Hillel Neuer’s most famous salvo is likely a 2017 speech in which the UN Watch executive director singled out several Arab countries before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“Where are your Jews?” he asked each.
A recording on YouTube, which more than a million people have viewed, includes a 2018 speech in which Neuer answered his own question—that Jewish refugees from many Arab countries fled to Israel, the United States, Canada, France and others.
“These Jewish refugees from Arab lands—whose suffering and losses the U.N. has never addressed—put their hardship behind them and built great lives for their families,” he said. “Now, let us contrast this with the situation of those descended from Arab refugees, who fled the area of British Mandatory Palestine during the invasion of nascent Israel by Arab armies. What is holding them back?”
Again, Neuer answered his own question. Palestinians are the only population in the world “not eligible for services by the U.N. Refugee Agency,” he said. “Instead, these descendants are governed by UNRWA, which holds generation after generation trapped in refugee camps, denied integration in the Arab countries they were born in and denied resettlement elsewhere.” (UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.)
In a recent phone interview from Geneva, headquarters of the 30-year-old human-rights NGO, Neuer told JNS—as he approaches his 20th anniversary at the helm of UN Watch—that the nonprofit is a leading force against “the pathological discrimination and delegitimization of Israel” at the United Nations.
He and colleagues “give a voice to the voiceless, which is what the U.N. should be doing, living up to its charter,” he told JNS. “They should be spotlighting urgent human-rights violations that too often go ignored.”
‘A lifelong spark to defend the Jewish homeland’
Neuer comes from a long tradition of fighting for what’s right, which he learned growing up in Montreal and attending the Hebrew Academy there.
He was raised in a family “devoted to the Jewish people, Judaism and Israel, going back generations,” he told JNS. At Shabbat meals, “someone would invariably bring out the Encyclopaedia Judaica to settle a point of discussion.” His first trip to Israel, at 14, lit a lifelong spark to defend the Jewish homeland.
Studying political science at Concordia University, he saw the kind of Jew-hatred that he would battle years later. “What we experienced at Concordia is not dissimilar to what I experience at the U.N.—a toxic alliance (with) the radical-left activists,” he said.
During his studies, he edited the Zionist quarterly Dateline, under the mentorship of Fred Krantz, who created the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research. “At the time, when I sent in an article to the Concordia newspaper, they’d just trash it. So Dateline was an opportunity to be heard,” he said.
Neuer served as a law clerk for Yitzhak Zamir, then an Israeli Supreme Court judge and a former Israeli attorney general.
Prior to joining UN Watch, Neuer practiced commercial and civil-rights litigation at the firm of Paul, Weiss, where he said his high-profile clients included Oprah Winfrey.
In 2004, a friend and fellow lawyer, Eric Block—who worked for UN Watch as a young fellow under Morris B. Abram, the civil-rights activist who founded the nonprofit in 1993—suggested that Neuer apply for UN Watch’s vacated directorship.
The nonprofit had been affiliated with the World Jewish Congress from 1993 to 2000, before, a year later, affiliating with the American Jewish Committee. In 2013, under Neuer’s leadership, it became independent, solely funded by donors.
When Block recommended that he seek a job at the UN Watch helm, the organization was known to be made up of “a niche sector of people” in government, media and diplomacy, Neuer told JNS. Some knew “there was this thing called UN Watch in Geneva” which published op-eds, press releases and a newsletter with 500 subscribers.
Today, UN Watch’s videos have been viewed more than 32 million times online by tens of thousands of subscribers, according to Neuer, who is proud that the nonprofit accomplishes this with just 10 employees.
The human rights movement’s ‘new center of gravity’
UNRWA’s inculcation of Palestinian students in Jew-hatred, undue Chinese influence in the World Health Organization and Russia’s membership on the UN Human Rights Council are among the issues Neuer has tackled recently.
UN Watch “has a vital part to play,” he told JNS, “in creating a new center of gravity for the human-rights movement.”
Amnesty International, for example, will host events with Hezbollah supporters and Holocaust deniers and continues to “demonize Israel, calling it an apartheid state,” while avoiding any discussion about the estimated million Uyghurs in concentration camps in China, said Neuer.
Since 2015, the U.N. General Assembly has condemned Israel 140 times. It has denounced all other countries a combined 65 times, per U.N. Watch research. Since 2006, more than half of all condemnatory resolutions in the Human Rights Council have targeted Israel.
“There is a whole ecosystem at the U.N. and surrounding it to demonize Israel,” Neuer told JNS.
On June 20, the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, which Navi Pillay runs, will present its third report to the Human Rights Council.
UN Watch has a “major essay” planned, which will expose how this inquiry “has nothing to do with gathering facts and everything to do with demonizing Israel,” Neuer told JNS.
The United Nations “claimed it would weigh both sides, but it was very clear it was to target Israel. It’s not really an inquiry,” he said. “It’s what I call an inquisition. The guilt is predetermined, and all they do is find facts, as they see it, that support Israel’s guilt.”
Neuer has seen promising responses to the hate that UN Watch flags, as when Qatar’s ambassador, Hend Al-Muftah, lost the chance to chair the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law after UN Watch exposed her homophobic and antisemitic tweets.
“Everyone knew it and acknowledged it was our doing,” he told JNS. We exposed hate, and we got [a] victory. I can’t say it happens every day, but it happens.”
Other times, UN Watch exposés don’t lead to U.N. action, but even 25-page petitions that are thrown in the garbage unread stand for the truth, he told JNS.
“It is the right thing to do,” he said. “You don’t know when, but it will change the world.”