June 21, 2023 | 1945

UN Report Ignores Palestinian Terrorism, Blasts U.S. Supporters Of Israel

A 27-nation coalition led by the United States today rightly condemned the United Nations commission of inquiry (COI) investigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
June 21, 2023 | 1945

UN Report Ignores Palestinian Terrorism, Blasts U.S. Supporters Of Israel

A 27-nation coalition led by the United States today rightly condemned the United Nations commission of inquiry (COI) investigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A 27-nation coalition led by the United States today rightly condemned the United Nations commission of inquiry (COI) investigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A COI report earlier this month blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entirely on Israel, attacked Israel’s supporters in America and Europe, and blasted the United States and European Union for vigorously opposing antisemitism. The United States should now leverage its role as the UN’s largest funder to terminate the commission of inquiry that produced the report and to hold the COI’s commissioners accountable for their clear violations of various UN ethics rules.

The UN Human Rights Council established the COI in May 2021 to investigate human rights and law of war violations by parties within “the occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel.” But its latest biannual report, published June 8, fails to mention any Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism or their killers. For example, it omits the murder of 84-year-old Shulamit Ovadia, whom a Palestinian terrorist bludgeoned to death on Sept. 20, 2022 (shortly after the prior report’s release); 82-year-old Inga Avramyan, whom a rocket from Gaza killed when it struck her home on May 11 of this year; and each of the two dozen Israeli civilians killed by terror attacks in between the two. 

The report instead slams 35 U.S. states for adopting legislation to counter the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, sanctions campaign. It also blasts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism — endorsed by the European Union and 39 countries, including the United States — and preposterously claims, “the definition undermines serious attempts to address antisemitism.” The COI also criticizes the 30 U.S. states that have adopted the IHRA definition. 

The Biden administration opposed the COI’s creation, accurately blasting it as “inherently biased” against Israel and an “obstacle to the cause of peace.” Undaunted, the Human Rights Council appointed as the COI’s three commissioners individuals with track records of anti-Israel bias. In March 2022, a bipartisan letter from 68 U.S. senators urged the Biden administration to prioritize “leading a multinational effort” to “end” the COI, warning that it was “wasteful” and “likely to further fuel antisemitism worldwide.”

Proving the senators correct, commissioners have not only fueled antisemitism but indeed made explicitly antisemitic statements while in office. For example, Miloon Kothari denounced the “Jewish lobby” during an interview in July 2022, claiming it controls “social media” and has “thrown” around “a lot of money” to discredit him and his fellow commissioners. Kothari also questioned Israel’s right to be a UN member. 

Two high-ranking U.S. officials called Kothari’s comments “antisemitic” and “outrageous, inappropriate, and corrosive.” A senior EU official was “outraged” by Kothari’s “antisemitic and hateful statement.”

Kothari’s comments clearly met the IHRA definition, which specifically lists the following as examples of antisemitism: allegations about “Jews controlling the media;” “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavor;” and “applying double standards” to Israel. 

Kothari’s antisemitic comments are not the only prejudicial remarks made by the commissioners since they assumed their positions. Also last year, during an official Human Rights Council proceeding, Chris Sidoti accused Jews of throwing around accusations of antisemitism “like rice at a wedding.” Navi Pillay, the COI chair, defended Kothari and Sidoti’s comments. 

The appointment of these three openly biased commissioners violated the Human Rights Council’s rules, which mandate that such officials “should, in all cases, have a proven record of independence and impartiality.” The rules stress that it is “important to ensure that the background of candidates” for such commissions of inquiry, including their “prior public statements or political or other affiliations do not affect their independence or impartiality, or create perceptions of bias.” 

Council rules also provide that in the performance of its tasks, the “commission/mission should avoid any perceptions that it could be siding with one party over another.” Thus, Kothari and Sidoti’s comments while in office amount to further violations. Their statements also contravene UN ethics rules, which require impartiality and prohibit activity that could lead to actual or perceived preferential treatment for or against particular individuals, groups, or interests. Violators are subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.

The UN has steadfastly ignored calls for an investigation by its Office of Internal Oversight Services or Board of Auditors. Emboldened by their impunity, the COI commissioners criticize the IHRA definition of antisemitism in their June report for reframing as antisemitism what the three COI commissioners deem as “legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and actions.” 

The COI commissioners are wrong. The IHRA definition specifies that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” Indeed, as the American Jewish Committee has explained, the IHRA definition’s “careful wording leaves a wide berth for sharp and vigorous criticism of Israel’s government and policies.”

In a little-noticed addendum to their report, the COI commissioners go even further. First, they assert that the IHRA definition “is seen as highly controversial and problematic, including among Jewish scholars.” While there may be a few individual Jewish academics who take issue with the definition, leading Jewish organizations around the globe have strongly endorsed it, including in a joint May letter urging its adoption by the UN. The definition has also been endorsed by Jewish communities from 66 countries.

The COI commissioners then make the astonishing claim that the IHRA definition “undermines serious attempts to address antisemitism.” Far from undermining serious attempts to address antisemitism, the IHRA definition tackles head-on one of the most insidious forms of contemporary antisemitism: denying Israel’s right to exist and applying double standards to the Jewish state. 

Denying Israel’s right to exist is antisemitic because connection to the land of Israel is an integral part of Jewish identity, central to Jewish holy books, prayers, rituals, and culture over more than 3,000 years of Jewish history. Indeed, more than half of the 613 commandments in the Bible relate to, and can only be fulfilled in, the land of Israel. As Soviet dissident and Israeli minister Natan Sharansky said, “if other peoples have a right to live securely in their homelands, then the Jewish people have a right to live securely in their homeland as well.” 

Applying double standards to the Jewish state, singling it out when egregious Chinese and other abuses are ignored, is antisemitic, Sharansky said, just as “for thousands of years, a clear sign of anti Semitism was treating Jews different from other peoples,” including with discriminatory laws and a “tendency to judge their behavior by a different yardstick.”

The report is just the latest example of the UN’s anti-Israel obsession wasting U.S. taxpayer dollars, discrediting the UN’s human rights mechanisms, and distracting attention and resources from China, Russia, and other egregious human rights abusers. 

Last year, the House passed legislation specifying that no U.S. contributions to the UN may be used to fund the COI. But the Senate failed to pass it, so the provision never became law. Both chambers of Congress should join together this year to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars do not fund a COI that employs antisemites and promotes their slanders.

Today’s U.S.-led condemnation of the COI was an important step forward. The Biden administration should now redouble its efforts to build allied support for dissolving the COI. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. should press hard for the UN to investigate ethics violations by COI commissioners and to develop a robust action plan for countering antisemitism within the UN. 

Each of these steps should be welcomed by those who support a UN that advances human rights rather than antisemitism and other pernicious agendas.

Orde Kittrie, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and law professor at Arizona State University, previously served as a U.S. State Department attorney. David May is a research manager at FDD. FDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues. Follow Orde and David on Twitter: @OrdeFK and @DavidSamuelMay


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