Issue 138: The Struggle against Anti-Israel Bias at the UN Commission on Human Rights

The following article by UN Watch Executive Director Hillel C. Neuer was recently published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is based on the author’s Herbert Berman Memorial Series lecture at the Center on June 16, 2005.


An alien observing the United Nations’ debates, reading its resolutions, and walking its halls would conclude that a principal purpose of the world body is to censure a tiny country called Israel.1

Beginning around 1967, the full weight of the UN was gradually but deliberately turned against the country it had conceived by General Assembly resolution a mere two decades earlier. The campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel at every opportunity and in every forum was initiated by the Arab states together with the former Soviet Union, and supported by what has become known as an “automatic majority” of Third World UN member states. The result today is that the UN’s political organs, specialized agencies, and bureaucratic divisions have been subverted in the name of a relentless propaganda war against the Jewish state.

Paradoxically, one of the greatest violators of the UN Charter’s equality guarantee has been the UN body charged with establishing and enforcing international human rights, the Commission on Human Rights. This case study examines how this UN Commission systematically singles out Israel for discriminatory treatment, as an instance of the UN’s denial to Israel of equality before the law. It also discusses the efforts of UN Watch, a human rights monitoring organization in Geneva, Switzerland, to combat this bias and restore the UN to its original purposes.

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 equal rights of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Instead, the world body’s obsession with censuring Israel at every turn directly affects all citizens of the world, for it constitutes (1) a severe violation of the equality principles guaranteed by the UN Charter and underlying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and (2) a significant obstacle to the UN’s ability to carry out its proper mandate.

None of this means Israel should be above the law. Every country, including every democracy, commits human rights violations, and states should be held to account accordingly, both domestically and internationally. Yet Israel does have the right to be treated equally under the law.2 It is legitimate for the UN to criticize Israel, but not when UN bodies do so 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 their right to self-determination. But it is something else to elevate this claimant people far above any other of the thousands of aggrieved minority peoples around the world, for the sole reason that the Palestinians happen to have the Jewish people as their purported aggressor. The UN’s advocacy for the Palestinians is more often than not a way of targeting Israel. For example, the organization is completely silent on the violations of Palestinian rights in Lebanon, where thousands are denied the most basic freedoms including the right to work.3 The facts demonstrate that where Israel cannot somehow be blamed, the UN shows no concern whatsoever for Palestinians.

The countless anti-Israel resolutions and related debates consume an astonishing proportion of the UN community’s precious resources. In 2004-2005, during the 59th Session of the General Assembly, the time spent by ambassadors on enacting the nineteenth anti-Israel resolution of the year was time not spent on passing a single resolution on Sudan’s genocide in Darfur. Diplomats at foreign ministries or UN missions have a limited amount of time to devote to any particular UN session. Because every proposed UN resolution is subjected to 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 tackle the world’s ills.

UN bias against Israel is overt in bodies such as the General Assembly, which each year passes some nineteen resolutions against Israel and none against most other member states, including the world’s most repressive regimes. The World Health Organization, meeting at its annual assembly in Geneva in 2005, passed but one resolution against a specific country: Israel was charged with violating Palestinian rights to health.4 Similarly, the International Labour Organization, at its annual 2005 conference in Geneva, carried only one major country-specific report on its annual agenda5 — a lengthy document charging Israel with violating the rights of Palestinian workers.

In the summer of 2004, the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague issued an advisory opinion that followed the script of a political campaign orchestrated by the PLO representative at the UN, Nasser al-Kidwa. The busiest corridor of the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the UN in Geneva, displays no less than ten larger-than-life panels devoted to the Palestinian cause, with the clear message that the Palestinians are the world’s greatest human rights victim, and the clear implication that Israel is the world’s greatest human rights abuser.

There are three special UN entities dedicated to the Palestinian cause. The oldest is the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, created in 1968. In 1975, the General Assembly added the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Supporting its work is the Division for Palestinian Rights. Lodged within the UN Secretariat, the Division boasts a sixteen-member staff and a budget of millions, which it devotes to the constant promotion of anti-Israel propaganda throughout the world.

Although Secretary-General Kofi Annan has made important pronouncements against anti-Semitism, and even — before a Jerusalem audience — against some aspects of the UN’s anti-Israel bias, his regular statements on the Arab-Israeli conflict are disproportionately critical of Israel. Close associates, such as senior aide Lakhdar Brahimi, publicly describe Israel as a country whose policy constitutes “the great poison in the region.”

The anti-Israel apparatus within the UN, therefore, is of considerable magnitude. Here the focus will be on a small part of this large canvas, the UN Commission on Human Rights. The story of the Commission’s anti-Israel bias reflects the situation in the UN as a whole.

The Commission on Human Rights as a Case Study

The Commission on Human Rights, comprised of a rotating membership of fifty-three member states, typically singles out Israel for discriminatory treatment in at least seven different ways:

1. The Commission’s agenda devotes a special item to censuring Israel.

2. The Commission’s debates disproportionately focus on condemning Israel.

3. The Commission’s resolutions against Israel equal the combined total of country-specific resolutions adopted against all other countries in the world.

4. The Commission’s independent experts subject Israel to irrational scrutiny and criticism.

5. The Commission bars Israel from participation in the regional group system, and thereby from membership in the Commission itself.

6. The Commission’s emergency special sessions and special sittings are disproportionately dedicated to condemning Israel.

7. The Commission’s NGO panel events single out Israel for special condemnation.

1. The Commission Devotes an Exclusive Agenda Item to Censuring Israel

The six-week session of the Commission proceeds according to an agenda approved annually by its fifty-three member states. There are twenty-one items on the agenda, treating matters such as self-determination, racism, civil and political rights, women’s rights, and children’s rights. Only two items expressly treat violations of human rights. Agenda Item 9 addresses human rights violations “in any part of the world,” meaning violations occurring in all 191 UN member states. Agenda Item 8, meanwhile, is designed to treat human rights violations in one state alone — Israel — and is entitled, “Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.”

The establishment each year of a special agenda item to scrutinize Israel constitutes a blatant violation of Israel’s right to be treated equally compared to every other state, as guaranteed under the UN Charter and reaffirmed at the recent 2005 World Summit.6

A few states, particularly the United States and Australia, have objected to the institutionalized, ab initio discrimination of Agenda Item 8, where Israel is denied equal treatment under the law before the proceedings even begin. During the past session in 2005, for example, Ambassador Rudy Boschwitz, head of the U.S. delegation, stated before the plenary:

We have further noted in the past and do so again today the inappropriateness and the genuine unfairness of the presence on the Agenda of this Commission an item — Item No. 8 — that deals solely with a single UN member, Israel, while another agenda item – Item No. 9 – suffices for the misdeeds of all the other 190 members of the UN.7 Australia’s ambassador Mike Smith stated:

Australia opposes the maintenance of Agenda Item 8. Australia is concerned that this stand-alone agenda item allows for unbalanced criticism of Israel. The singling out of one country for criticism under a unique agenda item is anomalous when there is an existing, separate agenda item for the consideration of human rights issues in all other countries.8

Most UN member states, however, including the European and other democracies, have failed to speak out against this form of prejudice by the Commission. (See below for a discussion of UN Watch’s innovative 2004 address under Item 8.)

2. Commission Debates Focus on Condemning Israel

Apart from the special agenda item exclusively devoted to condemning Israel, many of the debates under the Commission’s other agenda items — racism, civil and political rights, women’s rights — are replete with disproportionate censure of Israel, to the exclusion of urgent human rights abuses around the world.

This is particularly so during the first week of debates, which sets the tone for the entire annual session. For example, in the recent 2005 session, under the debate on self-determination (Agenda Item No. 5), the Palestinian claim — one that Israel has already recognized — was invoked by some fifteen out of eighteen statements. In contrast, the claims of the Tibetans, the Kurds, or the Basques, not to mention the hundreds of other peoples currently seeking self-determination, were entirely ignored. The organized assault on Israel in one speech after another succeeds in creating its intended effect on delegates gathered from around the world: imprinting the image of Israel as international pariah.

3. Half of the Commission’s Country-Specific Resolutions are against Israel

When it comes to condemning specific countries for alleged human rights violations, the Commission typically passes half of all such resolutions against one state — Israel. In 2005, for example, the Commission adopted four resolutions against Israel, equaling the combined total of resolutions against all other states in the world. Belarus, Cuba, Myanmar, and North Korea were the subject of one resolution each.9 One resolution condemned Israel for settlements, a second for its presence on the Golan Heights, a third for alleged violations in the territories, and a fourth demanded Palestinian self-determination, understood by all as a vote directed against Israel.

Additionally, the Commission adopted a Chairman’s Decision to postpone, for the second consecutive year, consideration of a fifth anti-Israel resolution concerning alleged Lebanese detainees in Israel. This assures it a place on next year’s agenda.10 The Lebanese, who at the time of the session were still controlled by Damascus, were told by Germany that most member states saw the resolution as frivolous since Israel had already released all the detainees.

An EU resolution on Sudan, submitted under the agenda item of “Human Rights Violations in Any Part of the World,” was withdrawn for lack of support. Instead, it was adopted by the Commission in a diluted form under Agenda Item 19, “Technical Cooperation.”

The language of Commission resolutions against Israel sometimes rises to the level of incitement. Most notoriously, an annual text used to reference General Assembly Resolution 37/43 of 1982, which affirms “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for… liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle” (emphasis added).11 The final words were understood by all to condone Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians.12 Although this particular reference was omitted in 2005, the language of the resolutions against Israel remained exceptionally harsh and inflammatory.

4. The Commission’s Special Rapporteurs Single Out Israel for Special Condemnation

One of the notable mechanisms of the Commission is the special rapporteurs, a set of individuals appointed by the Commission to examine human rights issues in a particular country, such as Cambodia, or on a particular issue, such as violence against women. Although they are creations of and fully subject to the Commission, the appointees are otherwise independent, and commonly referred to as independent experts. Some indeed come with considerable human rights expertise; others are mere political appointments.

A considerable number of the experts have successfully exposed abuses around the world, achieving far more than the annual plenary session of the Commission, where repressive regimes, which dominate the membership, block most attempts at meaningful action. When it comes to Israel, however, too many of the experts have failed to act objectively, instead participating in the selective prosecution and a priori conviction of Israel. One of the most egregious perpetrators is John Dugard, special rapporteur on Palestine, whose most recent report, released in September 2005, dismisses Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza as an artifice and fails to say a single word about Palestinian terrorism.

By now, though, such behavior is expected from the Commission’s expert on Palestine, whose mandate is expressly tailored to examine Israeli violations only. Many of the Commission’s other experts, however — those with mandates bearing no particular connection to Israel or the Palestinian territories — disproportionately single out Israel for censure.

On 4 August 2005, Israel was less than two weeks away from its scheduled disengagement from the Gaza Strip, a plan to withdraw soldiers and destroy the homes of ten thousand Israeli citizens. The move was seen by the world as both a consequential concession and an internally wrenching decision. However, on that day, eight independent experts saw fit to collectively issue a harsh denunciation of Israel.

The experts, it seems, were concerned that insufficient attention was being paid to the ICJ advisory opinion of 2004, and that Israel was continuing to construct its security barrier in the West Bank. Specifically, they objected to “negotiations conducted in terms of the Road Map” that, the experts alleged, paid short shrift to the court’s opinion — and criticized the UN itself for sponsoring the talks. This bizarre charge is elaborated in detail in Dugard’s September report, and it is fair to presume that he played a key role in drafting the joint statement.

The recklessness of the timing aside, that Dugard would issue such a statement was not altogether surprising. Less clear, though, was why the seven others, each of whom is authorized by the Commission to treat a defined mandate, went along. These were:

  • The special rapporteur on housing, Mr. Miloon Kothari
  • The special rapporteur on violence against women, Ms. Yakin Erturk
  • The special rapporteur on the right to education, Mr. Vernor Munoz Villalobos
  • The special rapporteur on “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” Mr. Paul Hunt
  • The special rapporteur on racism, Mr. Doudou Diène
  • The chairperson of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, Ms. Leila Zerrougui
  • The special rapporteur on trafficking in women and children, Ms. Sigma Huda
Whatever her political views on the issues, there is no possible nexus between Ms. Huda’s mandate on trafficking of women and Israel’s construction of the West Bank security barrier.13 Whereas several of these rapporteurs have published criticisms of Israel, none has ever issued a single statement or report against Palestinian terrorism. Similarly, in June 2004, the annual assembly of independent experts, attended by some twenty-five rapporteurs, issued a joint statement that attacked only one country, Israel. There was not a word about the crimes against humanity in Darfur or anywhere else.

Apart from the joint statements, many of the annual reports to the Commission by thematic experts unfairly censure Israel. The 2005 report of Yakin Erturk, expert on violence against women, effectively argued that when Palestinian men beat their wives, it is Israel’s fault. (For an even more egregious case, see below on Jean Ziegler, the expert on food.)

5. The Commission Bars Israel from a Regional Group and from Membership on the Commission

Israel’s is the only UN permanent mission in Geneva denied membership in any of the world body’s five regional groups, a vital element for meaningful participation in UN bodies. Consequently, when the Commission’s fifty-three states, along with the one hundred or so other states that participate as observers, meet in their regional groups to share information on upcoming resolutions or other developments, Israel is the only country left out. Moreover, Israel’s exclusion from full membership in a regional group has effectively prevented it from membership on the Commission. Regimes such as Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Sudan are regularly reelected.

Although Israel belongs in the Asian group, like its neighbors Jordan or Lebanon, opposition from Arab and Muslim states has barred Israel from joining. In 2000, the Western European and Other Group (WEOG), a cluster of democracies including West European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, allowed Israel temporary and limited membership in New York. In Geneva, however, WEOG has refused to admit Israel. It is one thing, say European states, to allow Israel to join their grouping in New York, which is concerned with allocating positions to UN bodies, but quite another thing in Geneva, where regional groups engage in substantive consultations. When it comes to discussing issues such as human rights, say these states, Israel should be barred from joining WEOG because the Jewish state “is not like-minded.”

The Europeans, including France and the United Kingdom, are insistent against Israel joining WEOG outside New York. Thus, when WEOG granted Israel limited admission in 2000, it made clear that for a long time Israel would be disentitled from competing for the most sought-after positions, such as a seat on the Security Council, but could compete for certain other places.14 In 2004, WEOG offered Israel one of its assigned seats on the Governing Council of the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), meeting in Nairobi. The Israelis were pleased to gain entry to any UN position, and willingly accepted.

As the UNEP session began in Nairobi, the delegates, as usual, divided into their regional groups for discussions. The Israeli delegate, sent by WEOG, went to the WEOG delegates’ room and took a seat. Soon, a European diplomat approached. “May I ask what you are doing here,” he asked the Israeli delegate. Taken aback, the Israeli replied that he was representing his country, which was chosen by WEOG to sit on the Council, and hence he was in the WEOG room. “No,” said the diplomat, “Israel was admitted to WEOG only in New York — not in Geneva; not in Vienna; and not in Nairobi. Please leave.” The delegate left.

Every country in the UN regional group system is part of a club that excludes its Jewish member. A few, like the United States, are openly seeking to end this bias. Those that are silent, however, abet this discrimination, just like members of a country club that prohibits blacks or other minorities.

Some are beginning to speak out on this issue. Addressing a Jerusalem audience in March 2005, Kofi Annan said, “I will do whatever I can to encourage corresponding groups [of WEOG] in Geneva and Vienna to follow suit. We need to correct a long-standing anomaly that kept Israel from participating fully and equally in the work of the [United Nations] Organization.”15 The head of the UN Foundation, Senator Timothy E. Wirth, has also voiced his objection. “Reform must also embrace the full inclusion of Israel as a normal Member State,” he said in recent testimony to Congress. “Israel, as the only Member State that is not a member of one of the regional groups, has no chance of being elected to serve on main organs such as the Security Council or the Economic and Social Council, and we must work to rectify this anomaly.”16

Although the secretary-general committed himself to do “whatever he can,” it is not clear what, if any, follow-up has occurred.

6. The Commission’s Emergency Sessions Single Out Israel

During the 2004 session, the Commission convened but one emergency “Special Sitting.” The objective was not to discuss Sudan, where more than a million victims in Darfur faced mass rape, killing, or internal displacement, but rather to condemn Israel for killing Ahmed Yassin, head of the Hamas terrorist group. Yassin was eulogized at the Commission as a “spiritual leader.” The move to convene the Special Sitting was initiated by the Islamic group and won a majority from the Commission. A disproportionate amount of Special Sittings and Special Sessions, which may be convened by a majority of members any time during the year, have been devoted to condemning Israel.

7. The Commission’s NGO Panels Single Out Israel for Condemnation

At influential panel events known in UN parlance as “side events,” which are organized at the Commission site by nongovernmental organizations, Israel is routinely singled out for disproportionate condemnation. At the 2005 session, for the second year in a row, a panel discussion organized by the International Commission of Jurists, meant to debate Israel’s security barrier, failed to invite a single speaker who would even mention the terrorism that caused the barrier to be constructed in the first place. John Dugard, special rapporteur on Palestine, was among the speakers.

Conclusion: The Commission Denies Israel Due Process and Equality under the Law

As shown by the seven different violations discussed above, the Commission on Human Rights, the UN’s foremost body on human rights, is itself a massive violator of the right to equality. A proceeding that subjects a party to selective prosecution, and judges it guilty even before any debate has begun, is void for denial of due process, and a mistrial. However, the Commission is merely one of many UN bodies practicing this form of extreme discrimination against the Jewish state. What is to be done?

The UN Watch Model

There are some who object to the UN’s anti-Israel bias but believe that the best approach is to simply ignore the institution as a lost cause. Such an approach, however, has yielded no progress. The better strategy is to contest every instance of inequality in a serious and sophisticated way. Such efforts can bear fruit — for example, the struggle to admit Israel as a limited member of WEOG in New York, which was spearheaded by the determination of the American Jewish Committee and the diplomacy of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. To make the most compelling case for restoring the UN Charter’s ideals, one must marshal both the facts and the applicable international law. That is the approach of UN Watch.

UN Watch was created through the vision of Morris B. Abram (1918-2000). A lawyer from Georgia, Abram served on the War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg. He then returned to the American South and participated in the civil rights struggle. He went on to serve five different presidents under various commissions, until his last appointment as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva. When he completed his tenure in 1993, Abram saw the need for an outside body that would monitor the UN according to the principles of its Charter. Together with a group of human rights activists, international law scholars, and former statesmen, he founded UN Watch.

Based in Geneva, UN Watch is a nongovernmental organization that monitors the UN and promotes human rights, acting in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Currently affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, UN Watch monitors the UN on a range of issues and is at the forefront of the struggle against anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias at the world body. The group is chaired by Alfred H. Moses, former U.S. special envoy in Europe and a Washington attorney. This author has served as executive director since 2004, and can offer a few instances from the struggle at the UN against what is in effect a new form of anti-Semitism.

1. UN Watch Turns the Tables on Item 8

As discussed above, the Arab states sought the creation of a special Commission agenda item (No. 8) to condemn Israel. Each year under this item, one representative after another, often from the world’s most repressive regimes, pillories Israel for alleged crimes. In response, Israel typically takes the defensive. The spectacle of Middle East human rights abusers denouncing the only democracy in their midst hardly contributes to the credibility of the Commission, nor to the integrity of the UN as a whole.

During the 2004 session, UN Watch for the first time pierced the bias of Agenda Item 8. Despite the intentions of its drafters, the wording of Item 8’s mandate, it turns out, fails to limit the discussion to Israel. Instead, the title is “Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.” This could refer to violations in Palestine, but also to any other Arab territory under occupation by any other country.

Consequently, in March 2004, speaking before the Commission plenary under Item 8, UN Watch detailed the international law violations committed under Syria’s illegal occupation of Lebanon, an Arab country.17 The UN Watch speech startled the Syrians, who, certainly under Item 8, did not expect to find their country’s record the subject of scrutiny.18 For the first time, a leader of the annual Item 8 condemnations was challenged for its own violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.19

2. The UN Disowns Jean Ziegler’s Anti-Semitism

The previous section described how many of the Commission’s thematic experts single out Israel for unfair treatment. None is more unrelenting than Jean Ziegler, a former Swiss radical politician. Although his position is “special rapporteur on the right to food,” he neglects the world’s real food problems to pursue his obsession with Israel. In 2004 and 2005, UN Watch meticulously exposed Ziegler’s bias and, after determined efforts, succeeded in leading Annan, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, the government of Canada, and the U.S. Congress to condemn Ziegler for his anti-Semitic statements.

Although some dismiss Ziegler as a mere nuisance, his tendentious reports circulate around the world and cause serious prejudice. When the International Court of Justice declared Israel’s security barrier to be a violation of international law, the judges relied on Ziegler’s reports as one of their factual sources.20

In the summer of 2005, Ziegler depicted Israel in Nazi terms. He told a crowd of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Geneva that the Gaza Strip was “an immense concentration camp,” and compared Israelis to concentration camp guards. He then called on Europe to boycott Israeli goods, all of which was reported in Switzerland’s Le Courrier.21

This was not the first time Ziegler had made such remarks. Yet the UN had consistently refused to confront him about it. Since being appointed rapporteur in 2000, Ziegler has devoted much of his time to accusing Israel of starving Palestinians, and labeling Israel’s leaders as “state terrorists.”22

Ziegler was nominated for the post by Fidel Castro and Muammar Kadhafi, and his history of close ties to tyrants is well known. In 2002, Ziegler was awarded — together with Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy — the Muammar Kadhafi Human Rights Prize, an award Ziegler himself helped establish in 1989.23 Ziegler is popular among Europe’s trendy radicals for his anti-American writings and impassioned media appearances. He is also a hero for his frequent attacks on the Jewish state, all issued with his UN imprimatur.

In the summer of 2004, after it emerged that Ziegler was using UN staff and resources to run an anti-Israel boycott campaign, UN Watch petitioned for his removal with a legal brief to the UN Commission on Human Rights.24 It demonstrated how Ziegler repeatedly abused his mandate on hunger by singling out Israel for condemnation on matters not concerning food. The brief urged the UN to consider that Ziegler’s wrongdoing “undermines the credibility of the institution of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, and of the two bodies under which it operates, the Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.”25 It also documented a series of actions by Ziegler that showed a pattern of selective treatment of Israel, the only country he singled out for condemnation as a Nazi-like state that commits “state terror” and “war crimes.”26

The charges against Ziegler received wide media coverage, particularly in Switzerland but also in Europe, the United States, and Israel. According to Le Temps of Geneva, Ziegler went from embassy to embassy in Geneva to solicit support. Effectively, the UN Watch brief had put him on notice: if he continued his anti-Israel abuses, he would be held accountable for violating his obligation to be objective, and the UN Charter’s equality guarantee.

For about a year Ziegler refrained, relatively, from his normal abuses against the Jewish state. Yet it was in July 2005 – just as Israel was preparing to make painful sacrifices for peace that would involve the forcible transfer of ten thousand of its own citizens from Gaza – that Ziegler declared Israelis to be akin to concentration camp guards.

UN Watch called on Secretary-General Annan and High Commissioner Arbour to condemn Ziegler’s statements. UN Watch noted that under the European Union’s definition of anti-Semitism, comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is a classic manifestation of this form of hatred. The organization also turned to several member states of the Commission on Human Rights that, mostly out of diplomatic passivity, had voted to reelect Ziegler in 2003: Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.27 Each was urged to speak out. Finally, UN Watch alerted the media to the need for the UN to condemn Ziegler’s demonization of Israelis.

The impact was immediate. On the same day, 7 July, the UN Watch press release was cited by a reporter at the daily press conference of Annan’s spokesman in New York. Consequently, the spokesman soon issued a statement denouncing Ziegler for his remarks. The next day the spokesman for Arbour did the same, followed later by an even stronger statement by Arbour herself in a letter to UN Watch.28 Canada then sent Ziegler a formal complaint letter.29 Finally, some seventy members of the U.S. Congress wrote to Annan and the Commission Chair seeking Ziegler’s resignation.

The story of this unprecedented condemnation was reported worldwide by Reuters, the Associated Press, the Washington Times, China’s Xinhua, and the Jerusalem Post. Headlines reading “Ziegler Criticized by UN” appeared in a dozen different newspapers in Switzerland, including Le Temps, Basler Zeitung, and Tages-Anzeiger. For the first time, the UN community had condemned one of the Commission’s human rights experts for anti-Semitism. Later stories about Ziegler, such as by the Associated Press,30 have cited this condemnation, for the first time providing readers with the necessary context.


The campaign to demonize Israel cripples the functioning of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The overt bias against one state undermines its credibility and integrity. The same can be said for the UN as a whole. The current period of UN reform demands that this injustice be remedied. It is to be hoped that many more UN officials, member states, NGOs, and others will take part in actively opposing this longstanding inequality.


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1. The observation was expressed in similar terms by Richard Schifter, former senior human rights official in the U.S. State Department, in his “2002 Lecture to the Chicago Chapter of the American Jewish Committee,” summarized at .

2. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s justice minister and attorney general, has been the foremost scholar articulating this point. See, e.g., “Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness,” Jerusalem Post, 6 February 2004 (reprinting a paper published in November 2002 by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute). Available at .

3. Article 1 of the “Law Pertaining to the Entry Into, Residence In and Exit From Lebanon” (10 July 1962) defines Palestinian refugees, by default, as foreigners, despite the fact that many have been present in Lebanon for fifty years. As such, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon may not work unless he or she has received a work permit, valid for a maximum of two years. This requirement effectively rules out their prospects for employment, except within a few narrow spheres such as relief agencies. See Palestine Center Information Brief by W. Sadie, “The Status of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” .

4. See WHA58.6 (“The Fifty-eighth World Health Assembly. . .calls upon Israel, the occupying power, to halt immediately all its practices, policies and plans which seriously affect the health conditions of civilians under occupation”).

5. The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, report of the director-general to the International Labour Conference, 93rd Session, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2005.

6. “We reaffirm that one of the purposes and principles guiding the United Nations is to … develop friendly relations among nations based on the respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples….” World Summit Outcome Document, 15 September 2005.

7 Explanation of vote delivered by Senator Rudy Boschwitz, head of the U.S. Delegation, 14 April 2005 (Item 8: Israeli Settlements – Draft Resolution L.2). Available at .

8. “Statement Delivered by Australia at the 61st Session of the Commission on Human Rights” (Item 8: Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, including Palestine), 23 March 2005,

9. These four resolutions were passed under Agenda Item 9, which treats violations in specific countries. Although several resolutions under Item 19 mentioned other countries, these all came under the rubric of “Technical Cooperation,” and are seen as lacking the censure of an Item 9 resolution.

10. Indeed, one of the most effective tools of the anti-Israel campaign is to build into the annual resolutions a range of self-perpetuating mechanisms, assuring a continuing stream of anti-Israel headlines. UN staff are required to produce dozens of annual reports targeting Israel for submission to UN bodies, assuring still further debates. Staff authors of such reports, though required by their job to prepare the documents, privately acknowledge their futility.

11 See, e.g., the 2004 Resolution E/CN.4/RES/2004/10.

12. In 2002, the following countries voted in favor of this resolution (Resolution 2002/8): Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, DM Congo, Ecuador, France, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zambia. Those abstaining were: Burundi, Cameroon, Croatia, Italy, Japan, Poland, and Uruguay. In 2003, the following countries voted in favor of this resolution (Resolution 2003/6): Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, India, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Those abstaining were: Austria, Belgium, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Guatemala, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. In 2004, those voting yes (on Resolution 2004/10) were: Armenia, Bahrain, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Mauritania, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe. Those abstaining: Argentina, Austria, Costa Rica, Croatia, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Sweden.

13. See “UN Rights Experts Slammed,”

14. Israel recently announced it would seek a Security Council seat, but because of the conditions of its entry must wait until at least 2018.

15. Kofi Annan, “Remarks at Dinner Hosted by H.E. Mr. Moshe Katsav, President of the State of Israel,” 15 March 2005, .

16. Timothy E. Wirth, testimony before U.S. Congress, 19 May 2005.

17. At the time, the Syrian occupation was still being ignored by the world, a situation that only changed in the aftermath of Prime Minister Hariri’s assassination later in the year.

18. The episode was reported in S. Edwards, “A Human’s Rights Battered by Castro Thug inside UN,” National Post, 23 April 2004, .

19. See .

20. The UN Watch report on Ziegler’s bias was submitted by the Israeli government on 23 February 2005 as an exhibit to its pleadings before its High Court of Justice, in the case that addressed the ICJ ruling. The government cited the UN Watch report (par. 356 of the pleadings) to support its proposition that Ziegler’s 2003 report on Israel was markedly biased. The Court’s decision rejected the factual basis of the ICJ ruling.


22. See UN Watch’s “Blind to Burundi” report,

23. See ; and .

24. UN Watch 7/14/04 Letter Brief to Chair of UN Commission on Human Rights,’s-Abuse-of-Mandate.pdf.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. See .

28. See

29. See generally, “Canada Condemns Anti-Israel Remarks of UN Official It Helped to Elect,” Jewish Tribune, 4 August 2005.

30. See “UN Expert Claims Coalition Cuts Off Food to Iraqis before Attacks,” Associated Press, 15 October 2005.

UN Watch