(August 1, 2022 / JNS) Following anti-Semitic, anti-Israel comments by a member of a U.N. investigation targeting Israel, the Jewish state’s prime minister is calling for the disbandment of the inquiry.
Israel Prime Minister Yair Lapid wrote to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday, calling for the global body’s head to follow through on his promises of combating anti-Semitism. The missive comes in the wake of comments by Commission of Inquiry (COI) member Miloon Kothari, who told an anti-Israel website last week that social media is controlled by the “Jewish lobby,” and questioned Israel’s membership in the United Nations.
It added to harshly critical comments against Israel already waged by the other members of the commission, including its chair, Navi Pillay.
“The fight against anti-Semitism cannot be waged with words alone; it requires action. It is time to disband the Commission. From Mr. Kothari’s outrageous slurs to Pillay’s defense of the indefensible, this commission does not just endorse anti-Semitism; it fuels it,” wrote Lapid.
The letter noted that diplomats from several countries have spoken out against Kothari’s comments, including the United States, France, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Austria, as well as the European Union. There is a bipartisan effort in the U.S. Congress to halt funding for the Commission of Inquiry and seek its abolition.
Days ago, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, wrote to U.N. Human Rights Council President Federico Villegas. In a letter seen by JNS, she called Kothari’s remarks “a disgrace and stain the credibility of the whole United Nations system and certainly are not befitting of someone in a position of responsibility or anyone representing the U.N.”
The U.N.’s outgoing special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief also condemned Kothari’s comments. In his final hours in office, Ahmed Shaheed wrote: “In May last year, a foreign minister [Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi] claimed that Israel controls the global media. Now this trope has come to the U.N.! The U.N. must take up my call to use [the] IHRA working definition for awareness-raising across the U.N. system, in line with international human rights standards.”
The U.N. created a position in 2020 to monitor anti-Semitism and has forged a number of initiatives to fight back against Holocaust denial and Jew-hatred. Lapid wrote to Guterres that it is time for him to stand by his words and take action.
“You pledged to take a stand ‘in the front line of the struggle against anti-Semitism and to make sure the United Nations is able to take all possible actions for anti-Semitism to be condemned, and if possible, eradicated from the face of the earth.’ You stressed that ‘Israel needs to be treated as any other state, with exactly the same rules,’ ” wrote Lapid.
‘Judge for yourself’
The Commission of Inquiry, formed in the wake of the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas, has come under fire from its outset. The commission is the first of its kind formed under the world body to have no expiration date, and its scope envelops the entirety of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, going back to the formation of Israel.
The selection of the three commission members, all of whom have made substantial anti-Israel comments in the past, left Israel supporters fearing a predetermined outcome to the inquiry. The commission’s first report, released in June, did little to assuage those concerns.
Eilon Shahar wrote to Villegas that “it was clear from even a cursory survey of the public record of each of the appointed members, that they not only fail to meet the requirement of impartiality established by the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights) itself but that this was not even a consideration in the appointment process.”
Pillay, as chair, defended Kothari’s rhetoric, accusing critics of taking his words out of context. A full audio recording and transcript of the interview provide no evidence for such a claim. The president of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which sponsors Pillay’s commission, had urged Kothari to clarify his remarks.
“Instead of taking a moral stance and repudiating these comments, Pillay chose to defend and excuse them. She doubled down on the commission’s support for Mr. Kothari’s comments,” Lapid wrote to Guterres. “Pillay’s claim that the comments were taken out of context is false and was even rejected by the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council. I urge you to listen to Mr. Kothari’s interview and judge for yourself.”
Lapid is slated to speak next month at the U.N. General Assembly. The Commission of Inquiry is scheduled to present its report to the UNGA in December, giving the body the ability to recommend action by international criminal courts and tribunals against Israeli officials.
“With every report, the commission will build towards this conclusion; with every report, it will try to undermine the very foundations of the Jewish state,” wrote Eilon Shahar. “We therefore repeat our call for the COI to be disbanded immediately.”
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