In Fiji, Rivlin asks island nation to be an ally on ‘biased’ UN rights council

President thanks Fijian PM for contribution to UN peacekeeping forces, vows Israel will defend itself against Iran; announces agriculture scholarships for Pacific Island students

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin with Fiji's President Jioji Konrote, Fiji, February 20, 2020 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin with Fiji's President Jioji Konrote, Fiji, February 20, 2020 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday visited Fiji for a summit with local leaders, where he expressed hopes that the Pacific Island nation would stand with Israel against what he said was strong anti-Israel bias on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Rivlin met with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and led the “first of its kind” summit with Pacific Island states, the president’s office said in a statement. It was attended by leaders from Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga and Palau.

At a press conference after the summit, held in the city of Nadi, Rivlin thanked the prime minister for Fiji’s contribution to the UN peacekeeping forces in the Middle East, and noted the dangers facing Israel in particular.

“Today Iran and its proxies are threatening Israel while spreading terror throughout the region, and around the world,” Rivlin said. “Israel will do all that is necessary to defend its citizens from the Iranian threat, and we will continue to work with international peacekeeping forces to ensure that our borders remain quiet.”

President Reuven Rivlin with Fiji’s President Jioji Konrote, Fiji, February 20, 2020 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“We were also happy to support Fiji’s election to the UN Human Rights Council, and your presidency of the UN’s Climate Change conference,” Rivlin said. “We hope that Fiji will stand with Israel against the gross anti-Israel discrimination at the UN, especially at the Human Rights Council.“

Last week the council published a blacklist of 112 companies it says are active in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

President Reuven Rivlin, fifth from right, together with Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, fourth from right and Pacific Island leaders as the attend a summit in Fiji, February 20, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The president announced the establishment of 100 new scholarships for Pacific Island students of agriculture to train at the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training in Israel.

Also, in collaboration with the University of the South Pacific, Israel will open a center for excellence and innovation for the Pacific Island states, Rivlin said.

“This collaboration will enable us to work together to apply Israeli innovation to pressing challenges such as food security, climate change, ocean rise, and public health,” the president said.

Rivlin was received on his arrival with a Fijian welcome ceremony that included an honor guard of singing soldiers in traditional dress, the presentation of a traditional welcome necklace of flowers, known as a lei, and an ancient whale tooth, among other symbolic gifts of friendship.

Thanking Rivlin for what he termed a “historic” visit, Bainimarama said “This summit is very important to us as another steppingstone in strengthening the relations between us. Fiji will continue to pray for the peace of the Middle East region.”

From Fiji Rivlin will fly on to Australia, arriving Friday for his first official visit, made at the invitation of Governor-General David Hurley.

Israel had reacted angrily to the publication of the blacklist, with politicians from across the political spectrum denouncing the  UN Human Rights Council for compiling it and vowing to protect Israeli financial interests.

The Foreign Ministry announced it was suspending its ties with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Israel is not a member of the council.

The United States pulled out of the Human Rights Council in June 2018, citing “chronic bias against Israel.”

In 2012 Israel announced it was cutting all ties with the UNHRC after member states voted for the establishment of a fact-finding mission into Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank. It restored contact less than a year later.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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