Jun 22, 2021 - World

Scoop: After U.S. pressure, Israel joins statement criticizing China

The Israeli and Chinese flags displayed during a visit to Beijing by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty

Israel supported a statement criticizing China at the UN Human Rights Council after being pressured to do so by the Biden administration, U.S. and Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is a significant policy change from Israel's newly inaugurated government. Under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel refrained from voicing any criticism about human rights violations in China — pushing for closer ties with Beijing and resisting pressure from the Trump administration to limit Chinese investments in Israel.

Driving the news: More than 40 countries signed the statement expressing "grave concern" about human rights violations by the Chinese government against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang and civilians in Hong Kong and Tibet.

  • The statement called on the Chinese government to allow UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet and other independent observers "immediate, meaningful and unfettered access" to Xinjiang.
  • There has been a diplomatic duel at the council over China's human rights record over the last few years, with democracies in Europe and elsewhere signing statements criticizing China and a bloc of largely authoritarian countries backing statements defending China's record.
  • Last October, 38 countries criticized China and 45 defended China. Israel was on neither list.

Behind the scenes: Several days ago, the U.S. embassy in Israel issued a formal request to the Israeli foreign ministry asking it to support the statement against China, U.S. and Israeli officials tell me. A similar request was passed by diplomats from the U.S. mission to the UN in Geneva to their Israeli counterparts.

  • The Israeli foreign ministry debated the request and several officials raised concerns about backlash from Beijing, Israeli officials say. The issue was presented to foreign minister Yair Lapid who decided to accept the U.S. request and support the statement.
  • Israeli officials hoped that the decision would not attract much attention.
  • But Chinese officials pressed their Israeli counterparts not to support the statement and protested after the statement was published.

What they're saying: Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Hayat confirmed Israel supported the statement but declined to give any further details.

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