Is there hope to end anti-Israel bias at the UN Human Rights Council?

“There needs to be a groundswell of activism and advocacy demanding an elimination of this gross form of discrimination against Jewish state, and by extension, the Jewish people,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of independent human-rights group U.N. Watch.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the opening of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, Palais des Nations, Feb. 25, 2019. Credit: U.N. Photo by Violaine Martin.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the opening of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, Palais des Nations, Feb. 25, 2019. Credit: U.N. Photo by Violaine Martin.

The United Nations Human Rights Council met on Monday to single out Israel under the anti-Israel “Agenda Item 7,” a UNHRC mandate that a discussion of Israeli human-rights abuses against Palestinians must be part of every council session.

The meeting took place in the wake of a vote on Agenda Item 7 this past March, in which the United Nations approved a number resolutions condemning Israel for committing human-rights abuses against Palestinians, in addition to calling on Israel to withdraw to the 1948 border lines, give the Golan Heights to civil war-torn Syria and cease building homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of independent human-rights group U.N. Watch, said that Israel would again “be attacked by many bad countries, and a few democracies, with a laundry list about Israeli colonization, settlements and destroying Palestinian homes.”

Indeed, at the UNHRC session on Monday, Syrian Ambassador Hussam Edin Aala—whose own leader, Bashar Assad, has used chemical weapons against his own people amid a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands—condemned Israel for its “occupation” of the Golan Heights and criticized President Donald Trump for recognizing Israel’s sovereignty there.

“We need to put an end to the actions of the occupation,” which is “confiscating” land and “pillaging” resources, said Aala, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Although the last presentation of Agenda Item 7 in the United Nations was disheartening for Israel, Neuer witnessed more positive voting trends among Western countries that made him optimistic that this time around, Israel will not be the only country to speak out against the expected assault in the United Nations.

In the session last March, U.N. Watch held a massive rally that included European parliamentarians and intellectuals. Within the U.N.’s general debate and breakout sessions, Neuer took the floor on behalf of U.N. Watch and did so again on Monday, encouraging other countries to call out the U.N. for its unfair treatment of Israel, which he deemed as “contrary to U.N.’s own charter, which guarantees equal treatment and universality.”

Following the March rally and campaign, the U.N. vote later that week saw several countries suddenly change their positions on the annual votes—to greater support for Israel. For the first time in history, Britain voted “no” to all four Arab-sponsored resolutions tabled under Agenda Item 7. Denmark, a new member of the Council, fully backed Israel on the four votes, a marked departure from its usual policy in U.N. bodies. On the annual resolution calling to prosecute Israeli soldiers for “war crimes,” Brazil, Hungary and Ukraine changed their votes to “no.” On the annual resolution calling on Israel to surrender the Golan to Syria, Japan and Brazil changed their votes to “no.”

Neuer believes that such changes have taken place thanks to the efforts of U.N. Watch, which aims to expose discrimination against Israel within the United Nations.

“Day in and day out, we are making this case in the media, social media, online petitions and discussions with governments,” said Neuer.

While acknowledging that it may be impossible to know precisely why a country changes its votes, noted Neuer, When Britain changed its vote last session, it cited U.N. Watch statistics mentioning that in the first decade of the human-rights council, more than half of all resolutions passed singled out Israel.

Still, there are several challenges in attempting to undermine what Neuer called the “default position” of U.N. member states’ voting patterns against Israel.

‘There are overwhelming odds against Israel’

Over the past 50 years, the 56-nation-strong Muslim voting block has led a campaign in the U.N. to single out and delegitimize Israel through one-sided resolutions and investigations. With the power of oil and sovereign wealth funds that will invest in a member state depending on how it votes, Neuer explained, many countries vote to appease the Arab and Muslim nations. If they vote with the block, they can expect favors in return, but if they vote for Israel, claimed Neuer, “they fear a rise in terrorism.”

In addition to the unofficial practice of vote trading, anti-Semitic attitudes overpower the value of international law. Neuer recalled meeting with European diplomats who “show an ingrained hostility to Israel, claiming they’re motivated by international law.”

However, he continued, “You never see them condemning other countries for breaking international law. You don’t see them taking action against Hamas rockets fired at civilians in violation of international law; you don’t see them taking action Saudi Arabia, which tortures women and activists in violation of international law; and you don’t see them taking action against China detaining 1 million Muslims in camps in violation of international law.”

While member states have no problem singing out Israel within international organizations, said Neuer, when any critique of other countries are brought up, member states often complain that the critiques are out of place.

“There is no doubt that singling out the only Jewish state in the U.N. is a new form of anti-Semitism,” said Neuer. “There needs to be a groundswell of activism and advocacy demanding an elimination of this gross form of discrimination against Jewish state, and by extension, the Jewish people.”

“That’s the natural state of things. There are overwhelming odds against Israel. It is an uphill battle and constant fight,” he said.

Even so, Neuer is still fighting.

Hoping to increase public knowledge about voting patterns on Israel and to expose hypocrisy, U.N. Watch will create a new online database available this year that includes updated information about every resolution dealing with Israel, key talking points for what’s wrong with the United Nations and how to fix it, and an online petition that the public can use to petition their foreign ministries and members of parliament.

“On the database, you will be able to see which country belongs to which U.N. bodies—who sits on the human-rights council, who sit on the women’s rights commission. You’ll find some shocking things; for example, you’ll find that Saudi Arabia and Iran are on the women’s rights council, and China and Cuba on the human-rights council.”

According to Neuer, the ability to make a change within the United Nations begins with being informed, and then, speaking out.

“If all citizens and countries do this,” he contended, “it can make the difference.”

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