Outspoken Israel critic set to replace Falk as UN monitor

American academic sidelined, as Arab pressure reportedly gives high-level Palestinian rights post to Indonesian envoy

Richard Falk (photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
Richard Falk (photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Pressure from Arab states has caused the UN Human Rights Council president to reject the candidacy of a vetted American academic to replace outgoing Palestinian rights monitor Richard Falk, according to diplomats cited in a report on Wednesday.

The high-level position of UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories will instead go to Indonesia’s former UN envoy, Makarim Wibisono, an outspoken critic of Israel, according to Geneva-based UN Watch.

In a series of letters to UNHRC president Remigiusz Henczel, the Arab League reportedly objected to Georgetown Law lecturer Christina Cerna’s candidacy because she did not have a prior record of statements on Palestinian issues. Cerna received a unanimous recommendation from UNHRC’s five-member vetting committee.

Wibisono, on the other hand, has a long history of one-sided remarks regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Makarim Wibisono (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/File)
Makarim Wibisono (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/File)

According to UN Watch, he has accused Israel of “unconscionable use of force against the Palestinians,” “untenable acts of aggression,” and of having a “policy of retribution against the entire Palestinian nation.” He has also referred to the “stark and brutal nature of the policies pursued by the occupying power,” accused Israel of being “the aggressor and the perpetrator of wanton violence,” and repeatedly minimized Israeli suffering, speaking of “the handful of Israelis who have died,” and of Israel’s battle with rocket and other terrorist attacks as a “flimsy pretext.”

Wibisono, whose country has no diplomatic relations with Israel, also traveled to the Gaza Strip in 2010 and met with the leadership of Hamas.

Falk, whose term is set to end on May 1, never missed an opportunity to lambaste Israel for its actions while largely ignoring Palestinian violence and incitement.

American UN envoy Samantha Power said Monday that Falk’s tenure as UN special rapporteur had “tarnished” the UNHRC.

“His publication of bizarre and insulting material has tarnished the UN’s reputation and undermined the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council,” Power told Reuters in a statement on Monday, referring to the Geneva-based UN affiliate which appointed Falk to the position. “The United States welcomes Mr. Falk’s departure, which is long overdue.”

Reuters quoted UN officials in Geneva as saying that Falk would not stay beyond May 1, when his term lapses.

In her statement, Power cited Falk’s “relentless anti-Israeli bias” and “his noxious and outrageous perpetuation of 9/11 conspiracy theories.”

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig/File)
The United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig/File)

Among Falk’s many controversial statements, he has accused Israel of “slouching toward nothing less than a Palestinian Holocaust,” has called for more serious consideration of conspiracy theories of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that posit US government involvement, and has called for the silencing of UN Watch, a group that is among his most dogged of critics.

Falk did not respond to a JTA request for comment posted on his blog.

Power in her statement to Reuters also decried the Human Rights Council’s bias.

“It is beyond absurd that the only country that has a standing place on the Human Rights Council’s agenda is not Syria, not North Korea, and not Iran, but Israel,” she said.

A US official confirmed the Reuters report and said the Obama administration would continue to defend Israel in the United Nations.

“The United States will continue to fight against unfair attacks on Israel throughout the UN-system,” the official, who asked not to be named, told JTA. “We will also continue to chip away at obstacles that prevent Israel’s full participation across the UN.”

The official noted Israel’s recent inclusion in a regional group and a human rights caucus at the United Nations as achievements of US advocacy.

JTA contributed to this report.

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