Despite past criticism, Israel mum on new UN human rights chief

Ramallah also does not publicly comment on appointment of Chile’s Michelle Bachelet; Israeli envoy merely rejoices at departure of outgoing high commissioner

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

In this September 21, 2016 file photo, then Chilean President Michelle Bachelet speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
In this September 21, 2016 file photo, then Chilean President Michelle Bachelet speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Jerusalem on Thursday remained silent on the appointment of former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, despite her past statements critical of Israel.

Responding to news of Bachelet’s nomination, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon merely took a parting shot at the UN’s outgoing human rights chief, Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein of Jordan, but did not comment on his appointed successor.

“We welcome the news that the current commissioner of the Human Rights Council’s tenure is at an end,” Danon said.

Zeid “never missed a chance to invent falsehoods and lies when it comes to Israel,” the Israeli envoy went on. “From many of his statements, you would be forgiven for thinking he considered Hamas a welfare, not a terrorist, organization. During his tenure, the [UN Human Rights Council] became a theater of the absurd, with hypocrisy and double standards rampant among its proceedings and reports.”

Danon’s spokesperson did not reply to a Times of Israel query about Bachelet’s appointment.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Thursday likewise did not comment on the former Chilean leader’s nomination.

Zeid last week defended himself against various accusations leveled at him, including the charge that he was anti-Semitic.

“I think we’ve been fair with everyone and firm with everyone,” he said at a farewell press conference in New York. “The suggestion that I’m an anti-Semite and my office is, I find it really disgusting.”

This picture taken on August 30, 2017 in Geneva shows United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein leaving after a press conference at the UN Offices in Geneva. (AFP/ Fabrice COFFRINI)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday informed the UN General Assembly of his intention to tap Bachelet for the job. The GA will have to confirm her appointment and is widely expected to do so in the coming days.

Like Jerusalem, Ramallah did not publicly comment on Bachelet’s nomination.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Palestinian source told The Times of Israel on Thursday that like most members of Chile’s Socialist Party, Bachelet has long harbored sympathies for the Palestinian cause.

“Bachelet is someone who knows what’s going on here. Her foreign principles are very clear,” the source said. “She’s not going to come out saying Israel is committing a genocide. But she would not have a problem saying that Israel is systematically violating international humanitarian law.”

Bachelet, 66, served as president of Chile from 2006 to 2010, and then again from 2014 to March 2018. In 2010, she became the first executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

Chile is home to some 300,000 people of Palestinian descent and traditionally sides with Ramallah against Israel in international forums.

Bachelet also has close ties with some senior member of the Latin American country’s Jewish community.

During her many years holding various senior positions in the Chilean government, Bachelet has rarely commented on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In 2014, however, she vehemently criticized Israeli actions during Operation Protective Edge, a 50-day war with Hamas in Gaza during which 73 Israelis and more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed.

According to Palestinian figures cited by the UN Human Rights Council, 1,462 civilians were killed out of a total of the 2,251 Gaza fatalities during the 51-day conflict. Israel, for its part, has said that up to half of those killed on the Palestinian side were combatants, and has blamed the civilian death toll on Hamas for deliberately placing rocket launches, tunnels and other military installations among civilians.

Bachelet also recalled Santiago’s ambassador to Tel Aviv for consultations.

“We are concerned about … the cruel violence that the world has witnessed in Gaza. We feel for the victims and categorically condemn the use of violence,” she told the UN General Assembly in September of 2014.

Palestinians walk in front of buildings destroyed by the Israeli military in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya, Monday, August 4, 2014. (Emad Nasser/Flash90)

The Anti-Defamation League called Bachelet out for her alleged bias at the time.

“We are deeply troubled by the actions and decisions of your government,” Abe Foxman, then the head of the group, wrote her in a letter.

“Chile’s public statements and actions have put the onus for this conflict solely on Israel, despite the indisputable evidence that Hamas is indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians with a relentless barrage of rockets and missiles.”

Foxman added: “Inexplicably, nowhere in Chile’s statements is there a recognition of Israel’s responsibility to protect its citizens — the majority of which live under the threat of Hamas rocket and tunnel attack.”

On Wednesday, UN Watch, a Geneva-based watchdog with close ties to Israel, expressed “serious concerns” over Bachelet’s appointment, but focused its criticism on her record dealing with human rights violations in Latin America.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L), US President Barack Obama (C) and Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet talk before the start of an economic leaders’ meeting during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit at Lima’s Convention Centre, on November 20, 2016 in Lima. (AFP photo / Brendan Smialowski)

“There’s no question that the former Chilean president is a highly educated and intelligent politician, who also brings important negotiating skills,” UN Watch director Hillel Neuer said.

“But she has a controversial record when it comes to her support for the human rights abusing governments who rule Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and we need to know how she plans to address these urgent situations before her nomination is voted upon.”

UN Watch’s detailed statement did not mention her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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