42 bipartisan US lawmakers urge Blinken to work to end UN commission on Israel

Members of Congress express concerns the probe has a mandate ‘in perpetuity’ to investigate any allegations against Israel in the past or in the future

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses a press conference after meeting with his counterparts from Germany, France and Britain at the German Foreign Office in Berlin on January 20, 2022. (Kay Nietfeld/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses a press conference after meeting with his counterparts from Germany, France and Britain at the German Foreign Office in Berlin on January 20, 2022. (Kay Nietfeld/Pool/AFP)

A bipartisan group of 42 US lawmakers has sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him to lead an effort to end an ongoing United Nations commission into Israel.

The Commission of Inquiry was set up to probe last May’s conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups, as well as an ongoing investigation into the conflict. Israel fears the investigation may be used to label it as “an apartheid state.”

“COI’s mandate is designed to accelerate the political, economic, and legal challenges to Israel and undermine its legitimacy by pressuring international legal institutions to take action against Israeli leaders,” the US lawmakers wrote to Blinken.

“Shockingly, the COI resolution makes no mention of the terror group Hamas — which initiated the conflict by launching missile attacks on Israel — and does not include any mention of Israel’s right to defend itself,” the letter reads.

The members of Congress also expressed concerns that the commission will have a “carte blanche mandate — in perpetuity — to investigate any allegations against Israel in the past or in the future.”

The lawmakers say the commission is “outrageous and ought to be canceled,” adding that the UN budget is already overstretched due to the pandemic.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza City, May 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The lawmakers note the multiple other inquiries into Israel by the international body and say the individuals selected to lead the probe have demonstrated anti-Israel bias in the past.

“This reflects the UNHCR’s continued broader bias against Israel,” the lawmakers charged.

The initiative was led by New Jersey Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Missouri’s Rep. Vicky Hartzler of the Republican Party.

In May 2021, shortly after the end of the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the top United Nations human rights body created an open-ended international investigation into Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

A soldier from the Israeli military’s Home Front Command walks outside a house struck by a Hamas rocket on May 20, 2021, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

The resolution called for the creation of a permanent Commission of Inquiry to monitor and report on rights violations in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It will be the first such COI with an “ongoing” mandate.

At the time it was established, a number of nations voiced objections over the fact that the commission had a very broad mandate to investigate Israel, but with no specific mention of an investigation into Hamas.

Israel has said it will not cooperate with the commission, saying it is biased against it. The US has previously expressed concerns about the probe.

A ball of fire erupts from a building in Gaza City’s Rimal residential district on May 20, 2021, during Israeli strikes on the Hamas-controlled enclave in response to rocket fire (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Ministry is reportedly planning a campaign to head off any potential criticism of Israel and accusations of “apartheid” from the commission.

According to the Axios news site, a leaked cable revealed that Israeli officials were concerned about the damage the report, due in June in its first instance, could do if it refers to Israel as an “apartheid state.”

The report said the cable sent last week designates the commission as a “top priority” for 2022.

According to the report, the cable said the ministry’s campaign on the matter will increase in intensity in the lead-up to the UN Human Rights Council meeting in March.

Asked for comment by Axios, a spokesperson for the UN commission would not comment directly on Israel’s concerns, but said that the probe would be carried out without bias.

“As an independent body, the Commission conducts its own investigations independently and separately from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other United Nations offices and agencies,” the spokesperson said.

State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Jalina Porter said Friday that the Biden administration is “concerned with the Human Right’s Council’s commission, noting the panel’s egregious bias [against] Israel in the and the problematic nature of the open-ended duration of [the commission’s] mandate.”

“The United States will not cooperate with the commission on inquiry and we encourage other member states to follow our lead,” Porter said, adding that while the US views the role of the council as crucial in promoting in human rights, it also “perpetuates unacceptable anti-Israel bias.”

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Israel will face intense campaigns to label it an “apartheid state” in the coming months.

Israeli Foreign Minister and head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid, speaking at a faction meeting in the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi / Flash90)

In those comments, Lapid singled out the UN Human Rights Council’s establishment of the COI as a cause for concern.

Israel has long adamantly denied accusations of apartheid, claiming its Arab minority enjoys full civil rights, as well as pushing back against the term “occupation” to describe its activities in the West Bank and Gaza. It views Gaza, from which it withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005, as a hostile entity ruled by the Islamic terror group Hamas, and it considers the West Bank to be disputed territory subject to peace negotiations — which collapsed more than a decade ago.

Rights groups have accused both sides of violations of international law during the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups.

The 11-day war, called by Israel “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” began during a period with rising tensions, with Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem, then on towns in the south of Israel and the Tel Aviv area. Israeli retaliatory airstrikes on targets in the Strip killed some 250 people, including 66 minors, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between terror group members and civilians. Twelve people were killed in Israel, all but one of them civilians, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

Israel has said the majority of those killed in Gaza were terror operatives and insists it did everything to avoid civilian casualties while fighting armed groups deeply and deliberately embedded in populated areas.

Israel — backed at times by the United States — has long accused the UN Human Rights Council of anti-Israel bias and has generally refused to cooperate with its investigators.

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