issue 110: Jean Ziegler’s Visit to Israel

Jean Ziegler, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza from July 3 to 13.  His report is problematic both for its content and the manner that it was made public.

Analysis:  Food is one of life’s basic necessities.  Without adequate food, we don’t work well; we don’t study; we don’t enjoy any facet of life.  Using this logic, Jean Ziegler expounds his views on political and security questions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, far exceeding his mandate to report on the right to food.

Ziegler was the first UN Special Rapporteur with whom Israeli officials agreed to meet to discuss human rights issues in the West Bank and Gaza.  What could have been a productive cooperation turned into a rant against the policies of the current Israeli government.

He states, for example, that “[t]he building of the security fence/apartheid wall constitutes a violation of the obligation to respect the right to food because it does not follow the 1967 border.” Similarly off-topic, Ziegler reports that “if there were no settlements, then there would be no need for harsh internal closures.”

Liberally handling cause and effect, Ziegler argues from the outset that the entire Palestinian humanitarian crisis is a result of Israeli military actions.  While closures are clearly the proximate cause of the Palestinian economic crisis, the reason for the closures is no less obvious: Palestinian terrorism.  Despite meeting with senior Israeli military officials, who must have explained the connection, Ziegler chose to ignore them.  Instead he cites only the opinions of his co-ideologues on the far left, such as Israeli journalist Gideon Levy and activist Michael Warschawski, who consider the closures and separation fence to be “collective punishment.”

Summing up his twenty-five page report, Ziegler writes: “as most of the violations of the right to food stem from the occupation by the Government of Israel of the Palestinian Territories, the occupation should be ended and the Government should withdraw its forces to the 1967 borders.”

Such a political judgment is extremely inappropriate for the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to make, yet it is the theme of his entire report.  Also inappropriate was the manner in which it was made public.

UN protocol calls for Special Rapporteurs to submit their draft reports to the concerned country to allow for a response before the report is finalized and publicized.  Ziegler, however, provided information to the Swiss press before the Israeli Mission had even received a copy.  Subsequently, the story was picked up by a major wire service, Agence France Press, which reported that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food had accused Israel of “triggering a humanitarian catastrophe.”

By abusing his position to promote his politics, Ziegler squandered an opportunity to play a positive humanitarian role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to demonstrate the possibility of evenhandedness by the UN towards Israel.


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