William Schabas, who has been appointed to head the United Nations Human Rights Council probe into Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip, says past comments he has made concerning the Israeli leadership’s implication in crimes against humanity have been “exaggerated.”
Responding to allegations that he harbors a bias against Israel, Schabas says in an interview with Channel 2 this evening that he said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be his choice of a leader to send to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague has been taken out of context.
Schabas says he made the remark in a discussion about the ICC, in which South African rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the court had focused all its attention on African countries, and should show it also investigates Western countries by summoning leaders such as Tony Blair to appear before it.
Schabas says that in response to Tutu’s comment, he said he would prefer to bring Netanyahu before the court to exemplify an investigation into a Western state.
“I said my favorite was Netanyahu. I was echoing the Goldstone Report,” Schabas explains, referring to the UN fact-finding mission on the 2008 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip — which, Finance Minister Yair Lapid quickly pointed out, was compiled when former prime minister Ehud Olmert, and not Netanyahu, was serving as premier.
He adds that he believes reports referencing the Netanyahu comment are a “great exaggeration,” adding that just as Israelis express opinions on their political leadership, so does he. However, when pressed, the professor does not explicitly condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization or reveal how the commission plans to investigate it.
“It would be inappropriate for me to say” if Hamas is a terrorist organization, Schabas says, stressing that the investigation must be opened “in as neutral a manner as possible.”
He adds that it’s “very important for Israel to cooperate” with the probe to ensure that it is not one-sided.
“Israel has addressed this publicly, saying ‘we operate in self-defense,’ and its position is that it is proportionate. These are matters of public record,” Schabas said. “It’s one thing to make that public statement and another to look at individual cases and see if the statement is actually accurate. It’s in Israel’s interest to be there.”
Addressing claims that the UN harbors a bias against Israel, Schabas notes that some would say the international body’s influential Security Council is actually biased in favor of Israel, as it usually “gets off lightly” there.