“Fighting UN Double Standards”
Jerusalem, Israel, November 4, 2019
Prepared remarks of UN Watch Legal Advisor Dina Rovner for panel on double standards against Israel at 2019 Christian Media Summit
Thank you for that introduction. As Rachel said, I am the Legal Advisor for UN Watch. Our Mission is to monitor the United Nations according to the yardstick of its own Charter — the principles of universality and equality upon which the UN was founded.
One of our main activities is combatting the systemic anti-Israel discrimination at the United Nations. Double standards against Israel at the UN are pervasive. I won’t have time to go through all of them but let me just start with an overview.
Every year, the General Assembly adopts some 20 resolutions against Israel and only 5 or 6 against the rest of the world combined, with one each on Iran, Syria and North Korea. The General Assembly adopts zero resolutions on systematic abusers like Cuba, China, and Saudi Arabia.
CSW and WHO
Other UN bodies, like the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the World Health Organization (WHO) condemn only one country at their annual meetings – Israel.
In condemning only Israel, the CSW gives a free pass to serial women’s rights abusers like Saudi Arabia where the male guardianship system is highly restrictive and gives male relatives the authority to make critical decisions about women and Iran where women face prison for defying the forced hijab law.
In condemning only Israel, the WHO ignores massive health crises like Syria’s bombing of hospitals and medical convoys and mass hunger in Venezuela and the collapse of its health care system causing millions to flee.
Human Rights Council
I’ll start with Agenda Item 7 – At each Human Rights Council there are ten agenda items. Israel is the only country that is debated under a special country-specific Agenda Item just for it – Agenda Item 7. All other countries human rights records are discussed under the general Agenda Item 4 which applies to all countries.
Resolutions – Every year, at the Human Rights Council Israel is condemned in at least 5 resolutions, while there are only 3 on Syria where hundreds of thousands have been killed since 2011 and millions displaced. Other countries like Iran which executes children, North Korea which holds tens of thousands of political prisoners in gulag like prison camps, and Myanmar which is accused of genocide against Rohingya Muslims get only 1-2 resolutions per year and some of the worst abusers like China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia get 0 resolutions.
Tone of resolutions – And it is not just the number of resolutions, but the fact that the language of the resolutions against Israel is different from all the others. The resolutions on Israel are suffused with one-sided political hyperbole and systematically suppress any countervailing facts or context that might provide balance, while resolutions on other countries often contain praise and encouragement for the government.
Then we have Special Sessions – Israel has been the subject of more special sessions at the Human Rights Council than any other country. In the first six months of the Council, as the crisis in Drafur was raging, the Council held 3 special sessions on Israel and only 1 on Darfur. By the end of 2009, half of all special sessions of the Human Rights Council had been on Israel.
Commissions of Inquiry – Similarly, there have been more Commissions of Inquiry on Israel than on any other country. And all of these Commissions of Inquiry are given one-sided mandates that prejudge Israel’s guilt and give a free pass to Hamas and other terrorist groups. For example, resolution S-28/1 which created the most recent Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza march of return called for an investigation in the context of Israel’s “military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests,” and did not mention Hamas at all. It also presumed that war crimes had been committed.
Special Rapporteur on Palestine – The UN has 9 human rights experts on country situations. But only the expert on Palestine has a one-sided mandate that allows him to condemn only one party to the conflict for violations – Israel – and completely ignore violations by the other party to the conflict. The language of the mandate is “to investigate Israel’s violations of the principles and bases of international law…” So every time we ask Michael Lynk – who is the current Special Rapporteur on Palestine – why he is not addressing Palestinian human rights violations like arbitrary arrest, torture, censorship by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas his response is always the same – that it is outside mandate.
CERD Review of Palestine
That was just a snapshot of some of the double standards that exist at the UN. Of course, there are many more examples. But everything I just summarized shows how the UN system is completely one-sided against Israel. And the challenge we face so often is how can we bring some balance to the picture. For example, how can we get the UN system to scrutinize and condemn Palestinian violations of human rights.
UN watch participates in every Human Rights Council session and in many other UN human rights meetings to counterbalance the attacks on Israel, including by making written submissions, speaking and bringing speakers and organizing parallel side events.
I would just like to conclude with this one example of an intervention that we took part in this past August.
As you may know, Palestine became a non-member observer state at the UN in 2012. Then in April 2014, the Palestinian Authority joined five human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – the anti-racism convention. The good thing about these treaties is that they have treaty bodies which are committees of experts that review state compliance at regular intervals. So, by signing on to these treaties, the Palestinian Authority subjected itself to this review process which is supposed to hold governments to account for failure to comply with the treaties.
Now, here we are five years later, the Palestinians are starting to be reviewed by these treaty bodies – meaning the treaty bodies should be holding them to account for their violations. The review by the anti-racism committee took place in August.
The review was supposed to be about the Palestinians’ compliance with the anti-racism convention. You don’t have to look that far to find all kinds of antisemitic incitement by the Palestinians – just look at the public statements of Palestinian officials, Palestinian Authority and Hamas media, and the Palestinian educational curriculum.
But despite the pervasive antisemitism in Palestinian society, we were surprised to find that the Palestinian Authority report to the Committee focused on repeatedly blaming the “Israeli occupation” for countless alleged violations of Palestinian rights, while seeking to evade responsibility for its own racism and discrimination. There was a complete denial that racism exists among Palestinians. The PA report went so far as to say that it had not “detected any racist discourse within Palestinian society.”
- Instead of acknowledging its own antisemitic and terrorist incitement, the Palestinian Authority Report accused Israel of inciting racial discrimination and violence against Palestinians.
- The Palestinian Authority report ignored Palestinian attacks on Jewish worshippers and Jewish religious sites, while it accused Israel of preventing Palestinians from exercising their religious rights. It also did not address its own violence and discrimination against Christians.
- The Palestinian Authority report did not address the fact that no Jews live in the Palestinian controlled territories even though 21 % of Israel’s population is Arab.
In essence, the Palestinians were doing more of the usual at the UN – exploiting the reporting process of the anti-racism Committee as yet another UN vehicle to attack Israel while shirking their own obligations. But in this case, they were appearing before an expert body expressly mandated to look at the Palestinians’ performance on the issue of racism.
We used our speaking opportunities to point out the deficiencies in the Palestinian Authority report and to expose their own hypocrisy and double standards.
In our private meeting with the Committee – where we were joined by NGO Monitor and Impact-SE as well as a representative from the pro-Palestinian NGO Al Haq – we were able to have an intimate face to face dialogue with some of the Committee members. We were able to remind them again and again that the review was about Palestine, not Israel. We were able to answer their questions and respond to some of the absurd claims being made by the Al Haq representatives.
And when the official review began later in the afternoon, we could already see our impact as Committee Members asked the Palestinian Authority tough questions like:
- How do they explain the antisemitic incitement in Palestinian media and in the statements of state officials?
- How does the PA plan to tackle antisemitism in textbooks?
- Is there a Jewish minority in Palestine?
- And how are Jews and other minorities represented in the media?
Unhappy with these questions, when the Palestinian Authority representative took the floor, he attacked us, labelling our report as propaganda.
But to its credit, the Committee did not take up the Palestinians’ invitation to turn the review into another attack on Israel. And in its Concluding Observations which were published a few weeks later, it urged the Palestinian Authority to combat hate speech and incitement to violence making an express finding that hate speech against Israelis fuels hatred and may incite violence and antisemitism.
So what we learned from this experience is that no matter how one-sided the UN is when it comes to Israel, it is so important for us to use every opportunity given by the UN system to refute the mainstream UN narrative which is very much against Israel.