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July 29, 2014 11:11 am

The Human Rights Council’s Alternate Reality Show

avatar by Lawrence Grossman


UN headquarters in New York. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, works “for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.” That’s what its website says. The current conflict between Hamas and Israel certainly raises significant human rights issues that should naturally fall within the council’s purview.

Hamas violations of human rights are blatant. Its operatives kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers. Then Hamas – and other smaller Islamist groups – launched an unrelenting, indiscriminate barrage of rockets and missiles from Gaza on Israeli civilians. It did so from launchers placed in residential areas – in houses, mosques, schools, and hospitals – putting its own civilians in harm’s way. Hamas was using them as human shields, so that when Israel defended its people with air and sea attacks on the sources of fire from Gaza, hundreds lost their lives.

Although Israel sought to avoid the deaths of innocents by firing warning shots and even making phone calls and sending text messages urging people to flee, Hamas advised them not to listen, preferring to exploit reports and images of their deaths in the media to blacken Israel’s image. Kidnapping, murder, missile attacks, using civilians as human shields – quite a substantial agenda for a meeting of the Human Rights Council called to investigate and denounce Hamas crimes.

But such a meeting never happened. Instead, as if inhabiting an alternate reality, the council met on July 23 to quite literally blame the victim. It passed a resolution that condemned “in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic, and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations” – that is, Israel’s efforts to defend itself. The resolution referred to Gaza as “Occupied Palestinian Territory” even though Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005, and it expressed “deep concern at the condition of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails and detention centers” but not the slightest concern for Israelis who have less than a minute to run to shelters to avoid the Hamas missiles.

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It authorized “an independent, international commission of inquiry” to investigate; one can easily imagine just how independent it will be. The oddest thing about the council resolution is the word it leaves out completely – Hamas, the actual perpetrator of human rights violations. It condemns “all violence against civilians wherever it occurs, including the killing of two Israeli civilians,” but lest the killers be offended, it does not mention who they are, but simply says they died “as a result of rocket fire” – some sort of spontaneous combustion, perhaps?

Twenty-nine nations bought into this alternate reality and voted in favor of the resolution. Many were Muslim and Arab states and their usual allies, which vote against Israel automatically, almost as a conditioned reflex. To its great credit, the United States was the only member to oppose the farce. Strange to say, all 11 European members abstained, even though the European Union, to which eight of those countries belong, had just the day before issued a statement that forthrightly told the truth, saying it “strongly condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip, directly harming civilians” as well as “calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields.”

Clearly, for some people the accurate perception of reality becomes blurred in the precincts of the Human Rights Council. That body is, after all, deeply biased against Israel from the start, devoting an entire agenda item each year to Israel’s alleged human rights violations and a second to the entire rest of the world.

But that bias builds upon an even more basic flaw, the fact that such serial violators of human rights as Algeria, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, all council members in good standing, sit in judgment of democratic Israel, which cannot, due to the politicized way member-states are selected, aspire to join.

An international council officially devoted to human rights has twisted the term to justify the violator and condemn the victim. “When I use a word,” says Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, “it means just what I choose it to mean.”

Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.

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