UK, Austria to oppose UN Human Rights Council condemnations of Israel
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UK, Austria to oppose UN Human Rights Council condemnations of Israel

Britain’s foreign secretary says body’s attitude toward Jewish state undermines its credibility; Vienna will vote against a key resolution on Gaza violence

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A picture taken on June 18, 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland, shows a general view during the opening of the 38th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. (AFP/Alain Grosclaude)
A picture taken on June 18, 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland, shows a general view during the opening of the 38th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. (AFP/Alain Grosclaude)

The United Kingdom said Thursday it will automatically oppose all proposals made to the United Nations Human Rights Council under a fixed item exclusively devoted to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

The announcement came as Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared that his country will vote against a key resolution lashing Israel, which is up for a vote this week.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the council’s so-called Agenda Item 7 “undermines the credibility of the world’s leading human rights forum” and “obstructs the quest for peace in the Middle East.”

As a permanent item on the agenda, Item 7 means no session of the Geneva-based council can be held without specifically discussing Israel.

The council was set to vote on four resolutions Friday condemning Israel for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Two years ago, the United Kingdom said that unless the situation changed, we would vote against all texts proposed under Item 7,” Hunt wrote in an op-ed published Thursday in the UK’s Jewish Chronicle weekly.

“Sadly, our concerns have not been heeded. So I have decided that we will do exactly what we said: Britain will now oppose every Item 7 resolution. On Friday we will vote against all four texts proposed in this way.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives in Downing street in London, March 14, 2019. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

“I believe that this disproportionate and discriminatory focus on Israel undermines the credibility of the world’s leading human rights forum and obstructs the quest for peace in the Middle East,” Hunt wrote. “That is why the UK will be opposing every Item 7 resolution at the HRC.”

“By any standard of fairness or proportion, elevating this dispute above all others cannot be sensible; indeed it is an unhelpful illusion to suppose that Israel’s conduct deserves special scrutiny,” Hunt said. “We will continue to press for the abolition of Item 7.”

The stance does not mean that the UK will not criticize Israel when it is justified, he stressed.

“None of this means that we will hold back from voicing concern about Israel’s actions,” Hunt said. “In future, Britain will continue to support scrutiny of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the HRC, so long as it is justified and not proposed under Item 7.”

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews umbrella group, applauded Hunt and urged other countries to follow the UK’s lead.

“All supporters of human rights should applaud this move, which could in time lead to the UN ceasing to be discredited through its overt partisanship and becoming trusted once again as the arbiter of universal human rights that we all want it to be,” she said in a statement. “We call on other states who genuinely support the advancement of human rights to follow the UK’s moral stand.”

Also Thursday, Austrian Ambassador to Israel Martin Weiss tweeted that his country will vote against the “Accountability Resolution” at the UNHC — which deals with Israel’s response to violent protests on the border with the Gaza Strip.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a gathering of the AJC Jewish advocacy group in Brussels, that “this resolution is politically biased against Israel,” Weiss wrote.

Last Monday, under Item 7, the UNHRC discussed seven reports on alleged Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity, more than any other country.

The Item 7 session debated, among others, the results of a probe which found that Israeli troops may have committed crimes against humanity in their response to weekly Gaza Strip protests and riots last year.

The report commissioned by the council alleges that Israeli soldiers intentionally fired on civilians. It acknowledged significant violence linked to the demonstrations, but said it did not amount to combat campaigns, essentially rejecting Israel’s assertion of “terror activities” by Hamas.

Israeli officials have rejected the probe’s findings and accused investigators of bias.

Palestinian protesters burn tires during a demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on February 22, 2019.(Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Since last March, the Gaza border has seen large-scale weekly clashes on Fridays, smaller protests along the northern Gaza border on Tuesdays, and periodic flare-ups between the Israeli military and Palestinian terror organizations. Protesters have been gathering along the frontier in often-violent protests calling for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to former homes now inside Israel.

Israel says the protest, organized Gaza’s Hamas rulers, are a cover for attacks on security forces. During the violence, protesters have hurled explosives at troops, set tires alight and launched many explosive and incendiary balloons carried by the wind into Israel. Hamas, an Islamist terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

In June last year the US announced it was to withdraw from the UNHRC with its UN envoy citing a “chronic bias against Israel.”

Israel has never been a member state of the Human Rights Council, whose 47 members are elected by the UN General Assembly.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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