The US ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday threatened that the US could withdraw from the body’s Human Rights Council, unless it reforms, including by removing its built-in procedural mechanism to bash Israel.
Nikki Haley said the Council’s “relentless, pathological campaign” against a state with a strong human rights record “makes a mockery not of Israel, but of the Council itself.”
At a speech to the Graduate Institute of Geneva hours before she was set to fly to Israel, Haley said that if the Human Rights Council failed to make the required changes, the US would consider quitting the body and looking for ways to promote human rights in different frameworks.
As a first step, the Council has to make sure to exclude the worst violators of human rights, Haley said.
Secondly, the Council needs to abolish the infamous Agenda Item 7 (“the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”), which singles out Israel for perpetual censure.
“There is no legitimate human rights reason for this agenda item to exist,” Haley said. “It is the central flaw that turns the Human Rights Council from an organization that can be a force for universal good, into an organization that is overwhelmed by a political agenda.”
Since 2007, Israel has been the only country whose alleged human rights abuses are regularly discussed in the framework of a single permanent item on the Human Rights Council’s agenda.
Eliminating Agenda Item 7 would not mean that Israel was free from criticism, Haley noted, explaining that claims against the Jewish state could still be discussed under Agenda Item 4, where complaints against other states are dealt with. But Israel needs to be put on an “equal footing” with all other states, she said.
“The Council is no more justified in having a separate agenda item on Israel than it is on having one for the United States, or Canada, or France, or the United Kingdom. More appropriate would be to have an agenda item on North Korea, Iran, and Syria, the world’s leading violators of human rights,” she said.
“These changes are the minimum necessary to resuscitate the Council as a respected advocate of universal human rights,” she went on. The US “will not sit quietly while this body, supposedly dedicated to human rights, continues to damage the cause of human rights,” she warned.
Israeli officials welcomed the call for reform, something they have long advocated.
— Aviva Raz Shechter (@AmbRazShechter) June 6, 2017
“The US should present the Council with an ultimatum: Either Item 7 goes or we go,” Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren told The Times of Israel in a recent interview. The organization would still be heavily biased against Israel, he added, “but at least it would not condemn us three times a year automatically.”
However, Oren said at the time that the Council cannot be reformed from the inside, urging the US to leave. “By being there, the US and like-minded countries are only legitimizing an inherently anti-Semitic organization. I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but wanting to reform the UNHRC is like wanting to reforming the BDS [Boycott, Divest and Sanction] movement from the inside.”
‘This relentless, pathological campaign against a country that actually has a strong human rights record makes a mockery not of Israel, but of the Council itself’
Since the Human Rights Council was created, it has passed more than 70 resolutions criticizing Israel but only seven on Iran, Haley said during her Tuesday speech. “This relentless, pathological campaign against a country that actually has a strong human rights record makes a mockery not of Israel, but of the Council itself.”
Haley, considered the US administration’s most outspoken pro-Israel figure, also slammed the UN’s effort to create a blacklist of Israel companies that operate in the settlements.
“The Council’s effort to create a database designed to shame companies for doing business in Israeli-controlled areas is just the latest in this long line of shameful actions,” she said.
“Blacklisting companies without even looking at their employment practices or their contributions to local empowerment, but rather based entirely on their location in areas of conflict is contrary to the laws of international trade and to any reasonable definition of human rights. It is an attempt to provide an international stamp of approval to the anti-Semitic BDS movement. It must be rejected.”
Without these two reforms — keeping the worst human rights offenders off the Council and ending its endemic anti-Israel bias — the US will consider quitting the 47-member body, she indicated.
While America does not seek to leave the Human Rights Council, it will do so if it fails to re-establish its legitimacy, she said. “The status quo is not acceptable,” she declared, calling on like-minded countries to “join in making the Human Rights Council reach its intended purpose.”
“Let the world be on notice: We will never give up the cause of universal human rights. Whether it’s here, or in other venues, we will continue this fight,” she said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Haley addressed the body directly at the opening of its three-week summer session in Geneva, saying it was “essential that this council address its chronic anti-Israel bias if it is to have any credibility.”
Voicing concerns about the Council’s effectiveness, Haley said the US was “looking carefully at this council and our participation in it.”
On Wednesday morning, Haley is set to arrive in Israel for her first visit since taking office in January. During her three-day stay, she is set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
She also going to Bethlehem for meetings with senior Palestinian dignitaries.
On Wednesday afternoon, Haley is scheduled to visit Jerusalem Old City, likely including a stop at the Western Wall. The visit is billed as private, which means that she will not be accompanied by Israeli officials, lest it be construed as a tacit recognition of Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem.
On Thursday, Haley will take helicopter rides to the Gaza periphery and Israel’s northern border. In the south, she is scheduled to meet residents from Kibbutz Nahal Oz and tour an attack tunnel built by Hamas to terrorize Israelis living near the border. She will also receive a security briefing by the IDF deputy chief of staff Aviv Kochavi.
In the north, she will received briefings from Israeli security officials and meet with representatives from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and, at the border with Syria, with officials from UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
“We’re happy to host in our country a true friend of Israel,” Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said in a statement. “Haley has been standing with Israel for many years now, and especially since she arrived at the UN. Her important visit is an opportunity to present to her our country and the joint challenges that stand before us.”
On Friday, Haley will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and tour Tel Aviv, before heading back home.