Political NGOs, in conjunction with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, often drive anti-Israel agendas at the United Nations. This dynamic can be seen in the Human Rights Council, OCHA, Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and similar frameworks.
On Friday (May 6), the NGO element was in full force at a special meeting of the UN Security Council – a new arena for demonization.
Some background: Human rights stalwarts Egypt, Angola, Malaysia, Senegal, and Venezuela convened a special “Arria-formula” meeting of the Security Council, to discuss a “protection crisis for the Palestinian people.” “Arria-formula” meetings are “very informal, confidential gatherings which enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views” – in this case relating to allegations of Israeli violations of human rights and international law.
As reported in Israeli media, at the meeting, the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations made an antisemitic slur, asking if Israel was seeking “to wage a final solution” against the Palestinians. He later issued a quasi-apology “if” the “Jewish people…were offended by the remarks.”
The session was led by the NGOs, and their Israel-bashing allegations preceded the ambassador’s ugly comments.
Unsurprisingly, among the NGO participants was Sarah Leah Whitson, who heads the Human Rights Watch MENA division and is herself not immune from making antisemitic comments. She told the Security Council that “Israel attacks on Gaza amount to war crimes” and “call[ed] on businesses to stop operations in settlements.” HRW knew that the session was organized by regimes that, in their own words, are responsible for “the worst human crisis…in decades” (Egypt), “plummet[ing]” respect for human rights (Malaysia), and “grave human rights violations” (Venezuela). Nevertheless, Whitson and HRW showed up, highlighting the cynicism inherent in their claims to care about protecting civilians.
And then there was Yesh Din, an Israeli NGO, funded by a number of European governments, and represented by its legal advisor, Michael Sfard. According to Yesh Din’s Facebook page, Sfard “presented members of the Council with the organization’s data on law enforcement regarding ideologically motivated crime perpetrated by Israeli civilians against Palestinians, and the consequences of lack of law enforcement on the lives of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.” The FIDH representative to the UN reported that Sfard alleged that “settlers (sic) violence is aimed at coercive demog[raphic] change by evicting Palestinains.” Sfard claimed “that 85% of the investigations opened into ideologically motivated crime against Palestinians are closed due to police investigative failures.”
Using these statistics as unique to Israeli investigations into crimes against Palestinians is highly misleading and their use, out of context, is a clear indication of Israel-bashing. The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) shows that in 2013, the Israeli police had opened a total of 364,405 files, with 41,482 indictments (11.4%) filed, which is worse than the percentage of indictments filed against West Bank settlers. In other words, Sfard’s claims that Palestinians are singled out for abuse are not supported by the data.
In this context, it is important to note that Yesh Din’s international advocacy targeting Israel is funded by the New Israel Fund and the governments of Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark (via The Secretariat); European Union; United Kingdom; Ireland; Norway; Germany; and Belgium.
In other words, European countries have teamed up with their NGO allies and some the world’s most repressive regimes to bash Israel and target it diplomatically.
This is not the first time Sfard’s Yesh Din connection has been used to Israel’s detriment. On multiple occasions he has also provided testimony (for which he received payment) on behalf of the PLO in cases where terror victims sought damages.
In this vein, it is important to note that the Venezuelan ambassador made his antisemitic comments following the presentations from the NGO officials! Is blatant, immoral antisemitism the natural reaction to the way NGOs talk about Israel? Should Whitson and Sfard have expected otherwise given the hosts (Malaysia, Venezuela, etc.) and venue (UN) of the meeting?
To be sure, according to the same Yesh Din Facebook post, Sfard condemned the ambassador’s use of Holocaust terminology in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. (There is no record of Whitson’s response, if any.)
However, post hoc responses are insufficient. NGOs must take proactive steps to both combat antisemitism, and ensure that their one-sided advocacy does not trigger and contribute to antisemitism.
Avoiding Israel-bashing sessions at the UN, hosted by human rights violators, would be a good first step.