The letter, sponsored by Florida Republican Marco Rubio and Delaware Democrat Christopher Coons, was an ostensible display of bipartisan unanimity about UN ‘anti-Israel bias’.
While bias should definitely be examined, the blind cannot lead the blind. This letter is an exhibition of bipartisan bias – on behalf of Israel.
The text of the letter, which in itself only fills one and a half pages, ostensibly seeks ‘balance’:
“Through words and actions, we urge you to ensure that Israel is treated neither better nor worse than any other U.N. member in good standing.”
This is a paraphrase of a clause in the anti-Semitism definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) recently adopted also by UK:
“Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
This formulation can be very problematic, if those assessing the issue of Israel’s ‘behavior’ don’t think that you can or should be even-handed with Israel. Last year, the bill’s sponsor Marco Rubio said in response to Trump’s suggestion that he would be ‘even-handed’ on Israel-Palestine:
“Because — and I don’t know if Donald realizes this. I’m sure it’s not his intent perhaps. But the position you’ve taken is an anti-Israel position. And here’s why. Because you cannot be an honest broker in a dispute between two sides in which one of the sides is constantly acting in bad faith”.
Here’s more from Rubio about being ‘even-handed’ with Israel:
“And so the next president of the United States needs to be someone like me who will stand firmly on the side of Israel. I’m not — I’m not going to sit here and say, “Oh, I’m not on either side.” I will be on a side.”
“I will be on Israel’s side every single day because they are the only pro-American, free enterprise democracy in the entire Middle East.”
So now, the letter commended US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, for recently stating that “it is the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias that is long overdue for change.” Indeed, the same ‘unbiased’ Haley, who called herself the “new sheriff in town”, who boasted about blocking a Palestinian from a UN post simply because he is Palestinian, and about pressuring to block a recent report about Israeli Apartheid, ostensibly even taking credit for the resignation of the ‘biased’ Under-Secretary General in that context. This ‘unbiased Sheriff’ wear high heels – so that when Haley sees “something wrong, we’re going to kick ’em every single time”, as she told the cheering crowd at the Israel lobby conference, AIPAC, in March.
So now the scene is set for the four points that the signatories urge the UN to improve, in pursuing “a comprehensive effort to improve the U.N.’s treatment of Israel”.
Let’s take one at a time:
1) “The U.N. funds and maintains a number of standing committees, which far too often serve no purpose other than to attack Israel and inspire the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions, and divestment (BDS) movement. These committees must be eliminated or reformed.”
Which committees? How often? How do they ‘inspire’ the BDS? This whole point is just devoid of actual content, it’s a mere smearing. The BDS campaign is based on international law. You can agree or disagree with its methods, but it is. So it’s rather natural, that a body based upon international law, such as the UN, would refer to the very same issues and have them reflected in its resolutions. Israel has systematically defied UN resolutions that take it to task for its violations against Palestinians. Does pursuit of the justice embodied in these resolutions then mean ‘attacking Israel’? The BDS does not need these committees to ‘inspire’ it – Palestinian reality under Israeli oppression is ‘inspiring’ enough in itself. Let us not forget what David Ben-Gurion said:
“When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves —- that is only half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves. . . . But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict, which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.”
But indeed, it is easy to forget that with the letter’s formulation, in which Israel is once again being ‘attacked’.
2) “While the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) does some important work on Holocaust education, its member states continue to advance measures that target Israel and deny the Jewish and Christian connections to Jerusalem. UNESCO member states must be made to realize that these actions only undermine the credibility of the organization.”3) “The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) downplays its role in perpetuating troubling anti-Israel bias and activities. UNRWA must pursue reforms or risk significant consequences.”
Now, the last point, most elaborate and grave, as it were:
4) “Most troubling is the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Charged with shining a light on gross human rights violations, the UNHRC—whose membership currently includes some of the world’s worst human rights violators—instead devotes time to unwarranted attacks against Israel. UNHRC even maintains a permanent item on its agenda—“Agenda Item VII”—to assess Israel even as numerous other countries, including some represented on the Council, commit egregious human rights abuses against their citizens on a daily basis. Speaking recently at the UNHRC in Geneva, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Erin Barclay criticized the UNHRC’s anti-Israel focus as “unfair and unbalanced,” noting that the body’s “obsession with Israel…is the largest threat to the Council’s credibility” and “limits the good we can accomplish by making a mockery of this Council.”
The letter text immediately continues on this point, saying that
“the UNHRC should be the premier international body addressing the many pressing human rights challenges of our time in countries such as Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, and South Sudan.”
The Brookings Institution, in its recent assessment of the UNHRC, concluded that
“since the United Nations Human Rights Council was created in 2006, it has made significant strides toward improving the enjoyment and protection of human rights for all individuals around the world”.
The Brookings report also notes that
“while Israel/Palestine continues to dominate country-specific human rights issues at the Human Rights Council, recently – especially since 2011 – states have begun to more seriously address human rights situations in other countries and regions. For instance, in the early years of the Council, commissions of inquiry disproportionately dealt with the human rights situation in Israel/Palestine, but in the last four years new COIs have been established for a wide range of countries, including the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, Eritrea and Sri Lanka.”
Brookings adds elsewhere, that
“more recently the Council has dramatically increased its scrutiny of such flagrant cases as Libya, Syria, Eritrea, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Iran, Central African Republic and South Sudan.”
In particular, the UNHRC has produced numerous resolutions on the human rights situation in Syria from 2012, right after the conflict there began in 2011, allocating nearly 35 million dollars in total for that purpose.
So yes, the HRC does have an item 7:
“Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.”
The US officially, “strongly and unequivocally opposes the existence” of that item. One may argue the merit of this item as a separate item, and one may seek its removal as a separate item, as the letter does. One may seek a more comprehensive coverage of more and other issues, but the HRC seems to be moving in this direction.
So the last point of the letter is a moot point, but it makes an argument that is on top of the first three points, which as formulated, seem to be merely vacuous political, and biased, rhetoric.
And this cannot be regarded as other than a political act. The letter’s first point seems to reveal its real agenda – fighting BDS – a nonviolent means of protest, which falls under 1st Amendment protected speech.
And who signed on to this?
Everyone. All 100 Senators. Including Bernie Sanders. Recently Al-Jazeera interviewed him on that, and he said “Look, I didn’t write that letter, I signed on to the letter. It’s not a letter that I would have written”.
What does that mean exactly? You sign a letter, you stand by it, right?
On BDS, Sanders ends his run saying “no, I’m not a supporter of that”. On the question of a one-state solution he rejects it as “the end of the State of Israel” saying that he supports Israel’s “right to exist”.
Ron Kampeas, publishing his analysis of Sanders’ interview at The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, obviously thinks this is a “big deal” in a positive sense:
“[T]he tense tone of the Al Jazeera interview and Sanders’ refusal to accept anti-Israel pieties commonplace among progressives here and overseas suggests the resistance among Democrats to more radical expressions of Israel criticism. Democratic lawmakers, for instance, continue to join Republicans in overwhelmingly approving anti-BDS legislation on the state and federal levels.”
So, this is the real story. Under the guise of supposed insidious bias against Israel, those who are biased for Israel are running a campaign to tarnish the UN for supposedly promoting BDS and the “destruction of Israel”.
Israel’s “right to exist”, that is, as an Apartheid State, is being preserved by the condemnatory voice of all 100 senators.
And 100 Senators can’t all be wrong, right?