Israel, for the first time, stands to be admitted to a regional group within the United Nations Human Rights Council, marking a major diplomatic achievement that significantly increases Jerusalem’s ability to advance its interests at the Geneva-based body. However, Israel will most likely remain the target of disproportional criticism and condemnation from the council.
On Friday night, the council’s Western European and Others Group (WEOG) is expected to announce that its member states have voted in favor of Israel’s admittance. The European states had agreed to welcome Israel into their midst in exchange for Jerusalem’s return to the council and its participation in its Universal Periodic Human Rights Review process. Israel had left the council a year and a half ago to protest its alleged anti-Israel bias.
“Though it’s not yet final, we are hopeful that Israel will very soon be admitted into the Human Rights Council’s Western group, putting an end to a longstanding act of discrimination whereby the Jewish state was the only nation to be excluded from a regional group,” said Hillel Neuer, the director of Geneva-based nonprofit UN Watch.
Admission to WEOG would allow Israel to participate with all other UN member states in receiving regular briefings, and have a say in the selection of council investigators, Neuer said. “More than anything, admission for Israel would be a sign of equal treatment, removing what has been an ugly stain of bigotry upon the reputation of the UN.”
However, he added, “it will not detract from the Arab states’ continued ability to target Israel in resolutions, urgent sessions and a special agenda item.”
Human rights lawyer and pro-Israel activist Anne Bayefsky said Israel’s anticipated admission to WEOG is “indeed a major victory for Israel.” However, she too stressed that Jerusalem’s position within the body remains far from ideal. “It is important to recognize that [Israel’s admission] says absolutely nothing about the UN Human Rights Council. This is a change made by the western group of states, and has nothing to do with the council itself,” she told The Times of Israel.
“At the council, Islamic states continue to hold the balance of power by controlling the African and Asian regional groups — which, taken together, form the Council majority. WEOG is vastly outnumbered at the council, and preposterous anti-Israel resolutions, and investigations and reports, will continue to flow like untreated water from a sewer.”
Bayefksy, a senior fellow with the New York-based Hudson Institute, also pointed out that criticism of Israel remains an item on the council’s permanent agenda. While the WEOG states agreed to not to participate in discussions about Agenda Item 7 (“the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”) for the coming two years — as part of a deal to get Israel to cooperate with the council’s human rights review procedure — “much more is required to achieve the removal of the discriminatory item altogether,” she said.
Earlier this month, senior diplomats from the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany and France sent a letter to the UN’s institutions in Geneva and to the ambassador of Spain, who heads the WEOG, telling them to finally admit Israel into their circle, according to Haaretz. “We are strongly supportive of Israel’s membership at the earliest opportunity. We request that you kindly include this issue on the agenda of the next WEOG meeting in Geneva, to be held as soon as possible,” the letter read.
Israel struck an agreement with most WEOG states about its ascension to the group, yet the decision is only finalized once the group conducts a vote and officially invites Israel to join. Even Turkey — which could theoretically block Israel’s admission to the group, as the vote needs to be unanimous — indicated that it would not oppose a decision to include Israel if everyone else was in favor. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment.
On October 29, Israel participated in the council’s so called Universal Periodic Review, during which it was widely criticized for alleged human rights abuses.