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Jerusalem reiterates demand to disband entire inquiry panel

Member of UN Gaza probe says sorry for ‘Jewish lobby’ remark; Israel rejects apology

In letter to head of Human Rights Council, Miloon Kothari says he is ‘deeply distressed’ by offense caused by comments deemed antisemitic; Israel: ‘Pathetic and unconvincing’

Miloon Kothari, member of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, briefs reporters on the first report of the Commission, June 14, 2022. (UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré)
Miloon Kothari, member of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, briefs reporters on the first report of the Commission, June 14, 2022. (UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré)

A United Nations investigator apologized Thursday for using the term “Jewish lobby” and for questioning whether Israel should be a member of the UN, sparking Israeli accusations of antisemitism and calls for his resignation.

Miloon Kothari, one of three members of a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) investigating rights abuses in Israel and the Palestinian territories, triggered outrage after the interview with online publication Mondoweiss, which came out on July 25.

Asked about member states’ criticisms of the commission, Kothari pointed to wider efforts to undermine the investigation.

“We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by, whether it is the Jewish lobby or it is specific NGOs, a lot of money is being thrown into trying to discredit us,” he said in the interview.

Kothari apologized in a letter on Thursday to Federico Villegas, the president of the Human Rights Council which mandated the COI.

“I wish to sincerely express my regret and unequivocally apologize for using the words ‘the Jewish lobby.’ The offense I have caused by using these words has deeply distressed me,” he said.

A general view of the room hosting a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on Ukraine, in Geneva, on May 12, 2022. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

In the letter, published online by the UN, Kothari said he took with the utmost seriousness “concerns that my words were perceived and experienced to be antisemitic.”

“My intention was to denounce the relentless and vitriolic personal attacks against the members of the commission on social media and some publications, launched to delegitimize and undermine its work,” he said.

“It was completely wrong for me to describe the social media as ‘being controlled largely by the Jewish lobby.’ This choice of words was incorrect, inappropriate, and insensitive.”

In a statement Thursday evening, the Foreign Ministry labeled Kothari’s apology “a pathetic and unconvincing maneuver, which does not compensate for the long record of anti-Israeli and antisemitic statements made by him and the other COI members.”

The statement also repeated calls for the disbanding of the commission and the resignation of Kothari: “The COI in its entirety must be disbanded. If the UN is committed to fighting antisemitism and to upholding its values, this is the only reasonable and acceptable result.”

Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, wrote to Villegas last week to protest against Kothari’s “outrageous comments, including some that are evidently antisemitic.”

Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva. (Israel’s Mission to UN and International Organizations in Geneva)

Several ambassadors, including those from Britain and the United States, also tweeted their outrage.

PM piles on pressure

The interview also led to accusations that Kothari, from India, had questioned whether Israel deserved its UN membership.

“My comment on Israel’s membership of the United Nations was made to highlight the fact that every member of this body should uphold, and respect findings and recommendations issued by it,” Kothari’s apology letter said. “What I wanted to highlight is the non-compliance of Israel with UN decisions related to its obligations under international law.”

“I did not intend to suggest that Israel should be excluded from the United Nations,” he added. “I realize that this choice of words has also caused offense and sincerely regret it.”

Navanethem Pillay (center right), chair of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, briefs reporters on the first report of the Commission. On the right is Miloon Kothari, and in the center left is Chris Sidoti. (UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré)

On Sunday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid upped the pressure on the UN to disband the commission, appealing to the UN secretary-general.

The COI “has been fundamentally tainted by the publicly expressed prejudices of its leadership,” Lapid said, demanding “the immediate removal of all three members.”

Israel has flatly refused to cooperate with the commission.

The high-level team of investigators was appointed last year to probe “all underlying root causes” in the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The COI’s first report in June blamed Israel’s “persistent discrimination against Palestinians” for violence between the two sides.

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