The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed former New York Supreme Court Justice Mary McGowan Davis as the third member of its contentious probe into Israeli actions during this summer’s Gaza conflict.
Her background on Israel and Gaza is more neutral than that of Canadian legal expert William Schabas, who heads the UNHRC commission of inquiry.
He has already publicly stated that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should be brought before the International Criminal Court.
McGowan Davis replaces British human rights expert and attorney Amal Alamuddin, who was born in Lebanon and is engaged to American Hollywood actor George Clooney.
Immediately upon her appointment last month, Alamuddin recused herself from the panel for work related reasons.
This is McGowan Davis’s second time around evaluating Israeli actions in Gaza. In 2011, she served on a UN committee of independent experts tasked with investigating the implementation of the 2009 Goldstone Report on the first Gaza conflict, Operation Cast Lead, in that same year.
Her committee’s mandate was very narrow and limited only to questions of implementation. It was not asked to judge Israeli or Palestinian actions. Her panel concluded that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas all needed to do more work to investigate human rights abuses.
This latest UNHRC Gaza probe was created July 23, less than three weeks in to Operation Protective Edge, with a mandate that clearly focus on possible Israeli violations of human rights but was ambiguous when it came to the inclusion of Hamas.
Israel charged that the probe was akin to a “kangaroo court.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told The Jerusalem Post he was surprised the UNHRC did not appoint Hamas head Khaled Mashaal to lead the inquiry, since their ideas about Israel are “more or less the same.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor said acidly that his appointment made as much sense as placing Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.
Schabas on Monday told National Public Radio that Prosor’s goal in attacking his credibility was to disqualify the commission.
“The ambassador of Israel does not want this commission,” he said. “I am obviously a lightning rod and a few of my previous statements have contributed to that but he would not be happy with anyone. He is opposed to the commission. He is opposed to the Human Rights Council. He is opposed to all of the human rights mechanisms within the UN, that is his target.
“Perhaps I underestimated the venom that would be associated with my own appointment. But this is all to be expected. There is nothing surprising there. If there are other important governments around the world, and more credible that come and say that I am not the right person, I am going to be a little bit more attentive to them than I am to the Israeli permanent representative,” Schabas said.
He added that his critics are not looking for an impartial judge, they simply want someone who agrees with them.
Schabas told NPR the commission is about Gaza and not his past views.
“If it becomes clear that I am an obstacle to this going forward I will be the first to offer to step aside, but that has not happened. I have a job to do and I have to do it as honestly as I can,” he told NPR.
There are more than 2,000 people who have lost their lives in the conflict and it would be a “travesty” for the UN to pass over it, Schabas said.
In past interviews with the Israeli media, Schabas described himself as someone who was critical of Israel, but not anti-Israel.
He noted that he has visited the country many times, lectured there and is even a member of the International Advisory Board of the Israel Law Review.
The UNHRC said “the Commission of Inquiry will investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law since the current military operations began in mid-June.
“In carrying out its work, the Commission of Inquiry will aim to establish the facts and circumstances of human rights violations and crimes perpetrated in order to identify those responsible,” the UNHRC said.
The three member panel, which also includes Doudou Diene of Senegal, is expected to present its report to the UNHRC in March 2015.