The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), an intergovernmental body which should serve to define and protect the human rights of all people, has once again singled out Israel for disproportionate condemnation, drawing sharp criticism from both Israel itself and the U.S. Over the past weekend, the UNHRC passed five anti-Israel resolutions on its agenda, while continuing to ignore gross violations by other states in the region and around the world.
The UNHRC’s winter session ended Friday with the passage of five resolutions against the Middle East’s only liberal democracy. Four of the resolutions addressed Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while one absurdly condemned Israel’s treatment of Syrians in the “occupied” Golan Heights.
Paula Schriefer, the U.S. representative to the UNHRC, was incredulous. “To consider such a resolution while the Syrian regime continues to slaughter its own citizens exemplifies the absurdity of this agenda item.”
Likewise, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out during a Sunday cabinet meeting, saying, “The UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel five times…at a time when the slaughter in Syria is continuing, innocent people are being hanged in the Middle East and human rights are being eroded.”
“In many countries free media are being shut down and the UN Human Rights Council decides to condemn Israel for closing off a balcony,” the prime minister continued. “This is absurd. This march of hypocrisy is continuing and we will continue to condemn it and expose it,” he concluded.
Schriefer also expressed her disapproval of controversial Agenda Item 7, which called for the UNHRC to require a discussion of Israel at every meeting. She said not only are such resolutions biased, “but they work against our collective efforts to advance a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
She added, “None of the world’s worst human rights violators, some of whom are the objects of resolutions at this session have their own stand alone agenda item at this council,” and emphasized that “only Israel, a vibrant and open democracy, received such treatment.”
The UNHRC has a long history of anti-Israel bias. Founded in 2006 to replace the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, nearly half of all its resolutions have been against Israel. Israel is the only country the UNHRC has specifically condemned for alleged abuses; even Sudan, with its abysmal human rights record, only received the council’s “deep concern” in 2007.
The UNHRC’s only ongoing expert mandate is for a special rapporteur on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The mandate requires the rapporteur to investigate only Israel’s actions, not those of the Palestinians. The current rapporteur, Richard Falk, has been decried as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, and even the Palestinian Authority asked him to step down, viewing him as being pro-Hamas. Falk denies all such allegations. The end of his term is approaching, but the vote on his replacement was also delayed at the same winter session.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his predecessor, Kofi Annan, both expressed disappointment at the council’s disproportionate focus on Israel. During George W. Bush’s administration, the U.S. boycotted the UNHRC for its biased position, though the Obama administration has reversed that position, believing its influence can make the UNHRC “relevant”.
In 2012, Israel became the first country to refuse to attend the UNHRC’s review of its conduct, and two months later cut ties with the council, which said it would be investigating how Israel’s settlement activities infringed upon the rights of Palestinians. Israel later submitted to the review, and last December accepted an offer to join the Western Europe and Others Group, allowing the country to qualify for a seat on the council.
Four of the five resolutions passed by a margin of 46-1, with the U.S. the only vote against.