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February 22, 2023 6:50 pm

Rights Groups Send Open Letter Demanding Re-Nomination of Axed Israel ‘Apartheid’ Activist


avatar by Andrew Bernard

Professor James Cavallaro at an IACHR meeting, 24 March 2014 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Dozens of human rights organizations and hundreds of individual activists on Wednesday sent an open letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanding that he reinstate the nomination of a human rights candidate who called President Biden a “senile gaffe machine.”

The Biden administration on Feb. 14th withdrew the nomination of Professor James Cavallaro to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) after The Algemeiner uncovered his history of incendiary social media posts. 

The letter, published on in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, and Arabic, repeats Cavallaro’s claim that “the basis for the withdrawal of his nomination was his posts on Twitter about Israel and Palestine.”

“Withdrawing the candidacy of a distinguished human rights advocate for their criticism of human rights abuses in Israel/Palestine or any other context sets a dangerous precedent that impacts human rights advocacy across the globe,” the letter says.

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Signatories to the letter include Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), CODEPINK, and Noam Chomsky.

The State Department on Feb. 15th denied that Cavallaro’s nomination was withdrawn solely because of his views about Israel, which Cavallaro and the letter characterize as an “apartheid” state.

“His social media commentary covered many issues, not just Israel,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price told The Algemeiner at a press conference last week. “I know that’s been the focus of much of the commentary, but it went well beyond that. Some of his commentary, as I alluded to yesterday, was deeply inappropriate. Once that information came to light, we lost confidence in this individual and his ability to serve as a successful nominee.”

Cavallaro made extensive disparaging remarks about then-candidate Joe Biden during the 2020 Democratic primary, referring to Biden as a “nasty MFer”, a “senile gaffe machine”, and said that Biden “has always sought the middle ground between ruthless, unmitigated corporate greed, sexism, white privilege …and…wait for it…mediocrity.”

In addition to characterizing Israel as an apartheid state, Cavallaro had in one Dec. 2022 tweet, now deleted, invoked language and imagery often associated with antisemitic claims of pro-Israeli political and financial control over US domestic politics.

“Bought. Purchased. Controlled,” Cavallaro wrote alongside a link to an article about the funds raised for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) by AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups.

In an interview with Middle East Eye on Tuesday, Cavallaro defended that characterization.

“Do I believe that there are people like Hakeem Jeffries who receive contributions from political action committees who have agendas, and then afterwards, once they’re elected, they act entirely consistent with those agendas in ways that are highly problematic? Yes,” he said.

The interview was touted by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy. “#Palestine thanks [email protected],” they wrote.

Cavallaro has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Algemeiner.

Cavallaro teaches courses on human rights law and practice at Wesleyan University, Yale Law School and UCLA Law School, and he has previously taught at the law schools of Harvard and Stanford. The University Network for Human Rights, where Cavallaro serves as executive director, supervises “interdisciplinary engagement in human rights practice at universities across the country and beyond,” according to its website.

The IACHR, which Cavallaro had been nominated to, is an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), a regional body headquartered in Washington, DC, that promotes security, democracy, and economic development in the Americas. Commissioners serve in a personal capacity and do not receive a salary either from the US or OAS.

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