A European Union official involved in negotiating on behalf of the EU over the text of Friday’s UN Human Rights Council resolution that condemned Israel for last summer’s Gaza War is married to a staff member of the UNHRC commission that investigated the war.
The link between EU policy officer Jérôme Bellion-Jourdan, who was tasked with reviewing the Gaza war report and helping advise EU representatives on how to vote on it, and McGowan Davis Commission staffer Sara Hamood was known to the EU but not made public.
David Harris, the head of the American Jewish Committee, protested what he called a “conflict of interest.” Harris told The Times of Israel on Monday that he took particular exception to the failure of the EU to disclose the marital connection between one of its key officials involved in dealing with the UNHRC report and a UNHRC staffer who worked for the commission.
Only on Tuesday, in response to a Times of Israel question, did the EU publicly acknowledge the connection for the first time. It denied there was a conflict of interest.
Judge Mary McGowan Davis, tasked by the UNHRC with investigating the 50-day Israel-Hamas conflict, presented her commission’s report to the UN body in Geneva on June 29. Shortly after her presentation, Bellion-Jourdan addressed the UNHRC plenary on behalf of the European Union, praising the work carried out by the McGowan Davis team. Neither he, nor anyone else at the EU, acknowledged that his wife worked on the McGowan Davis team, having also been a staff member of the commission under its original chair, judge William Schabas.
Four days later, on July 3, UNHRC members voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution welcoming the McGowan Davis report, which said Israel and Hamas may have committed war crimes, and which was bitterly rejected by Israel as flawed and biased. All eight EU member nations of the UNHRC approved the resolution, to Israel’s dismay. Only the US, which had slammed the report as biased, opposed it.
The resolution singled out Israel while failing to mention Hamas and its role in the conflict. Forty-one of the 47 UNHRC council members voted in favor, including the eight sitting European Union members: France, Germany, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Latvia and Estonia.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office expressed its appreciation for the “principled” American position in opposing what it called the “hypocritical condemnation” of Israel by the UNHRC.
Bellion-Jourdan is the main European representative to the Human Rights Council dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio.
In that capacity, he was tasked with negotiating on behalf of the EU with the PLO and a group of Islamic states at the Council over the final text of the July 3 resolution.
(In March, Bellion-Jourdan also represented the EU in a debate of item 7, the permanent item on the Council’s agenda dealing exclusively with Israel.)
His wife, Sara Hamood, a member of the core administrative staff of the Commission of Inquiry, works at the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) section of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Although the UN commission did not divulge the identities of the Gaza Commission of Inquiry staff, Hamood replied to an application letter sent to the Commission on August 13, 2014, and obtained by The Times of Israel.
Hamood formerly served as spokeswoman for arguably the most anti-Israel body created by the UN, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, and has penned various reports critical of Israel.
Bellion-Jourdan and Hamood worked together in Libya in 2004, as experts employed by Amnesty International.
Maja Kocijancic, a spokesperson for EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told The Times of Israel in a letter Tuesday that the EU delegation to Geneva was aware of Bellion-Jourdan’s marriage to Hamoud, but believed no conflict of interest existed as he carried out his work “within well-defined parameters, under the direct scrutiny of his hierarchy and with the guidance of EU Member states.”
“Mr. Bellion is a member of staff who works under the responsibility of the Head of Delegation and under the strict supervision of the Head of HR/Political Department. Both were closely steering this sensitive process. In addition, the negotiations were carried out under clear and unequivocal guidance by EU Member States who had set out clear red lines regarding the content of the resolution,” Kocijancic wrote.
But Harris of the AJC, a veteran organization dedicated to “enhancing the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel,” told The Times of Israel that he was concerned by the European Union’s lack of transparency on Bellion-Jourdan’s marital connection to Hamood.
“Most disturbing is that full disclosure was sorely missing,” Harris wrote.
“If the EU knew about Mr. Bellion-Jourdan’s conflict of interest, why was it not revealed, and why was he not replaced as their representative for dealing with the Human Rights Council regarding Israel? Or, if Mr. Bellion-Jourdan did not disclose this material information to the EU, shouldn’t he be, at the very least, reprimanded? This potentially glaring conflict of interest would be troubling under any circumstances, but all the more since all the EU members on the Council voted in favor of the COI [commission of inquiry] report.”
The UN Human Rights Council did not respond to The Times of Israel’s request for comment.
Itamar Sharon contributed to this report.