Tuesday, February 18, 2020


A question: What do Eritrea, Mauritania, Somalia, Qatar, Pakistan, Libya and Venezuela have in common? An answer: All are lands ruled by chronic violators of basic human rights. And, oh yes, all are members of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

This is no mere coincidence. Members of the UNHRC needn’t worry about being criticized by the UNHRC. Membership has an additional privilege: A license to slander Israel, the only state in the Middle East that actually guarantees rights to its citizens — Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Druze alike. The UNHRC has condemned Israel more than all other nations of the world combined. It has passed not a single resolution condemning China, Russia, Cuba or Zimbabwe.

In 2018 the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the UNHRC. Then-Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called the entity a “protector of human-rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.” She added: “America should not provide it with any credibility.”

The UNHRC has not improved since. Last week, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, published a blacklist of 112 companies operating in the West Bank, 94 of them Israeli, six American and 12 from other countries.

“I am outraged,” responded Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We call upon all U.N. member states to join us in rejecting this effort, which facilitates the discriminatory boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) campaign and delegitimizes Israel. Attempts to isolate Israel run counter to all of our efforts to build conditions conducive to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that lead to a comprehensive and enduring peace.”

As you may know, what we call the West Bank was for centuries a possession of the Ottoman Empire. In the early 20th century, the British Empire took over. During the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, Jordanians seized the territory, re-named it (they didn’t much care for the old name: Judea and Samaria), expelled the Jews, and desecrated Jewish religious sites. Israelis took the West Bank away from Jordan in the defensive war of 1967.

So when people claim the West Bank is “illegally occupied Palestinian territory,” they are not stating a fact but rather making a claim useful to those waging “lawfare” against Israel.

If you want to be impartial, call the West Bank disputed territory. Nevertheless, over the years, Israeli leaders have offered to hand over more than 90 percent of it to Palestinian leaders. What Israeli leaders have asked in return: Recognition of and peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state.

Palestinian leaders have rejected all such proposals. “It’s not a Jewish state,” Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, recently insisted.

A report published last month by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies points out that there are more than 100 “zones of disputed territories and occupation around the globe,” including Crimea, northern Cyprus, Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, Tibet and Western Sahara. The U.N. and other international actors have a set of policies vis-a-vis such territories — and a separate and unequal set vis-a-vis territories under Israeli control. There’s a word for that: Bias.

Bruno Stagno, the “Deputy Executive Director for Advocacy” of Human Rights Watch, apparently fancies himself an international judge and jury. He declared last week that all the companies on the U.N. blacklist were now “on notice: to do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”

Ironically, a spokesman for Ms. Bachelet took a more measured tone, saying the list should not be described as a blacklist, and acknowledging that it “does not qualify any companies’ activities as illegal.”

However, as the spokesman and his boss must know, it will spur calls for boycotts of the listed companies, and be used to justify other hostile actions by those eager to demonstrate their support for “the Palestinian cause” and/or their hatred of Israel.

Such boycotts harm Palestinians at least as much as Israelis. A study by Palestinian Media Watch found that “Palestinians prefer to work for Israeli employers” because Israeli employers provide wages four times higher than Palestinian employers, as well as health benefits and vacation time on a par with those Israelis enjoy.

Orde Kittrie, a legal scholar and senior fellow at FDD, points out that any boycotts spurred by the blacklist would likely “run afoul of some or all of the two dozen U.S. state laws that require divestment from companies that boycott Israel.” In addition, Congress is on record opposing “politically motivated actions that penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, such as boycotts of, divestment from or sanctions against Israel.”

Mr. Kittrie notes, too, that “international law does not prohibit business in disputed territories.… That is the official view of the United Nations, expressed in a document titled ‘Guidance on Responsible Business in Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas: A Resource for Companies and Investors.’”

Congress could make its disapproval of the U.N.’s latest assault on Israel clearer. The most convenient vehicle would be the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which updates existing U.S. anti-boycott laws to include not just boycotts initiated by nation-states, but also those fostered by international organizations.

I’m betting that won’t happen because such far-left and anti-Israeli members of Congress as Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib now routinely intimidate many of their moderate Democratic colleagues.

President Trump could do more, too, building on other steps he’s taken to repair the damage done to Israel in recent years by the U.N.

The broader problem is the continued existence of such an Orwellian institution as the UNHRC. The U.N. was supposed to help prevent the “scourge of war and advance human rights and dignity.” Seventy-five years after its founding, it generally impedes both — at considerable expense to American taxpayers.

• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of (FDD) and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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