Israel set on discrediting UN probe that may label it ‘apartheid’ – report

Leaked Foreign Ministry cable says ‘top priority’ for diplomats to debunk commission into last May’s Gaza conflict and wider inquiry into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians

A meeting of the United Nations Security Council is held, on Thursday, September 23, 2021, during the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York. (AP/John Minchillo, Pool)
A meeting of the United Nations Security Council is held, on Thursday, September 23, 2021, during the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York. (AP/John Minchillo, Pool)

The Foreign Ministry is planning a campaign to head off any potential criticism of Israel and accusations of “apartheid” in a United Nations commission set up to probe last May’s conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups, as well an ongoing investigation into the conflict, according to a Wednesday report.

According to the Axios news site, a leaked cable revealed that Israeli officials were concerned about the damage the report, due in June in its first instance, could do if it refers to Israel as an “apartheid state.”

The report said the cable sent last week designates the commission as a “top priority” for 2022, the report said.

According to the report, the cable said the ministry’s campaign on the matter will increase in intensity in the lead-up to the UN Human Rights Council meeting in March.

Asked for comment by Axios, a spokesperson for the UN commission would not comment directly on Israel’s concerns, but said that the probe would be carried out without bias.

“As an independent body, the Commission conducts its own investigations independently and separately from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other United Nations offices and agencies,” the spokesperson said.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Israel will face intense campaigns to label it an apartheid state in the coming months.

Israeli Foreign Minister and head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid, speaking at a faction meeting in the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

In those comments, Lapid singled out the UN Human Rights Council’s establishment of a permanent “Commission of Inquiry” — the most potent tool at the council’s disposal — into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, including during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021.

Rights groups have accused both sides of violations of international law during the conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups.

In May 2021, shortly after the end of the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the top United Nations human rights body created an open-ended international investigation into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, after the UN rights chief said Israeli forces may have committed war crimes and faulted the Hamas terror group for violations of international law.

The resolution called for the creation of a permanent Commission of Inquiry to monitor and report on rights violations in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It will be the first such COI with an “ongoing” mandate.

At the time it was established, a number of nations voiced objections over the fact that the commission had a very broad mandate to investigate Israel, but with no specific mention of an investigation into Hamas.

Israel has said it will not cooperate with the commission, saying it is biased against it. The US has also expressed concerns about the probe.

Illustrative: Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City on May 13, 2021. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

Israel has long adamantly denied accusations of apartheid, claiming its Arab minority enjoys full civil rights, as well as pushing back against the term “occupation” to describe its activities in the West Bank and Gaza. It views Gaza, from which it withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005, as a hostile entity ruled by the Islamic terror group Hamas, and it considers the West Bank to be disputed territory subject to peace negotiations — which collapsed more than a decade ago.

The 11-day war in May, called by Israel “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” began during a period with rising tensions, with Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem, then on towns in the south of Israel and the Tel Aviv area. Israeli retaliatory airstrikes on targets in the Strip killed some 250 people, including 66 minors, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between terror group members and civilians. Twelve people were killed in Israel, all but one of them civilians, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

Israel has said the majority of those killed in Gaza were terror operatives and insists it did everything to avoid civilian casualties while fighting armed groups deeply and deliberately embedded in populated areas.

Israel — backed at times by the United States — has long accused the UN Human Rights Council of anti-Israel bias and has generally refused to cooperate with its investigators.

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