The UN Human Rights Council president called Friday for a UN investigator to clarify comments that sparked Israeli and American accusations of antisemitism and an Israeli call for him and his colleagues to resign, saying it was reasonable to interpret the “unfortunate” remarks as stigmatizing Jews.
Miloon Kothari, one of three members of a UN Commission of Inquiry investigating alleged abuses in Israel and the Palestinian territories, sparked outrage this week after he was quoted alluding to a “Jewish lobby.”
Asked in an interview published Monday by online publication Mondoweiss 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.
He also questioned whether Israel deserved its UN membership, reigniting long-time allegations from Israel and others that the council is biased against the Jewish state.
Commission head Navi Pillay defended Kothari Thursday and claimed the comments were deliberately taken out of context, in a letter to UN Human Rights Council Federico Villegas addressing the controversy.
She said Kothari’s comments reflected the “commission’s disappointment with the continued lack of cooperation” from Israel with its investigation.
On Friday, Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, sent a missive to Villegas slamming Pillay’s “defense of the indefensible,” and charging she had “endorsed anti-Semitism.”
“She has brought shame to the whole institution,” she wrote in the letter seen by AFP, insisting “it is time to disband this commission.”
She said she saw “no possible way no possible way for any of the three Commissioners to carry on their roles in an effective manner, and as such, call on all three of them to resign immediately.”
Villegas later sent a letter to Pillay, warning that some of the comments Kothari had made “could reasonably be interpreted as stigmatization of the Jewish people, which… is at the heart of any expression of antisemitism.”
“I would respectfully suggest that Commissioner Kothari consider the possibility of publicly clarifying his unfortunate comments and his intentions behind them,” he wrote.
Eilon Shahar initially wrote to Villegas Wednesday to protest Kothari’s “outrageous comments, including some that are evidently anti-Semitic.”
Several ambassadors, including from Britain and the United States, also tweeted their outrage at Kothari’s remarks. The comments have helped fuel criticism of the council, which has long been accused of singling out Israel.
The commission is the first to have an open-ended mandate from the UN rights body, and critics say such permanent scrutiny shows anti-Israel bias in the 47-member-state council. Proponents support the commission as a way to keep tabs on injustices faced by Palestinians under decades of Israeli rule.
The UN probe was launched following Israel’s 2021 war with Hamas in Gaza to investigate “all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law” in Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel has previously said it will not cooperate with the commission, saying its members “have repeatedly taken public and hostile positions against Israel on the very subject matter that they are called upon to ‘independently and impartially’ investigate.”
The commission issued its first report last month, concluding that Israel’s occupation and discrimination against Palestinians were the main causes of the endless cycles of violence.
AP contributed to this report.