Feb 17, 2022 - World

Israel says it won't cooperate with UN human rights probe

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the UN. Photo: John Minchillo/Pool via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the UN. Photo: John Minchillo/Pool via Getty

Israeli officials have notified a UN commission investigating alleged human rights abuses in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel that the country will not cooperate with its probe, claiming it is biased against Israel, according to a letter sent to the commission chair Navi Pilay that was obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: Israeli officials say they are highly concerned that the commission’s report expected in June will refer to Israel as an "Apartheid state" and that its findings could damage Israel's reputation, particularly among progressives in the West.

Catch up quick: The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voted narrowly last year to form the Commission of Inquiry to investigate last May's violence in Gaza and the root causes of the protracted conflict in the occupied Palestinian territories.

  • Rights groups accused both Israel and Hamas of international law violations during two weeks of fighting last May, in which over 250 people were killed in the Gaza Strip and 13 in Israel.
  • The Western democracies on the committee objected to the fact that the commission's mandate was unusually broad when it came to investigating Israel, and didn't specifically mention investigating Hamas.
  • The commission is designed to be ongoing, with reports due every June to the council in Geneva and every September to the UN General Assembly in New York.
  • In addition to probing conflicts in the West Bank and Gaza, the commission was also tasked with investigating human rights violations in Israel.

The big picture: Pilay sent a letter to the Israeli government on Dec. 29 and invited it to cooperate with the commission’s investigation.

  • Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN institutions in Geneva, on Thursday sent Pilay a four-page letter of reply that criticized her and the two other members of the commission and notified them Israel won’t cooperate.
  • A senior Israeli official told me the Israeli government won’t allow Pilay and other members of the commission to enter the country.

What they're saying: The Israeli ambassador wrote in its letter there is no reason to believe Israel will receive reasonable and non-discriminatory treatment from the Commission of Inquiry.

  • The Israeli ambassador claimed that even though the commission is supposed to be independent and impartial, three members “have repeatedly taken public and hostile positions against Israel on the very subject-matter that they are called upon to investigate”.
  • "You are well known for personally championing an anti-Israel agenda and for numerous anti-Israel pronouncements, including the shameful libel comparing Israel to Apartheid South Africa, as well as advocating for the radical BDS campaign against Israel," the Israeli ambassador wrote to Pilay, a South African jurist and former UN high commissioner for human rights.
  • The Israeli ambassador claimed that the members of the commission were appointed “because they were tainted by bias” against Israel in order “to guarantee a politically motivated outcome that is tailored in advance."

The commission told Axios in an emailed statement that it "was requested by the UN Human Rights Council to report back to it on their main activities on an annual basis beginning at the Council's 50th regular session scheduled for June/July this year. 

  • "Before presenting to the Human Rights Council, at this stage the Commission members do not intend to make public statements nor publicize their communications between the concerned parties so as to preserve the integrity of the work they are carrying out."

What’s next: The UN human rights council is expected to convene for a new session on Feb. 28.

  • Ahead of the meeting the Israeli foreign ministry sent a classified cable to dozens of Israeli embassies around the world with instructions for a lobbying effort against the commission. The Israeli government considers this discredit campaign a "top priority."
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