is not binding or enforceable in any way and was issued prior to Israel’s 2005 Disengagement from Gaza. A 2009 binding legal decision by the UK’s High Court of Justice emphasized that the ICJ opinion was not “directly applicable to Gaza.” A key tactic of BDS campaigners has been to try and “operationalize” this opinion despite its purely advisory nature and political intent.
In another example, the UN Women publication cites an article by Israeli scholar Yuval Shany, “Faraway, So Close: The Legal Status of Gaza after Israel’s Disengagement,” for the proposition that “while the State of Israel contests the persistence of the occupation of Gaza, this paper is premised on the view that since Israel has maintained a total blockade of the territory and retained control over air space, sea space, all external borders as well as the population register, the Gaza Strip remains under Israeli occupation, despite its unilateral disengagement in 2005” (p. 21).
However, Shany’s article, in fact, concludes that “after the Israeli disengagement, the PA is better situated than Israel to exercise most powers of government in the Gaza Strip and that, as a result, it is difficult to continue and regard Israel as the occupying power in Gaza under the traditional law of occupation.”
Recommendations: More Promotion for Politicized NGOs, More Lawfare
The UN Women’s paper concludes with recommendations for more “technical support” (what this support entails and whether it includes a financial component is not specified) and involvement for politicized NGOs and increased political warfare against Israel, particularly in UN and international legal frameworks.
The publication’s recommendations (p. 10-11) include:
- “Providing technical support to the State of Palestine to prepare and finalize its initial report on the domestic implementation of CEDAW.”
- “Technical support to civil society organizations for the preparation of shadow reports to the reports of the State of Palestine and Israel.”
- “Support to non-governmental organizations, particularly women’s rights groups, to enable their engagement with the range of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and in its sessions by submitting information and testimonies to bring to the attention of the Special Rapporteurs the impact of occupation on Palestinian women’s lives.”
- Additional exploitation of the International Court of Justice for politicized advisory opinions.
- Filing complaints against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
- “Nurturing” engagement with politicized NGOs like Al Haq, “particularly” for fundamentally biased frameworks such as the “UN Human Rights Council, and the Council’s Standing Agenda Item 7: Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.”
- “… women’s rights organizations are to be provided with technical support to facilitate their preparation of shadow reports for both Israel and Palestine State party reports; to participate in the presessions and main sessions of the CEDAW Committee in Geneva during the review processes and to engage Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.”
Most notably, these recommendations reflect continuing, officially-sanctioned double standards and bias against Israel at the UN. Why “State of Palestine,” which receives hundreds of millions in aid annually, employs thousands, and relies on a stable of international lawyers and NGOs, requires additional UN assistance to write its reports, is unclear. Similarly, it is unclear why civil society organizations that are funded with millions of dollars and employ dozens of lawyers, most of whom are either European or were trained by European law schools, require such help and diversion of limited UN resources.
Moreover, it is highly irregular for the UN to explicitly advocate for and assist in the filing of shadow reports and legal complaints directed at a specific country. In what other context do UN officials promote, fund, and assist in drafting NGO complaints to the ICC? In what other situation do UN officials actively fund, work with, and encourage NGOs to make statements to the Human Rights Council for a particular conflict? There do not appear to be such examples for any other country.
The UN Women publication is part of a series of UN reports targeting Israel that are produced using a faulty methodology and non-credible sourcing. Rather than offering constructive solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict, these publications are aimed at furthering political warfare and demonization of Israel. The self-congratulatory tone of the UN Women publication – claiming that the “the UN human rights system has been exceptionally diligent in identifying women’s human rights violations and formulating concrete recommendations to ameliorate the situation of women in oPt” – only highlights the need for the UN to immediately implement reforms to its reporting process and to start addressing overwhelming evidence of systematic bias against Israel within its system.
- https://ops.unocha.org/Reports/daily/CAPProjectSheet_1067_73927_201768.pdf, accessed June 8, 2017