The UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which this week appointed a commission to investigate Israel’s conduct during the month-long Operation Protective Edge, lends legitimacy to such terror groups as the Islamic State and Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
Netanyahu said the commission should look elsewhere, not Israel, for war crimes, and intimated that Israel would not cooperate with its members, although he did not explicitly rule out such cooperation.
Most ministers oppose any dealings with the UN team, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said earlier Wednesday that Israel should not cooperate with the probe.
Israel’s State Comptroller Yosef Shapira announced he would launch an investigation into the military and political leadership’s handling of Operation Protective Edge. Analysts have noted that the holding of a credible Israeli investigation into war crimes allegations could have weight in any international legal battle.
In a filmed statement uploaded to his official Facebook page, the prime minister blasted the UN rights agency for failing to probe Hamas’s attacks against Israeli civilians and its use of the people of Gaza as “human shields,” as well as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s “massacre” of Syrian civilians and what Islamic State fighters are doing to Iraqi Kurds.
“Instead, the UN has decided to come and investigate Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, a democracy that acts in a legitimate way to protect its citizens from murderous terrorism,” Netanyahu said.
“This commission’s report has already been written, the one leading it [Canadian Prof. William Schabas] has already decided that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, and that’s why there is nothing for them to do here,” he said.
“First, let them visit Damascus, Baghdad, Tripoli. Let them see the Islamic State, the Syrian army, let them see Hamas — that’s where they’ll find war crimes, not here.”
Netanyahu was referring to statements Schabas, a professor of International Law at London’s Middlesex University, has made in the past, calling for Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes.
The prime minister was also referencing comments made by Schabas in an interview with Channel 2 on Tuesday evening, in which he refused to outright condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization or reveal how the commission plans to investigate it.
“It would be inappropriate for me to say” if Hamas is a terrorist organization, Schabas said, stressing that the investigation into the Gaza conflict must be opened “in as neutral a manner as possible.”
Schabas also said past comments he had made concerning the Israeli leadership’s implication in crimes against humanity had been “exaggerated.”
“I said my favorite [Western leader to try at the International Criminal Court] was Netanyahu. I was echoing the Goldstone Report,” Schabas explained, referring to the UN fact-finding mission on the 2008 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip — which, Finance Minister Yair Lapid quickly pointed out, was compiled when former prime minister Ehud Olmert, and not Netanyahu, was serving as premier.
On Wednesday afternoon, Netanyahu met with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, thanking him for his solidarity with Israel and for rejecting the “false moral symmetry” between Israel and Hamas.
“Hamas continues to do these horrible things that ISIS does: They persecute Christians, they persecute gays, they persecute women, they basically reject modernity and there are a terrorist tyranny that is imposed on their people. And where their people reject being used as human shields, you know what they do, Governor? They execute them,” Netanyahu told Cuomo during the Jerusalem meeting.
“This is the kind of moral divide that is evident today in the world, and on one side you have Israel and the United States representing democracies committing to human rights, committing to a real future for our people; and on the other side, you have the likes of ISIS and Hamas, Islamist tyrannies that have no inhibition and pursue their grisly creeds and their grisly deeds.”
Earlier Wednesday, a report by Channel 2 revealed that the majority of Israeli government ministers, 14 out of 22, oppose the probe ordered by the HRC into the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.
On Monday, Israel decried the appointment of the three members of the investigative UN committee to review the recent military operation in Gaza, saying the identity of the three proved that the results of the probe were a foregone conclusion.
But Schabas, who was appointed to lead the inquiry, defended his record to Israeli media Tuesday and said past statements he’s made that paint him as anti-Israel would have no bearing on his probe of the Gaza conflict.
Schabas told Army Radio in an interview on Tuesday that he is not anti-Israel, has visited Israel in the past to give university presentations and is a member of the editorial board of an Israeli legal journal.
The Canadian law professor indicated his panel would look at all aspects of wrongdoing regardless of which side was behind them, stressing that regardless of his personal opinions, he will be objective.
“What has to happen in a commission like this is that people like myself have to put anything they may have thought and said behind them and to approach their mandate in the most fair and objective and impartial manner possible. And that’s what I intend to do,” he told Channel 2.
But Israel’s Foreign Ministry was bitterly critical of the probe and the panel. “Already at the time that the decision to establish the committee was adopted, on July 23, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister announced that the Human Rights Council long ago became the Terrorists Rights Council and a ‘kangaroo court,’ and that the findings of its ‘investigations’ are predetermined,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“If further proof is needed, the appointment of the chairman of the committee, whose opinions and positions against Israel are well known, proves beyond any doubt that Israel cannot expect justice from such a body.”
The statement concluded that “the committee’s report has already been written and at the moment it has only been defined who will sign on it.”
The probe team has been tasked with reporting back to the council by March 2015.
— AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report