US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at UN headquarters in New York.
(photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)
Just when it seemed that Nikki Haley’s halo could not glow any brighter for Israelis, the beloved US ambassador announced the Trump administration had quit the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Americans saw it as cynical grandstanding against a body that just one day earlier had taken the Trump administration to task for its policy of separating illegal immigrant children from their parents at the border.
But Israelis knew Haley was speaking to them when she bashed an organization that in 12 years censured Israel more than any other country.
Out of the 311 country-specific resolutions the UNHRC has passed in the last dozen years, 76 dealt with Israel, 27 with Syria, 20 with Myanmar and 18 with Sudan.
Other countries received even less attention. Iran, for example, has only been censured eight times.
Right after UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council has been one of the most rabidly anti-Israel UN bodies and the place where the Palestinian Authority has scored some of its earliest successes on the international stage.
On Tuesday, Haley stood in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and said what Israelis already believe – that the UNHRC is beyond reform and there is no option but to walk away.
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But once the warm glow of the bold move fades, Israel could find itself with a much colder UNHRC.
In a situation where Israel is guaranteed to lose and where every vote is a moral victory, America’s absence will be noticeable.
While it’s true that Australia has joined the United States in voting in support of Israel and Great Britain has threatened to follow suit, they do not quite fill the void of the automatic support America offered.
It is likely that the UNHRC will now move forward with the publication of its blacklist of companies doing business in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
The list had been delayed based on a behind-the-scenes deal to prevent the US from withdrawing.
BUT ON Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the list, meant to help criminalize settlement activity on the international stage, could be updated this summer.
Similarly, the US will not be in the room to vote against the UNHRC war-crimes probe into Israeli actions on the Gaza border.
That will likely assist the International Criminal Court of Justice, should it decide to move forward on any kind of war crimes action regarding Israel.
Tuesday’s announcement by the US does not mark the first time America has decided not to maintain a council seat. The Bush administration similarly chose not to engage with the council when it was first created in 2006.
The Obama administration reversed that decision and took a council seat.
But whether the US has been in the room or not in the room, it has failed to halt the slew of anti-Israel resolutions.
In the last months the US waged a failed campaign to eliminate Agenda Item 7 which mandates that the UNHRC must debate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at every session.
Among the stumbling blocks was the belief that Agenda Item 7 was some kind of a trade that allowed the UNHRC to go after abuser countries.
In 2012, Israel decided to boycott the UNHRC. Although it was not a member state, it refused to engage unless the body took steps to halt its anti-Israel bias.
It returned to participate in the periodic review process that every country must undergo. It did so because it believed that its failure to show up would embolden abuser regimes to boycott the process.
Biased treatment of Israel is often chalked up to the automatic Arab majority in the UN.
As a proof in point, the initial UN Human Rights Commission was problematic. Its successor, the UN Human Rights Council, has not been much of an improvement.
But the issue is broader than the automatic Arab majority. The real question is whether a body whose membership includes abusers and others who fear them truly tackles the issue of human rights.
As long as bashing Israel is the acceptable barter for policing abuser regimes, true reform is unlikely.
America can take a seat at the council or it can walk away, but Israel will remain the UNHRC’s whipping boy.
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