On Monday, the United States State Department announced they will boycott an upcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session slated to deal with violations by Israel, deepening the conflict over Israel between the Trump administration and the UN.
Mark Toner, the department’s spokesman, posted a statement on the department’s website, saying that not only will the US boycott the meeting, but it intends to vote against all five the council intends to pass this week.
“The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the existence of the UN Human Rights Council’s Agenda Item Seven: ‘Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” the announcement read.
The agenda item requires the council to discuss Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians at every session. There is no corresponding requirement pertaining to any other country.
“As an expression of our deeply-held conviction that this bias must be addressed in order for the Council to realize its legitimate purpose, the United States decided not to attend the Council’s Item Seven General Debate session,” the statement continued.
“It does not serve the interests of the Council to single out one country in an unbalanced matter. Later this week, the United States will vote against every resolution put forth under this agenda item and is encouraging other countries to do the same.”
This comes in marked contrast to the previous administration. In his final weeks in office, President Obama overturned a long time US policy by not vetoing UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements.
The UNHRC was another forum in which President Obama reversed policy concerning Israel. Due to its anti-Israel stance, President George W. Bush initially refused to join the UNHRC, and boycotted it when it was established in 2006. In 2009, President Obama applied for membership, and under his administration, the US took a leading role in the council.
The US’s relationship to the UNHRC is currently under scrutiny by Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who is considering withdrawing from the Council. In a letter to the UN, Tillerson questioned its effectiveness given the presence on the Council of countries with histories of human rights violations. In his letter, Tillerson said the US will “reiterate our strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.”
“We may not share a common view on this, given the makeup of the membership,” Tillerson wrote. “While it may be the only such organization devoted to human rights, the Human Rights Council requires considerable reform in order for us to continue to participate.”
This current confrontation comes in the context of ongoing criticism by the new Trump administration against the UN for anti-Israel bias. A recent anti-Israel report by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) was rescinded after Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, expressing “outrage”, demanded that the UN withdraw the report, which declared Israel to be an apartheid state. Rima Khalaf, head of the Beirut-based commision, resigned in protest.