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The Demonization of Israel at the United Nations in Europe Focus on the Human Rights Council and Specialized Agencies

The Demonization of Israel at the United Nations in Europe Focus on the Human Rights Council and Specialized Agencies

Hillel C. Neuer

I. Introduction

If an alien from another planet visited the United Nations and listened to its debates, read its resolutions, and walked its halls, the extraterritorial observer would logically conclude that a principal purpose of the world body is to censure a tiny country called Israel.

Beginning around 1967, the full weight of the UN was gradually but deliberately turned against the country it helped to conceive by General Assembly resolution a mere two decades earlier.

The campaign at the UN to demonize and delegitimize Israel at every opportunity and in every forum was initiated by the Arab states in concert with the Soviet Union, and supported by an automatic majority of Third World regimes.

The result today is that many of the UN’s political organs, specialized agencies, and bureaucratic divisions have been subverted by a relentless propaganda war against the Jewish state, causing them to stray from their founding purposes and constitutional frameworks.

The UN Human Rights Council discusses the situation in Syria, 27 June 2012.
The UN Human Rights Council discusses the situation in Syria, 27 June 2012. (US Mission Geneva/Flickr)

In the busiest corridor of the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the UN in Geneva, this prejudice is displayed by a series of giant panels devoted to the Palestinian cause. Every day, the visual message that the Palestinians are the world’s greatest human rights victim – and, by implication, that Israel is the world’s worst human rights abuser – is pumped into hundreds of UN country delegates, employees, and non-governmental activists, as they pass to and from the cafeteria.

Paradoxically, one of the greatest violators of the UN Charter’s equality guarantee has been the UN body with primary responsibility for establishing and enforcing the principle of equality and other universal human rights: the 47-nation Human Rights Council (HRC).

Founded in 20061 to replace and improve upon the performance of its discredited predecessor, the former Commission on Human Rights, the new council has instead perpetuated the same selectivity and politicization, systematically singling out Israel for discriminatory treatment, and denying the world’s only Jewish state – and its citizens – equality before the law.

As a case study into anti-Israel demonization at the UN, this chapter examines the situation at the HRC, the most prominent UN body in Geneva, as well as at three other Europe-based UN specialized agencies: the WHO and the ILO in Geneva, and UNESCO in Paris.

II. Anti-Israel Bias in the UN System

The UN’s discrimination against Israel is not a minor infraction, nor a parochial nuisance of interest solely to those concerned with the interests of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

Rather, the world body’s obsession with censuring Israel at every turn directly affects all citizens of the world, for it constitutes a severe violation of the sovereign equality principle guaranteed by the 1945 UN Charter2 and underlying the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a challenge to the very notion of universal standards at the UN, for when a standard is applied selectively, it loses its very meaning as a standard; and a significant obstacle to the UN’s ability to carry out its proper mandate.

None of this, as Professor Irwin Cotler has pointed out, means that Israel should be above the law.3 Every country, including every democracy, commits certain human rights violations, and states should be held to account, domestically as well as internationally. Yet Israel does have the right to be treated equally under the law. It is perfectly legitimate for the UN to criticize Israel, but not when this is done unfairly, selectively, massively, sometimes exclusively, and always obsessively.

Likewise, it is good to call attention to the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, their difficult conditions, and right to self-determination. But it is something else to elevate one national claim above any other of the myriad aggrieved peoples around the world, for the sole reason that the Palestinians happen to have the Jewish state as their purported aggressor. UN advocacy for the Palestinians is more often than not a contrivance for targeting Israel. For example, the HRC and other UN bodies have been completely silent on the violations of Palestinian rights in Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands are denied the most basic freedoms, including the right to work. The UN has shown that where Israel cannot be blamed, Palestinians are of little concern.

The excessive, grossly disproportional, and one-sided anti-Israel resolutions and related debates consume an astonishing proportion of the UN community’s precious resources. In 2013, the UN General Assembly in New York adopted 21 Israel-related condemnations – and a total of only four on the rest of the world combined.

On November 14, 2013, when the UNGA Fourth Committee adopted nine of these draft resolutions, a UN interpreter made the following remarks to her colleagues in the booth, unaware that her microphone was on for the world to hear:

I think when you have…like a total of ten resolutions on Israel and Palestine, there’s gotta be something — c’est un peu trop, non? [It’s a bit much, no?] I mean…it’s not the only, there’s other really bad sh-t happening, but no one says anything about the other stuff.4

Indeed, the time in 2013 spent by UN ambassadors on drafting, debating, and enacting these anti-Israel resolutions was time not spent on passing a single resolution for the victims of mass killings, terrorist bombings, bloody police crackdowns, and other massive human rights abuses which took place that year in Sudan, Central African Republic, Egypt, China, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Diplomats at foreign ministries and UN missions have a finite amount of time and resources to devote to any particular UN session. Because every proposed resolution requires intensive review by various levels and branches of government, a direct result of the anti-Israel texts is a crippling of the UN’s ability to take protective action for the world’s genuine human rights victims.

Conversely, it is also true that UN action on Israel often serves as a fig leaf for inaction elsewhere. In the words of one UN Commission on Human Rights delegate from a Non-Aligned country, uttered in the late 1960s but no less relevant today:

We’d like to condemn the Soviet Union for its repression of intellectuals; we’d like to condemn the United States because of Viet Nam. We cannot afford to do either, so we’ll support a condemnation of Israel for reprisals against Arab sabotage.5

III. Specialized Agencies

World Health Organization

The purpose of the World Health Organization (WHO), a multi-billion dollar agency in Geneva, is to address health. “The objective of the World Health Organization,” according to Article 1 of the WHO Constitution, “shall be the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”6 To achieve this objective, Article 2 provides that the functions of the organization shall be, inter alia, to coordinate international health work, assist governments in strengthening their health services, furnish emergency aid, promote scientific research in the field of health, and advance work to eradicate diseases.

Yet when it comes to Israel, the WHO’s governing structures, despite their declared professional and scientific purposes, regularly engage in politics. On January 21, 2009, for example, during the period of an intense Israel-Hamas conflict, the 34-member WHO Executive Board adopted a transparently one-sided resolution, entitled “The grave health situation caused by Israeli military operations in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”7

The resolution was uncharacteristically political for the World Health Organization. Using inflammatory language, the WHO expressed “deep concern” over “Israeli military operations in the occupied Gaza Strip which have, thus far, resulted in the killing of more than 1,300 persons and injured thousands of Palestinian civilians, more than half of whom are women, children, infants, and elderly persons.”

The WHO resolution’s partisan findings and prejudicial premises ignored the effects on the health of Israelis caused by Hamas having fired 10,000 rockets against them, which was the cause of Israel’s anti-terrorist Operation Cast Lead.

Thus the WHO resolution demanded the “reconstruction of the health infrastructure in the Gaza Strip,” which, it said, “has been destroyed by the Israeli military operations.” The WHO called on its Director-General to “dispatch urgently a specialized health mission to identify the urgent health and humanitarian needs and assess the destruction of medical facilities that has occurred in the occupied Palestinian territory,” and to submit a report on “the current, medium- and long-term needs on the direct and indirect effects on health of the Israeli military operations,” to be debated at the next World Health Assembly meeting.

Several months later, in May 2009, the WHO’s 62nd World Health Assembly, comprised of 194 states, adopted its annual condemnation of Israel for allegedly harming the health of Palestinians.8 This annual censure was duly repeated at the 63rd World Health Assembly in May 2010,9 the 64th World Health Assembly in May 2011,10 and in subsequent years.

Astonishingly, during this same time period, an examination of all WHO Executive Board and World Health Assembly resolutions reveals that not a single other country in the world – not even Syria, having lately killed more than 100,000 people – was censured even once.11

International Labour Organization

The International Labour Organization (ILO) was established to improve conditions of labour, regulate work hours, fight unemployment, assure adequate living wages, and protect workers worldwide.12 These purposes of the ILO Constitution are twisted each year in the selective and politicized treatment of Israel.

The ILO holds its annual assembly in Geneva where the agenda contains only one report on a country-specific situation: a lengthy document charging Israel with violating the rights of Palestinian workers – and those of the Druze in the Golan Heights.

In 2013, for example, the International Labor Conference (ILC) in its 102nd session debated a 64-page report by the ILO Director-General entitled “The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories.”13

In accordance with a 1980 ILC resolution on “the implications of Israeli settlements in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories in connection with the situation of Arab workers,” adopted at its 66th Session, the Director-General had once again sent a mission to make “as full an assessment as possible of the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories.”14

“The continuing occupation and expanding settlement activity are blocking the Palestinian economy, particularly its private sector, from significant progress,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, in the accompanying ILO press release, calling the situation “unsustainable” until it is “based on social justice.”15

The report included an entire section on the alleged plight of Syrians living in the Golan Heights16 – even though some openly admit that their health and security situation is far superior to that prevailing in Syria.17 The ILO report drily noted that many students from the Golan who normally study in Syrian universities preferred – at this time of mass killings, including civilians being gassed to death by chemical weapons – not to return to Syria, and to stay in Israel.

That the ILO devoted so much attention to a tiny population and region that is suffering no crisis or significant violations, while turning a blind eye to the millions affected by the Syrian massacre next door, is scandalous. It highlights the selective and politicized nature of the ILO’s Arab-sponsored targeting of Israel each year.


The Nazi genocide against the Jewish people was very much on the minds of the founders of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Their November 1945 constitution opens with a preamble that identifies the “doctrine of the inequality of men and races” as a cause of “the great and terrible war which has now ended,” along with “the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men.”

In reaction to this, Article 1 affirms that the purposes of UNESCO shall be to “contribute to peace and security” by promoting “collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture” in order to further “universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.”

It is especially tragic, then, that today – nearly seven decades later – UNESCO condemns only one country: Israel.

In 2009, for example, the UNESCO Executive Board adopted eight resolutions against the Jewish state at its 181st session18 and 182nd session,19 and then another two resolutions against Israel at the 35th session of the General Conference.20 No other country in the world was censured.

Likewise, in 2010, the UNESCO Executive Board adopted 10 decisions against Israel at its 184th session21 and 185th session.22 In 2011, the UNESCO Executive Board again adopted 10 decisions against Israel at its 186th session23 and 187th session,24 and another two resolutions against Israel at the 36th session of the General Conference.25

Astonishingly, during this same time period, an examination of all UNESCO Executive Board decisions and UNESCO General Conference resolutions shows that not a single other country was censured even once.26

Exceptionally, in 2012 UNESCO condemned Syria for its bloody crackdown in one resolution. This took place only after Western countries were pressured by voices protesting UNESCO’s shameful election of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria to two of its human rights committees.27 Regrettably, the condemnation of Syria failed to reappear in 2013. Instead, Israel returned once again to being the only country singled out by UNESCO.

Founded to combat the doctrine of the inequality of men and races, UNESCO today has sadly become a serial perpetrator of inequality.

The Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace its discredited predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights.28 Comprised of a rotating membership of 47 member states, the council is the highest body in the UN human rights system.

UNGA Resolution 60/251 (2006) provides, in Article 2, that the council is responsible for “protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner.” Article 3 provides that the council should address “situations of violations of human rights,” including “gross and systematic violations,” and make recommendations thereon. Article 4 provides that the work of the council shall be guided, inter alia, by the principles of “universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.”

Contrary to its declared purposes, however, the council has systematically turned a blind eye to the world’s worst perpetrators of gross and systematic violations of human rights. Paradoxically, many of these violators are themselves council members. In November 2013, for example, despite an opposition campaign by UN Watch and a coalition of parliamentarians, NGOs, and dissidents, the dictatorships of China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were elected by the UN as HRC members for the 2014 – 2016 term. None of these tyrannies has ever been condemned in any council resolution, emergency session or fact-finding mission.29 Despite a handful of positive actions during the 2009-2013 period, the council has failed to fulfill the basic purpose of its creation – to address the world’s most urgent violations – and it has failed to act with “universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.”

Nowhere is this chasm between promise and performance more pronounced than in the council’s pathological obsession with Israel. As described below, the council’s selective treatment of Israel is a standing, gross breach of its obligation to act “without distinction of any kind” and “in a fair and equal manner.”

Human Rights Commission Founders Fought Anti-Israel Bias

It is noteworthy that the founders of the Commission on Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rene Cassin, were great supporters of Israel. When the UN began to single out Israel in the 1960s, both Roosevelt, founding Chair of the Commission, and Cassin, architect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, spoke out.

In April 1962, for example, Eleanor Roosevelt criticized the United Nations when it censured Israel for responding to an attack from Syria. She said that “a full-scale study should be made of Jewish-Arab border clashes before the UN placed blame on one side.”30 Likewise, Cassin was an equally committed defender of Israel’s basic rights. For example, on the eve of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Cassin published articles in Le Monde and elsewhere arguing that Nasser was the aggressor under law, while Israel had the right to defend its “legitimate right to exist.”31 In 1968, when a landmark UN conference on human rights in Teheran targeted Israel, Cassin, head of the French delegation, left early in protest.32 When UN member states criticized Israel for responding to terrorist attacks launched from Jordan, Cassin published an article defending Israel’s right to “put an end to the incontestable [ceasefire] violations being perpetrated by its neighbor.” Israel, wrote Cassin, “is entitled to equal treatment” as any other belligerent would be.33 In 1969, Le Monde reported that Cassin, then the delegate of France to the UN Commission of Human Rights, came under attack from other representatives for having, during the debate on the territories occupied by Israel, “protested against the condemnation of violations committed exclusively in those territories, which are but one aspect of one conflict, whilst silence continues to reign in terms of all other comparatively more blatant violations being perpetrated in the four corners of the world.”34

To follow the founders’ example, those committed to the integrity of the United Nations and its human rights system ought to oppose blatant selectivity and politicization: the special agenda item targeting Israel; the one-sided resolutions against Israel that equal or surpass the combined total of country-specific resolutions against all other countries in the world; the council experts who subject Israel to irrational degrees of scrutiny and criticism; and the disproportionate amount of emergency special sessions that target Israel.

Agenda Item against Israel

When the council’s creation was debated in 2006, the UN’s Department of Public Information distributed a chart promising that, in its words, the “agenda item targeting Israel” (Item 8) of the old commission would be replaced at the new council by a “clean slate.”35 Although this course correction never came to fruition, it is important to note that a key UN document acknowledged the true nature of the agenda item: to target Israel.

Despite the promise of reform, the new council revived the infamous agenda item, now as Item 7, and with the following title: “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” with the sub-title of “Human rights violations and implications of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and other occupied Arab territories; Right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”36 No other country in the world is subjected to a stand-alone focus that is engraved on the body’s permanent agenda, ensuring its prominence, and the notoriety of its target, at every council meeting.

The council’s credibility and legitimacy remains compromised as long as one country is singled out while serial human rights abusers escape scrutiny. No one has ever explained how Item 7 is consistent with the council’s own declared principles of non-selectivity and impartiality.

Indeed, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized this act of selectivity a day after it was instituted. On 20 June 2007, according to the official UN news website, Mr. Ban “voiced disappointment at the Council decision to single out Israel as the only specific regional item on its agenda, given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world.”37

In addition, Western countries have on numerous occasions stated their opposition to Item 7. In statements delivered before and after its adoption, traditional supporters of human rights opposed the agenda item as biased.38 The UK said that “the practice of ‘singling out one’ risked undermining the Human Rights Council’s own principles.”39 France “regretted that the agenda was imbalanced by the singling out of Palestine, which was contrary to non-selectivity.”40 Australia and the Netherlands expressed similar objections, describing the agenda item as “unhelpful.”41 Canada said the Council breached its own principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity. Targeting any UN member state, said Canada, was “politicized, selective, partial, and subjective.”42 The US has also been a forceful opponent of Item 7.43

As the time of this writing, news reports indicate that the EU and other Western countries will no longer speak under Item 7 at upcoming sessions. Rather, they will voice any of their criticisms of Israel during the general debate on all country human rights situations, which is Item 4. If implemented, such a Western boycott of Item 7 would be unprecedented. If the only ones in the room during the day of Item 7 are the Arab states and fellow dictatorships who attack Israel, this could turn the biased exercise into a dead letter. This would be an important accomplishment.

Resolutions on Israel

(i) Amount of Resolutions 

In the first six years of its existence, from 2006 to 2012, the council adopted 76 condemnatory resolutions for the entire world, of which 47 target Israel. The resolutions on Israel have all been one-sided condemnations that grant impunity to Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists, and to their state sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The resolutions completely disregarded all Palestinian violations of human rights. Therefore, it can be said that some 60 percent of the HRC’s moral force has been deployed to demonize and delegitimize the only democracy in the Middle East.

(ii) Content of Resolutions

There are four resolutions that the HRC adopts every year against Israel:

  1. “Human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan”
  2. “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”
  3. “Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”
  4. “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan”44

In addition, there are often special resolutions introduced in connection with special sessions, fact-finding missions, and follow-up thereto. These resolutions are similarly one-sided, selective, and politicized.45

What makes the resolutions on Israel different from virtually every other country-specific resolution is that they are suffused with political hyperbole, selective reporting, and the systematic suppression of any countervailing facts that might provide balance in background information or context.

By contrast, even the council’s resolutions on a perpetrator of atrocities such as Sudan – whose president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court – regularly included language praising, commending, and urging international aid funds for its government.46

A 2008 resolution on Sudan, for example, even as it expressed concern at violations in Darfur, failed to condemn the Sudanese government, and instead falsely praised the regime for its “collaboration” and “engagement” with the international community, for “measures taken to address the human rights situation,” and for “cooperating fully with the Special Rapporteur.”47 It suggested the regime was engaged in the “progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights in the Sudan,” and failed to reflect the true gravity of the human rights and humanitarian situation. It called for support and assistance to the Sudanese government. A resolution adopted in 2010 was similar.48 None of this positive language, by contrast, appears in any of the resolutions on Israel.

Indeed, on one occasion, the council’s praise of the al-Bashir regime was so excessive that the EU actually voted in opposition to a resolution on Darfur.49

The practice of singling out Israel – not only with a disproportionate amount of resolutions, but with language that is uniquely condemnatory – constantly reinforces the impression that there is nothing whatsoever to be said in Israel’s favor. The effect, as the philosopher Bernard Harrison has carefully shown in his book The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, describing this same phenomenon in other influential sectors, is to stigmatize Israel as evil.50

Special Sessions

A feature of the council is that emergency sessions can be triggered by only 16 members. Proponents said this low bar would allow the council to respond often and in real time to grave violations. Instead, out of the 15 special sessions that have criticized countries, six were on Israel, with nine on the rest of the world combined. That amounts to 40 percent of the emergency sessions against Israel.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan likewise criticized this bias:

I believe the actions of some UN bodies may themselves be counterproductive. The Human Rights Council, for example, has already held three special sessions focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict. I hope the Council will take care to handle the issue in an impartial way, and not allow it to monopolize attention at the expense of other situations where there are no less grave violations, or even worse.51

Victims of human rights crises around the globe have been ignored. Worse, some special sessions have been used to legitimize violations. In 2009, Western states finally managed to convene a special session on Sri Lanka after it killed an estimated 40,000 civilians. Yet the council majority turned the draft resolution upside down and praised the Sri Lankan government for its “promotion and protection of all human rights.”52

Urgent Debate Mechanism Created to Target Israel

In the early morning hours of 31 May 2010, a flotilla of six vessels sought to run the naval blockade of Gaza, claiming to bring humanitarian aid. The activists on board were intercepted by the Israel Defense Forces. Violence on one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, resulted in nine killed, and many others wounded.

While the council is typically lethargic regarding human rights violations small and large, in this case it suddenly decided to interrupt its three-week regular session to urgently address the incident. To do so it created a new procedure:the “Urgent Debate.” This was despite the fact that Israel, being the object of a permanent agenda item, was slated in any case to come up shortly thereafter in the regularly scheduled debate.

The result of this first-ever urgent debate was a council resolution that “Condemns in the strongest terms the outrageous attack by the Israeli forces against the humanitarian flotilla of ships.” Having declared its verdict, the council then proceeded to create an “independent international fact finding mission” to investigate. Three months later, the mission presented a 56-page report, finding that Israel’s actions demonstrated “totally unnecessary and incredible violence.” The conduct of Israel’s military “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality.” It constituted “grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.”53

However, a separate, independent panel of the UN Secretary-General, led by law professor and former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, found the opposite: while the activists aboard the Turkish ship “were entitled to their political views” in protesting Israel’s Gaza policy, the flotilla had “acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade.” Noting that “Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza,” the Secretary-General’s panel held the naval blockade was “a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea” and its implementation “complied with the requirements of international law.”54

The urgent debate mechanism has since been used only twice for another country – against the Assad regime’s actions in Syria, in February 2012 and May 2013. However, when the council met for a regular session in September 2013, shortly after a massive Syrian chemical weapons attack against hundreds of civilians in Damascus, it failed to interrupt its regular schedule for any urgent debate for the victims.

Fact-Finding Missions Focus on Israel

The council has created six fact-finding missions or inquiries on Israel, to investigate: (1) Israel’s July 2006 military response to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit; (2) Israel’s actions during the Lebanon war in August 2006; (3) Israel’s November 2006 errant shells that responded to rockets from Beit Hanoun; (4) the Israel-Hamas war that began in late 2008, which led to the Goldstone Report; (5) the 2010 flotilla incident described above; and (6) a 2012 inquiry on settlements, which is what finally prompted Israel to boycott the HRC for 18 months. The Goldstone Report and the other inquiries have all proven to be travesties of justice with predetermined verdicts.

Regional Group

Until January 2014, Israel had been excluded from any of the Human Rights Council’s five regional groups. Under the UN’s geography-based system, Israel belonged in the Asian group, but Arab and Muslim countries barred the Jewish state from joining. In the end, the Western European and Other Group accepted Israel.55

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan deserves credit for having strongly opposed this bias. In 1999, he said:

The exclusion of Israel from the system of regional groupings [and] the intense focus given to some of Israel’s actions, while other situations sometimes fail to elicit the similar outrage […] have given a regrettable impression of bias and one-sidedness.56

Annan spoke out on multiple occasions for Israel’s inclusion in a regional group:

Israel [is] the only Member State that is not a member of one of the regional groups…This anomaly should be corrected. We must uphold the principle of equality among all United Nations Member States.57

Late UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio de Mello, prior to his death in 2003, had also advocated for the inclusion of Israel in the Western group, lobbying ambassadors in Geneva.58 It took many years, but finally the calls of Annan and de Mello to end this injustice were heeded.

Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories

The council’s lead expert on Israel has the title of “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” The position has been held from 2008 to 2014 by Richard Falk.

The title is deliberately misleading, designed to mask the one-sided nature of the HRC’s permanent investigative mandate on Israel.

The title is of a piece with the UN’s routine misrepresentation of this mandate. In April 2010, for example, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) sent out a press release stating that Mr. Falk was “mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor the situation of human rights and international humanitarian law on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

This statement is false and misleading. The actual, unchanged mandate since 1993, as spelled out in Article 4 of Commission on Human Rights resolution 1993/2, is as follows:

To investigate Israel’s violations of the principles and bases of international law, international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967. (Emphasis added.)

The mandate as the UN described it would be of universal application to all actors, be they Israeli or Palestinian. The mandate as it actually is, however, applies only to Israeli actions – and with its violations presumed in advance. There is a substantial difference between the two.

As Mr. Falk’s predecessor, John Dugard, noted in an August 2005 report, the mandate “does not extend to human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority.”59 Human rights abuses by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinian Authority enjoy impunity.

On 16 June 2008, Mr. Falk himself acknowledged the one-sided nature of the mandate, saying it was open to challenge regarding “the bias and one-sidedness of the approach taken.” He added: “With all due respect, I believe that such complaints have considerable merit.”60 However, the council made no changes.

Human rights groups have also criticized the one-sided nature of the mandate. On 11 July 2008, Amnesty International said that the mandate’s “limitation to Israeli violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories undercuts both the effectiveness and the credibility of the mandate.”61 Amnesty noted that the mandate “fails to take account of the human rights of victims of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by parties other than the State of Israel.”62

Amnesty also called for the mandate to be subjected to the review, rationalization, and improvement process that was applied to all other mandates in the transition from the commission to the council.63 During this period, the outgoing president of the council, Ambassador Doru Costea of Romania, also called for the mandate to be subject to the RRI process.64 However, this never took place, and the mandate on Israel was the only one not to be reviewed.

Officials of the Human Rights Council

The selectivity described above is initiated by UN member states, namely, those belonging to the Arab, Islamic, and Non-Aligned blocs. In addition, however, several independent officials at the council have demonstrated a similar prejudice.

One extreme case is that of Richard Falk, the special rapporteur whose mandate is described above. Under the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council, Falk is obliged to uphold the highest standards of competence, integrity, probity, impartiality, equity, honesty, and good faith.65

However, in the course of his 2006-2014 tenure, Falk has advocated for the Hamas terrorist organization – so much so, that, as revealed by Wikileaks, even the Palestinian Authority sought to remove him.66 In addition, Falk was condemned on multiple occasions by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Britain, Canada, and the US for various inflammatory actions and statements, including: blaming the Boston Marathon bombings on the US and Israel, supporting 9/11 conspiracy theories, endorsing an anti-Semitic book, and calling for a non-governmental organization – UN Watch – to be investigated and effectively shut down.67

Another council expert who has targeted Israel in a selective and politicized fashion is Jean Ziegler, who in late 2013 was reelected to the council’s 18-member Advisory Committee. The UN criteria for the position is expertise in human rights, high moral standing, independence, and impartiality. An analysis of Mr. Ziegler’s record, however, raises serious questions as to his satisfaction of these requirements.

As the council’s first expert on the right to food, from 2000 to 2007, Ziegler demonstrated a pattern of practice of disproportionately criticizing Israel. Less than a year into his term, Ziegler delivered a report accusing Israel of policies that “created hunger and threaten starvation of the most destitute.”68 In 2003, Ziegler informed journalists that Israel was responsible for inflicting “some form of brain damage” upon Palestinian children.69 He openly defended Hezbollah.70 Yet Ziegler is slated to serve on the council until the end of 2016.

Finally, there is the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay. Her office is mandated to support the work of the council, and she plays a major role therein.

According to a study by UN Watch of all her statements published on the UN website between September 2008 and June 2010, a questionable sense of priorities emerges.71 Ms. Pillay was found to have made nine statements on Israel,72 the only democracy in the region, but none on the human rights situations of 146 countries, including nothing on such gross violators as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.73

One such Pillay statement was delivered mere hours after the June 2010 flotilla incident described above, and before any authoritative information was available. Ms. Pillay rushed to condemn Israel for “what appears to be disproportionate use of force, resulting in the killing and wounding of so many people attempting to bring much-needed aid to the people of Gaza.”74 She said Israel’s blockade was “inhumane and illegal.”75 (As noted above, the Secretary-General’s Palmer report later found otherwise.) Finally, she declared that “the Israeli Government treats international law with perpetual disdain.”76

Disturbingly, the High Commissioner has also supported the biased agenda item against Israel. During her 2010 visit to Kuwait, she justified the council’s unequaltreatment of Israel, stating that, “While the occupation continues, it (item 7 on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories) will remain on the agenda.”77

On March 11, 2010, when an Italian parliamentary committee asked about the council’s one-sided approach, she defended it, saying, “the occupation must end in order to remove Israel from the agenda,” and she implicitly compared that situation to apartheid South Africa.78


The highest human rights body of the United Nations, along with several of its specialized agencies that are supposed to advance humanitarian and social causes, are being wilfully and systematically misused by an organized campaign to assault Israel. Noble principles and purposes, such as human rights, equality, and peace, are being subverted by selectivity, politicization, and prejudice. The United Nations will never live up to its founding promise so long as this pathology endures.

At the same time, the recent admission of Israel into a HRC regional group in Geneva, putting an end to years of one form of exclusion and prejudice, is a reminder that institutional discrimination within UN bodies need not be met with fatalism or passivity. On the contrary, if the concept of universal standards are to have any meaning at all, it will be essential, whatever the array of forces, to keep alive the flickering flame of justice, right, and truth.

* * *


1. UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 (15 March 2006).

2. Article 2(1) of the UN Charter proclaims, that the organization is based “on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.” This Article defines the position of member states with regard to and within the organization. It enjoins UN organs to “treat states equally,” and to “maintain equality among their member states.” Bruno Sima, The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary (1994) 78, 88.

3. Irwin Cotler, Address to 2007 Herzliya Conference, available at

4. See full video at; see also London’s Daily Mail, “Oops! Hot mic catches UN interpreter criticizing Israel foes,” at­mic-catches-UN-interpreter-criticizing-Israel-foes.html.

5. As recounted by Morris B. Abram, then U.S. representative on the commission, in M. Abram, “The U.N. and Human Rights,” Foreign Affairs, January 1969, available at

6. Constitution of the World Health Organization­en.pdf.

7. Executive Board 124th Session: Resolutions and Decisions, Annexes. Geneva: WHO, January 2009. Available at:

8. Sixty-Second World Health Assembly: Resolutions and Decisions, Annexes. Geneva: WHO, May 2009. Available at:

9. Sixty-Third World Health Assembly: Resolutions and Decisions, Annexes. Geneva: WHO, May 2010. Available at:

10. Decisions Adopted by the Executive Board at its 185th Session. Paris: UNESCO, November 2010. Available at:

11. See the lists of resolutions adopted at the 124th session of WHO’s Executive Board and at the 62nd, 63rd, and 64th sessions of the World Health Assembly cited above.

12. See ILO Constitution at

13. The 2013 report is available at—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_213298.pdf.

14. Ibid., par. 1 at 1.

15. ILO press release, “Palestinian economy will not grow if restrictions on it remain, ILO says,” June 6,2013, available at–en/index.htm. 16 ILO 2013 Report, supra note 11, section entitled “Tensions in the occupied Syrian Golan,” at 39-40.

17. A Druze resident of the Golan was quoted by Al-Monitor: “More and more people are internalizing the fact that here is an enlightened country where you can live and bring up children. That is preferable over becoming refugees in another country. There is mass murder in Syria and if they lived under Syrian sovereignty, they could become victims of these atrocities. People see children who are murdered and penniless refugees escaping to Jordan and Turkey, and ask themselves: Where do I want to bring up my children? The answer is clear — in Israel and not Syria.” See “Golan Heights’ Druze Seek Israeli Citizenship,” Al-Monitor, October 7, 2012, at­druze-on-the-golan-heights-w.html##ixzz2oz9tHNfn.

18. Decisions Adopted by the Executive Board at its 181st Session. Paris: UNESCO, May 2009. Available at:

19. Decisions Adopted by the Executive Board at its 182nd Session. Paris: UNESCO, November 2009. Available at:

20. Records of the General Conference, 35th Session: Volume 1, Resolutions. Paris: UNESCO, 2009. Available at:

21. Decisions Adopted by the Executive Board at its 184th Session. Paris: UNESCO, May 2010. Available at:

22. Decisions Adopted by the Executive Board at its 185th Session. Paris: UNESCO, November 2010. Available at:

23. Decisions Adopted by the Executive Board at its 186h Session. Paris: UNESCO, June 2011. Available at:

24. Decisions Adopted by the Executive Board at its 187th Session. Paris: UNESCO, November 2011. Available at:

25. Records of the General Conference, 36th Session: Volume 1, Resolutions. Paris: UNESCO, 2012. Available at:

26. See the lists of decisions adopted at the 181st, 182nd, 184th, 185th, 186th, and 187th sessions of UNESCO’s Executive Board and the lists of resolutions adopted at the 35th and 36th sessions of UNESCO’s General Conference cited above.

27. UN Watch, “Appeal for UNESCO to Cancel Its Election of Syria to Human Rights Committees,” Dec.15, 2011

28. See; see also the 2007 report by UN Watch, “Dawn of a New Era? Assessment of the United Nations Human Rights Council and its Year of Reform,” available at

29. For HRC resolutions and documentation on its sessions, see generally

30. “Mrs. Roosevelt Criticizes UN Censure on Israeli Attack,” Reading Eagle, April 16, 1962, at 17,available at &sjid=eZwFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4876,178928.

31. Rene Cassin, “Qu’est ce que c’est l’agression?,” Le Monde, 3 June 1967, at 3; and R. Cassin, “Pour eviter un nouveau Munich,” Ici-Paris Hebdo, June 6-12, 1967, at 2. See also Marc Agi, René Cassin: Fantassin Des Droits De L’homme (Paris: Plon, 1979) at 264; Gérard Israël, René Cassin, 1887-1976: La Guerre Hors La Loi, Avec De Gaulle, Les Droits De L’homme (Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1990) at 238; and Jay Winter & Antoine Prost, René Cassin and Human Rights From the Great War to the Universal Declaration(Cambridge Univ. Press 2013) at 403.

32. Marceau Long, Lettres De René Cassin a Sa Sœur Felice (Paris: Honore Champion, 2001) at 261. Cassin wrote his sister: “Overall, our delegation played an honorable role in Tehran. It was the most we could do in such circumstances, and Israel was pleased with what we did.”

33. R. Cassin, “Pas de Paix Sans Retour Aux Principes de la Justice et du Droit, ” Nice-Matin, August 8, 1968, cited in Marceau Long, Lettres De René Cassin, supra at 263.

34. Le Monde, 5 March 1969, cited in Marc Agi, René Cassin: Fantassin Des Droits De L’homme, at 276.

35. UNDPI,“CHR vs. HRC: Key Differences.” The chart had been posted on a UN website, but has since been removed. However, copies are available at­4CAE-8056-8BF0BEDF4D17%7D/HRC_PROMISES.PDF?tr=y&auid=2735018.

36. See agenda listed in Section V(b) of Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1 (2007), and as annotated by V(c), available at

37. See

38. See country statements summarized by the UN on 16 November 2007

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid.

42. See the famous statement of Canada to the HRC on 19 June 2007, after it was so wrongly denied its right to call a vote on the HRC’s institution-building package, which contained the anti-Israel agenda item, available at

43. The US record on this matter has been strong but imperfect, affected by the Obama Administration’s intense effort to embrace, support and legitimize the council. When the council voted, on March 25, 2011, to renew a general package that included the anti-Israel agenda item, the US made a statement dissociating itself from the decision—yet declined to force a vote, which might have upset other delegates’ desire to adopt all such institutional decisions by consensus. See US statement at­council/. The result was that the UNHRC’s official record indicated the complete convergence of the international community on the singling-out of Israel. See UN record at The significance attributed by countries to resolutions adopted without a vote was recently demonstrated. When the HRC on March 22, 2012 adopted a resolution on North Korea, council members China, Russia and Cuba made statements dissociating themselves from consensus—yet declined to call a vote. The US Mission characterized the overall result as a “consensus resolution” of “all 47 Human Rights Council members,” which showed “complete convergence of [the] international community on this case.” The identical conclusion could therefore be drawn from the identical US response in the matter of the HRC package. That said, it should be noted that when the package then moved to the General Assembly in New York, Israel called a vote, and the US joined both in voting against, and in delivering a strong statement.

44. For extracts and analysis of the resolutions on Israel, see bdKKISNqEmG/b.3820041/.

45. Ibid.

46. Two related resolutions adopted on 14 December 2007 are illustrative. In A/HRC/RES/6/34, the council renewed the mandate of an expert on Sudan, yet it failed to condemn the government’s massive human rights violations. Instead, the text praised Sudan for “cooperating fully” with the UN and urged countries to give money to the Sudanese government. The preamble demanded that the UN expert abide by the HRC’s code of conduct, implicitly criticizing the monitor’s work and weakening his standing. Similarly, in A/HRC/RES/6/35, the council expressed general concern at impunity in Darfur,but quietly abolished its group of experts mandated to monitor that region. The text failed to directly condemn the Sudanese government for violations, and instead praised Sudan for “cooperation,” “open and constructive dialogue,” and for its alleged efforts to implement recommendations. By contrast, no council resolution on Israel has ever praised its government for cooperation, or anything else, even when UN officials in their reports occasionally do. See resolutions on Israel at

47. A/HRC/RES/7/16: “Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan” (27 March 2008).

48. In A/HRC/RES/15/27, “The situation of human rights in the Sudan” (1 October 2010), the council renewed the mandate of an expert for one year, yet failed to mention the grave human rights situation in the country or hold the government accountable for its violations. Instead it repeatedly praised the Sudanese government: “Recognizing… the efforts of the Government of the Sudan in the promotion and protection of human rights….”; “Commends the cooperation extended by the Government of the Sudan to the independent expert and to the [UN] and [AU] missions…”; and “Congratulates the Government and the people of the Sudan for organizing and for widely participating in the April 2010 elections.”

49. HRC Decision 2/115 entitled “Darfur” (28 November 2006) noted with concern the human rights situation in Darfur, but failed to name the Sudanese government as a perpetrator. Instead, it extolled Khartoum’s positive measures and “cooperation,” and called upon the international community to provide “urgent and adequate financial assistance to the Government of Sudan.” In protest to the resolution’s gross imbalances, the EU and other democracies took the exceptional move of voting No, even though they strongly supported passing a resolution on Darfur and several aspects of that particular text. Yet the same logic is not applied by EU states when they vote each year to support approximately 15 imbalanced UNGA resolutions on Israel sponsored by the Arab and Islamic states.

50. B. Harrison, The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006) at 67-70.

51. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, addressing the Security Council, 12 December 2006, http://www.

52. Resolution A/HRC/S-11/1, entitled “Assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and protection of human rights” (27 May 2009) was adopted by a vote of 29 to 12 (EU and other Western countries voting No), with 6 abstaining. The text “Welcomes the continued commitment of Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of all human rights.”

53. See A/HRC/15/21, “Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance,” dated 27 September 2010, at

54. The Palmer report also found that while the majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, “there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH. The actions of the flotilla needlessly carried the potential for escalation.” The panel found that “Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection.” Specifically, it noted that three soldiers were “captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded.” Finally, Turkey failed in its duty to prevent the incident. “Where a State becomes aware that its citizens or flag vessels intend to breach a naval blockade, it has a responsibility to take proactive steps compatible with democratic rights and freedoms to warn them of the risks involved and to endeavour to dissuade them from doing so.” See the full report at

55. See UN Watch Briefing, Dec. 10, 2013, “Historic Victory: Israel Admitted to UN Regional Group After Decades of Exclusion,” at

56. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Remarks at Dinner Honoring Morris Abram, 15 December 1999, available at

57. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, address on “Israel and the United Nations” to the Israel Foreign Relations Council and the United Nations Association of Israel, 25 March 1998, available at

58. See Jeane J. Kirkatrick remarks in “What Future for the UN? A Prelude to the 58th UN General Assembly,” Council on Foreign Relations, available at­and-alliances/future-un-prelude-58th-un-general-assembly/p6251; and see UN Watch internal memo on De Mello, quoted at

59. In his August 2005 report, Dugard for the first time broke the mandate’s instructions, explaining that he felt compelled to address Palestinian violations as well. Not those against Israel, however, but rather in regard to the Palestinian use of the death penalty against their own. It would be “irresponsible for a human rights special rapporteur to allow the execution of Palestinian prisoners to go unnoticed. . . The Special Rapporteur expresses the hope that these executions were aberrations and that the Palestinian Authority will in future refrain from this form of punishment.” See report of 18 August 2005, at Section VIII: 60 See UN summary at

61. See:­af4976c1087c/mde150282008eng.html.

62. Ibid. 63 Ibid.

64. See Daniel Kuhn, “Outgoing HRC head: Review Palestinian mandate,” June 7, 2008, at

65. Human Rights Council Res. 5/2 ( June 18, 2007)

66. See H. Neuer, “PLO deletes tweet defending Falk; it urged UN to fire him, Wikileaks reveals,” Dec. 19,2013, at­it-did-the-same-in-2010-secret-cable-reveals/.

67. See, generally, UN Watch blog posts on Richard Falk at; Sohrab Ahmari, “What the Falk?”, Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2013 at 10001424127887324874204578441033895673750; and Yair Rosenberg, “American Studies Association Members Defend Israel Boycott by Citing Anti-Semitic 9/11 Truther; It’s like they’re not even trying,” Tablet, December 26, 2013, at­members-defend-israel-boycott-by-citing-anti-semitic-911-truther.

68. Jean Ziegler, “The Right to Food: Preliminary Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Right to Food,” UN Commission on Human Rights, 56th sess., July 23, 2001,

69. UN News Centre, “Israeli policies hurting Palestinian children, UN expert on right to food says Jean Ziegler,” November 12, 2003

70. Jean Ziegler, interview with Al-Akhbar, September 18, 2006

71. See UN Watch, “Study: UN rights chief Navi Pillay turned blind eye to world’s worst abusers,” June 7, 2011­eye-to-worlds-worst-abusers/.

72. See analysis at H. Neuer, “U.N. human rights chief must be held accountable,” JTA, March 9, 2011

73. During this two-year period, Ms. Pillay failed to voice any concern for victims in 34 countries rated “Not Free” by Freedom House—meaning those having the worst records, and the most needy victims.She failed to criticize another 50 countries rated “partly free” and 63 countries rated “free.” Among the countries not criticized: Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Brunei, Cambodia, Cameroon, Congo (Brazzaville), Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mauritania, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Swaziland,Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. See UN Watch study­blind-eye-to-worlds-worst-abusers/.

74. UN press release, “UN human rights chief condemns violent interception of Gaza aid flotilla,” 31 May 2010

75. Ibid.

76. Ibid.

77. “Huge progress made in Gulf on human rights issue – UN official,” Kuwait News Agency, April 21,2010

78. Proceedings of the Italian Parliament Standing Committee on Human Rights, March 11, 2010