March 2022Opinion2022Middle East

Is Israel Being Unfairly Targeted by the UN Human Rights Council?

Anna Thibodeau
Staff Writer

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recently created a special commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of crimes of apartheid committed by the Israeli government against Palestinians. The fact-finding mission is being used to respond to allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by Israel, according to the UNHRC. The inquiry was initiated following an 11 day conflict between Israeli military forces and Palestinian nationalist troops, known as Hamas, in the Gaza strip, which lead to the deaths of 260 Palestinians as well as 14 people within the state of Israel, according to Deutsche Welle. Some have claimed that this special commission is discriminatory against Israel. The UN International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines apartheid as “a crime against humanity” and asserts that “inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination,… are crimes violating the principles of international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security.”

Israel and Palestine have a long history of tension and mutual aggressive action. However, the rates of Israel’s destruction of Palestinian property since the election of President Joe Biden have accelerated, according to The Intercept. Since Biden’s inauguration, over 1,300 Palestinians have been displaced and over 1,000 demolitions of Palestinian property have been recorded. Israeli defense forces have also conducted assassination attempts in the West Bank against powerful Palestinian political leaders, a major reason why many international human rights groups have labeled the Israeli state as an apartheid country.

The Guardian reports that advocacy groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem have all accused Israel of apartheid within the last year. Joining these groups in leveling accusations against Israel include South African judge Navi Pillay, who has compared Israeli policies to the former system of apartheid in South Africa,  reports Deutsche Welle. Pillay is the head of the special commission of the UNHRC for investigating allegations of apartheid in Israel; however, she has admitted that she is unable to act unbiased on this topic. The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Mierav Eilon Shahar, has expressed her concern that Israel will not receive “reasonable, equitable and non-discriminatory treatment” by this commission. Israel is firmly against this commission and has stated that it does not intend to cooperate in any investigations

More than 40 members of the U.S. Congress have sent letters to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken calling Biden to end the UN commission investigating Israel, according to Middle East Eye, believing that this commission reflects a “continued broader bias against Israel.” The members of Congress also stressed that the commission would allow for probes into “an allegations against Israel in the past or in the future, whether in the West Bank or Gaza or in all of Jerusalem, and even with the recognized pre-1967 borders of the state of Israel,” Middle East Eye continues. The Biden Administration has formally opposed the commission and voted to entirely defund it in December 2021. It is important to note that while the U.S. condemns the current commission of investigation into the Israeli government, the U.S. has not dismissed the many war crimes committed by Israel against its Palestinian citizens.

The U.S. raised up valid concerns that are not being seriously considered by many of the other countries and entities which are accusing or investigating Israel of apartheid. Should this commission really have the ability to probe Israel on these allegations, particularly if this investigation will set a dangerous precedent for the future? The commission of inquiry, according to Deutsche Welle, is the strongest tool the UNHRC has. Further, the head of this commission has already publicly stated that she is biased against the state of Israel. Based on this fact alone, it is very easy to see why the UNHRC is being accused of treating Israel unfairly. In conjunction with the concerns brought up by Congress, that fact becomes even more clear. 

If the UN wishes to continue their investigations into these allegations of apartheid, they must revise their current plan. First, it is imperative that they reassign the roles on the commission to delegates that are more equipped to maintain an unbiased view of Israel during the investigations. Secondly, they need to consider the ramifications of using this tactic and either revise their current investigation plan or create a new one which will take into consideration the precedent being established by investigating the government. This is a delicate topic, like so many issues on human rights are, that must be approached with the utmost caution by the UN.

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