31 January '13..
In Geneva on Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Council convened to examine Israel’s human rights record. It did so under a mechanism called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), supposed to apply to all UN member states. One country, though, failed to show up for the proceedings—Israel (reports here, here, and here; op-ed by Anne Bayefsky here). It thereby became the first country ever to boycott its UPR.
As a result, the countries present agreed to postpone Israel’s review to November, with council president Remigiusz Henczel of Poland darkly warning that “if Israel failed to participate by the set deadline, the council would weigh steps against it.”
Israel has cut off cooperation with the UNHRC since last May, when it announced a new fact-finding commission on Israeli settlements. Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated at the time that “this fact-finding mission will find no cooperation in Israel and its members will not be allowed to enter Israel and the territories.”
Israel’s previous experience with the council’s “fact-finding” commissions was not propitious, including the defamatory Goldstone Report on the 2008-2009 Gaza War, a piece of Hamas propaganda eventually retracted by its main author; and a report on the 2010 flotilla incident that, as Anne Bayefsky notes, claimed that the Turkish terrorists on the ship who attacked Israeli soldiers with clubs and knives were “humanitarians.”
There is, of course, no particular reason to expect moral probity from the UNHRC. Its current membership includes human rights paladins like Saudi Arabia, China, Congo, Cuba, and Qatar, with a preponderance of nondemocratic countries—despite the Obama administration having insisted on U.S. membership since 2009 after the Bush administration had withdrawn from the body.
Not surprisingly, Syria sailed smoothly through its 2011-2012 “periodic review” by the council, with North Korea “commending” it for its “efforts…to maintain security and stability” and Iran praising its “efforts…to promote and protect human rights.”
The UNHRC, though, has a particular animus against Israel. As Bayefsky details:
The discrimination against Israel by the UN human rights system is not hard to find. The UN Human Rights Council has a permanent agenda of 10 items, one reserved for condemning Israel and one for considering all other 192 UN members. Almost 40 percent of all Council resolutions condemning specific countries have been directed at Israel alone. There have been more special sessions on Israel than any other country….
One might think, then, that Israel’s refusal to keep exposing itself to this cynical farce would at least evoke sympathy from Western states. Not so, says Bayefsky, with “the United States and almost every other Western government [having] pressured Israel to participate [on Tuesday]…for the sake of the reputation of the UN and the appearance of universality.”
When it turned out, though, that Israel didn’t show up on Tuesday, the U.S. gave Israel what has been called a “tacit rebuke,” with its ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, stating that “the Universal Periodic Review has been a valuable mechanism….”
Other countries were more upfront. Waffa Bassim, representative of Egypt’s virulently anti-Semitic Morsi regime (the latest is here), called Israel’s boycott of the session “a clear case of noncooperation and noncompliance by a state under review.” Pakistan’s Zamir Akram, who spoke on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, also expressed displeasure and implied that Israel was getting off too easy for this “violation of all of its obligations.”
So, once again, the world’s democratic and nondemocratic countries converge in objecting to an instance of Israel standing up for itself. This is true whenever it launches a military operation—with even its superpower ally, some of whose military operations take a decade or more, generally demanding that it end the hostilities in a few days. It was true recently when, after the Palestinian Authority’s UN statehood push, Israel responded by stepping up housing construction and withholding funds from the PA—measures universally condemned.
All this on the heels, of course, of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday. And they wonder why Israel is “moving to the right.”
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel, and author of the forthcoming book Choosing Life in Israel. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com.