As a re-elected Member of Knesset for the Labor Party, I was disturbed by two developments in the past couple of days: the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) call for sanctions against the State of Israel, and the decision of the New York Times to lambast Israel for boycotting the UNHRC’s four-yearly “review” of its human rights record.
I mention my party affiliation because I want it to be very clear that this ought not be, and for the most part is not, a partisan issue within Israel. While the Netanyahu government has made many foreign policy errors, and in my view helped weaken our position and deepen our international isolation, the UNHRC is quite another matter. The UN Human Rights Council represents the very depths to which an unrepresentative, undemocratic international body can sink.
Kofi Annan said in 2005 that the “credibility deficit” of the Council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, was “cast[ing] a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.” I wholeheartedly agree, and would characterize its latest incarnation in much the same way.
Although having been reconstituted and renamed only six years ago because of the total illegitimacy of its predecessor, the Council immediately relapsed into its old ways. Despite changes to the structure and governing rules of the Council, it is a body that privileges and grants immunity to the worst human rights violators on Earth. For example, only last week, it voted in Sudan – Sudan! – as its vice president. UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer called this “like naming Jack the Ripper to head a women’s shelter.”
Because of UNHRC processes, the “universal periodic review” essentially acts as a rubber stamp on the behavior of the very worst human rights violators. China, North Korea, and countless other nations whose human rights records make Colonel Gaddafi look like Mother Theresa, routinely get a pass from the Council. Syria, which is estimated to have murdered over 60,000 people over the past couple of years, rarely finds itself in the Council’s spotlight.
But if an alien descended from the heavens and looked in on the UNHRC’s agenda, they would immediately conclude that one country above all others is the most grotesque human rights violator of all time. And it’s not Syria, Iran, North Korea or even the Council’s venerable vice president, Sudan.
It is Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, that is the only country in the world that the UNHRC deems worthy of a standing agenda item. Perhaps even more incredibly, almost 40 per cent of all UNHRC resolutions condemning a specific country have been directed against the Jewish state.
So, while I find much to criticize in terms of the foreign policy of the current government, I could not agree more strongly with the decision to withdraw from this particularly disgraceful UN body. And I find it appalling and hypocritical in the extreme that the Council’s “fact-finding mission” report would dare call for sanctions against Israel, even as they routinely and conveniently ignore the grossest human rights violations of many of its member states. Half of whom deserve to be investigated well before Israel.
The New York Times editorialized that Israel “ducks on human rights,” arguing that while the Council is “not without faults,” its record has “improved.” By opting out, said the Times, “Israel shows not only an unwillingness to undergo the same scrutiny as all other countries, but it deprives itself of an opportunity to defend against abuse charges. The decision could also undermine the entire review process by providing an excuse for states with terrible human rights records — like North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe — to withdraw as well.”
But that is to misconstrue what happens already. The Council gives those countries a virtual green light for their human rights abominations, and provides cover for those same countries to gang up on and bash my country. Human rights violators would be crazy to withdraw from such a sweet deal. The New York Times, and like-minded foreign liberals, are wrong, in my opinion, to regard Israel’s boycott of this process as a reactionary step. On the contrary – it is the only sensible course of action.
There are appropriate times and occasions for engagement with international bodies, and there are also times for saying, “Enough!” This is one of those times. Israel quite rightly will not engage in a process that is effectively a rubber stamp for the Sudans of this world. And we will not engage in discussions about a report calling, outrageously, for sanctions against our country, by a body whose vice president is the representative from Sudan.
Dr Nachman Shai is a Member of Knesset for the Labor Party.