Israel welcomes ‘courageous’ US pullout from UN Human Rights Council
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Israel praises US determination to oppose 'blind hatred'

Israel welcomes ‘courageous’ US pullout from UN Human Rights Council

PMO praises move against 'biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization'; UN chief, EU say they remain committed to international body

US Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley speaks at the US Department of State in Washington DC on June 19, 2018. (AFP Photo/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)
US Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley speaks at the US Department of State in Washington DC on June 19, 2018. (AFP Photo/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

Israel on Tuesday night welcomed an announcement that the United States will withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, praising the move as a “courageous decision against the hypocrisy and the lies” of the international body that UN ambassador Nikki Haley said harbors bias against the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the US move, branding the council “a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights.”

“For years, the UNHRC has proven to be a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights. Instead of dealing with regimes that systematically violate human rights, the UNHRC obsessively focuses on Israel, the one genuine democracy in the Middle East,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office also read. “The US decision to leave this prejudiced body is an unequivocal statement that enough is enough.”

The PMO said that “Israel thanks President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Haley for their courageous decision against the hypocrisy and the lies of the so-called UN Human Rights Council.”

The statement followed Haley’s announcement that the US will leave the UNHRC, condemning the “hypocrisy” of its members and its alleged “unrelenting bias” against Israel.

Haley announced the decision alongside President Donald Trump’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Both insisted the United States would remain a leading champion of human rights.

“We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights,” Haley said at a press conference announcing the move.

A US official said the withdrawal was “immediate,” but this was not immediately confirmed.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon also welcomed the announcement, saying in a statement that the US “has proven, yet again, its commitment to truth and justice and its unwillingness to allow the blind hatred of Israel in international institutions to stand unchallenged.”

US Ambassador Danny Danon addressing the UN General Assembly, June 13, 2018 (screen shot UN)

“The Human Rights Council has long been the foe of those who truly care about human rights around the world,” Danon said immediately after Haley spoke. “We thank President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Nikki Haley for their leadership, and call on the moral majority at the UN to hold all of its institutions accountable.”

US officials said earlier Tuesday that the administration had concluded that its efforts to promote reform on the council had failed, and that withdrawal was the only step it could take to demonstrate its seriousness. It was not immediately clear if the US would remain a non-voting observer on the council.

Haley said that if the council reforms, the United States “would be happy to rejoin.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he regretted the US decision, adding: “The UN’s human rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide.”

On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein — a Jordanian — had rebuked Trump over the US practice of splitting up migrant families detained on the Mexican border.

“The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” he said.

The European Union said that the move “risks undermining the role of the U.S. as a champion and supporter of democracy on the world stage.”

EU spokeswoman Maia Kocijancic said the 28-member bloc remains “steadfastly and reliably committed” to the Geneva body.

She said that the United States has “always been at the forefront” of protection of human rights and has been a “strong partner” of the bloc at the council.

Independent watchdog Human Rights Watch criticized the move, warning Washington’s absence at the council would put the onus on other governments to address the world’s most serious rights problems.

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else,” executive director Kenneth Roth said.

“The UN Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel,” Roth added.

But the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank close to the Trump administration, defended the move, calling the council “notably incurious about the human rights situations in some of the world’s most oppressive countries.” Brett Schaefer, a senior fellow, pointed out that Trump could have withdrawn immediately after taking office but instead gave the council 18 months to make changes.

US criticism stems from the fact that Israel is the only country that has a dedicated agenda item at council meetings, one defended in particular by the Arab bloc of countries.

Haley had listed several conditions for the US remaining in the council, including the need to abolish Agenda Item 7 (“the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”), which since its adoption in 2007 has singled out Israel for perpetual censure, a measure that no other country faces at the UN body.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas is seen on a TV screen while speaking during a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 27, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)

“There is no legitimate human rights reason for this agenda item to exist,” Haley said last year. “It is the central flaw that turns the Human Rights Council from an organization that can be a force for universal good, into an organization that is overwhelmed by a political agenda.”

A key question will be where a US pullout will leave Israel if its biggest and most powerful defender abandons its voting rights or drops out of the council altogether.

Although the US could have remained a non-voting observer on the council, a US official said it was a “complete withdrawal” and that the United States was resigning its seat “effective immediately.” The official wasn’t authorized to comment publicly and insisted on anonymity.

A general view of the 37th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 26, 2018 in Geneva. (AFP Photo/Jean-Guy Python)

Since last year, Haley’s office has pushed the council and its chief not to publish a UN database of companies operating in West Bank settlements, a so-called blacklist that Israel is concerned could drive companies away and cast a further pall over its presence in the Palestinian-claimed West Bank.

Last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called for Israel and the United States to withdraw from the council over what he termed its “hypocrisy” in criticizing the Jewish state’s Gaza policy.

But Israel has never been a member state of the Human Rights Council, whose members are elected by the UN General Assembly.

“We are cooperating with the council and we have an embassy to the UN institutions in Geneva… but we are not currently members of the council,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said on Tuesday, a few hours before the US announcement.

The expected US announcement was welcomed by Israel’s Deputy Minister for Diplomacy, Michael Oren.

“Amb. Nikki Haley will soon announce America’s withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council. This is a welcomed response to a body that condemned Israel more than all other countries combined. The US now signals its refusal to lend legitimacy to UN bias against Israel and Jews,” he tweeted earlier on Tuesday,

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