The US is working to “normalize” Israel’s treatment in the United Nations, Secretary of State John Kerry said early Tuesday, as Jerusalem was granted a long-sought seat on a Human Rights Council advisory board.
On Monday, the US and other Western countries admitted Israel into the Western Europe and Others Group in Geneva, a move which will provide it with some influence before the UN top human rights body. Israel will official assume its seat on January 1.
Kerry called the move “overdue,” and said it was a step toward giving Israel a greater global voice.
“It goes without saying that at a time when the scourge of global anti-Semitism is on the rise, it is more important than ever for Israel to have a strong voice that can be heard everywhere,” he said in a statement. “This is a particularly welcome development as we work to end anti-Israel bias in the UN system.”
Kerry said the US would “continue to support efforts to normalize Israel’s treatment across the UN system.”
The Western Europe and Others Group, and others like it, act in an advisory capacity but have no formal standing with the 47-nation council, in which the US is a member but Israel is not.
The group 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 left the council a year and a half ago to protest its alleged anti-Israel bias.
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.
On Monday, US Ambassador Samantha Power said Israel’s entry into the Geneva-based section of the Western European and Others Group was important, because until now it has been structurally denied the opportunity that every other UN member has.
That opportunity, she said, is membership in one of the regional bodies that “shape policy and determine leadership posts” at the UN’s Human Rights Council, based in Geneva.
“For far too long Israel has been unfairly excluded from regional bodies at the United Nations,” Power said in a statement. “This long-overdue decision brings Geneva in line with the decision to admit Israel into WEOG in New York in 2000, which continues to pay dividends more than a decade later.”
The American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, said the decision “ends the shameful anomaly whereby Israel was the only UN member state not fully integrated in the world body’s regional grouping system.”
Israel’s UN Mission said on Twitter that “after decades of discrimination, a historical wrong has been corrected. Israel’s voice will finally be heard loud & clear in WEOG in Geneva.”
— Israel Mission to UN (@IsraelinUN) December 2, 2013
Pundits said the move was important, but would not repair Israel’s standing with the Human Rights Council, which has been accused of harboring an anti-Israel bias.
“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,” Human rights lawyer and pro-Israel activist Anne Bayefsky told the Times of Israel recently.
Kerry’s statement came hours before he is scheduled to arrive in the region to help push along peace talks with Palestinians. Since his last visit in early November, tensions between the US and Israel have risen over the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, including the US.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.