Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday to shelve its report on last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, shortly after William Schabas, the head of the panel of inquiry that authored it, announced he was stepping down.
“After the resignation of the committee chairman, who was biased against Israel, the report must not be published,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
The report was “initiated by the UNHRC, an anti-Israel body that has proven, in its decisions, that it has nothing to do with human rights,” the prime minister added in a statement, noting that in 2014, the council passed “more resolutions against Israel than Iran, Syria, and North Korea combined.”
Netanyahu maintained that the Israel Defense Forces acted in accordance with international law during the war, and said Hamas and terror groups should be the ones investigated, not Israel.
Schabas, a Canadian international law professor, sent a letter of resignation to the UN commission overnight Monday, citing Israeli allegations of bias over consulting work he had once carried out for the Palestine Liberation Organization, Reuters reported. In 2012, Schabas was paid $1,300 for a legal opinion he wrote for the PLO. He said it was no different than services he rendered to other organizations.
Maintaining that he had been targeted by “malicious attacks,” Schabas wrote that he did not want the charges to cast a pall over the investigation.
“My views on Israel and Palestine as well as on many other issues were well known and very public,” he wrote. “This work in defense of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks.
“I believe that it is difficult for the work to continue while a procedure is underway to consider whether the chair of the commission should be removed,” Schabas added.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman also hailed Schabas’s resignation Tuesday, but claimed that it would not change the committee’s conclusions. In fierce criticism of the appointment of the Canadian law professor, who has in the past voiced strong criticism of Israel, he likened Schabas’s role in the inquiry to “appointing Cain to investigate who murdered Abel.”
Liberman praised Schabas’s resignation as “another achievement for Israeli diplomacy,” but said the committee’s conclusions would remain unchanged, reflecting the “biased” international body under which it was formed “whose sole purpose is bashing and harming Israel.”
Nonetheless, the foreign minister said that Schabas’s decision to step down “emphasizes once again the kind of people comprising this committee and its inherent bias.”
The resignation “proves that even the greatest hypocrites among international organizations cannot ignore the fact that Schabas’s appointment to investigate Israel is like the appointment of Cain to investigate who murdered Abel,” Liberman said.
Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Schabas’s decision to step down “effectively rules out all the committee’s work to date.” He added that such a probe against a democratic country’s conduct is unprecedented.
The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, is scheduled to release its report in March. Schabas said in his letter that most of the research was done, and that the writing phase was underway.
The other two experts on the commission are Doudou Diene of Senegal, who served as the UN’s watchdog on racism and on post-conflict Ivory Coast, and former New York Supreme Court judge Mary McGowan.
While the report is expected to focus on alleged Israeli violations during the war, a UN press release issued in late December indicated the scope would include “investigations of the activities of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including attacks on Israel, as well as the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip and Israeli actions in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.”
The commission has been widely derided by Israeli officials as unfair and a “kangaroo court.”
The appointment of Schabas to the body in August infuriated Israel, which accused him of holding views highly critical of the Jewish state. Schabas has said in the past he would be happy to see Netanyahu prosecuted for war crimes.
Jerusalem said it would not cooperate with the probe or send officials to testify, though the commission has sought Israeli statements.
Their account was meant to tell the Israeli side of the story of the 50-day conflict with Hamas, to counterbalance what is expected to be an account highly critical of Israel.
Gila Tragerman, mother of 4-year-old Daniel who was killed by a mortar shell in his home on Kibbutz Nahal Oz in the later days of the conflict, testified via Skype. Others flew to Geneva.
After the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Judge Richard Goldstone authored a UN-commissioned report that was highly critical of Israel, parts of which he later retracted — including the allegation that Israel deliberately targeted civilians.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.