ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Biden admin withdraws appointment of activist who called Israel ‘apartheid state’

James Cavallaro was tapped to serve as member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, but was dropped after ‘inappropriate’ tweets came to light, says US State Department

File: James L. Cavallaro speaks during the presentation of The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' annual report on Guatemala, in Guatemala City, March 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
File: James L. Cavallaro speaks during the presentation of The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' annual report on Guatemala, in Guatemala City, March 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has withdrawn its pick of a human rights activist for a post at the Organization of American States for calling Israel an “apartheid state” and blasting a top House Democrat as being “Bought. Purchased. Controlled” by pro-Israel groups.

The US announced on Friday the candidacy of James Cavallaro to serve as an independent member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a watchdog monitoring the Americas, praising him as “leading scholar and practitioner of international law” with deep expertise in the region.

But on Tuesday the State Department said that his candidacy was pulled in the wake of an article by a New York-based Jewish publication, the Algemeiner, which revealed Cavallaro’s history of posts critical of Israel and US support for the Jewish state.

In one December 2022 tweet, deleted as the Algemeiner article was being readied for publication, Cavallaro used language viewed by many Jews as layered with antisemitic tropes to accuse House Minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat of New York, of being in the pocket of pro-Israel lobbyists.

“Bought. Purchased. Controlled,” Cavallaro wrote alongside a link to an article about Rep. Jeffries’ donations from AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that the Biden administration was unaware of Cavallaro’s past comments on Israel prior to announcing his candidacy. “They are not a reflection of what we believe and they are inappropriate to say the least,” Price said.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, November 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Cavallaro, who served previously on the commission from 2014 to 2017, pushed back at the notion he was being insensitive. He said that his views on Israel are entirely consistent with international human rights organizations and international bodies and in no way would impact his work advancing human rights in the Americas.

“It’s clear I hit a raw nerve,” he said in an interview Tuesday following a meeting with the State Department.

He also pointed out that elected commissioners serve in a personal capacity and are not supposed to represent the foreign policy views of the governments backing their candidacy. He said that he discussed with the State Department his active social media presence prior to his candidacy being announced, if not specific tweets, and committed to cleaning up his timeline and rigorously refraining from speaking out if elected to serve on the commission.

Cavallaro, a co-founder and executive director of the University Network for Human Rights who previously taught at Harvard, Stanford and Yale law schools, has also accused Israel of committing “atrocities,” according to the Algemeiner’s scan of Cavallaro’s now deleted social media activity.

Last month, a Jewish nominee to serve as assistant secretary of state for human rights withdrew her candidacy after facing strong Republican opposition due to her past statements on Israel.

Sarah Margon, who was first tapped for the post almost two years ago, had tweeted about supporting disinvestment from Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Last month Margon said she would withdraw her bid for the post since she saw no “path forward for confirmation” amid a year and a half of stonewalling.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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