Last week, on a student tour of the UN Human Rights Office in Ramallah, Deputy Head of Office Saul Takahashi made a number of alarming comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, of course the UN has a long history of officials with biased opinions in “impartial” positions, such as Richard Falk.
Unfortunately, Saul Takahashi might be another name to add to the list.
Takahashi took time out of his busy schedule to meet with the J Street U group (the student branch of the American lobbying group J Street) last Friday, and was supposed to provide a brief overview of his duties at the UN, but instead gave a one sided take on what Israel and settlers are doing in the Palestinian territories (however, given the UNHRC’s record, maybe that is his duty).
Takahashi’s statements ranged from housing demolitions to settler violence to detention of terrorists, and while few would argue the situation is ideal on either side, Takahashi really only condemned one: Israel.
One of the first questions put to Takahashi was a request to give examples of settler violence in the West Bank, where the UNHR office has mandate from the UN Human Rights Council to document violations. He said the following: “Settler violence...
range[s] from mass-settlers going to the nearest Palestinian town burning cars, beating people up and shooting people, to, in the middle of the night, settlers going to olive groves and cutting down trees.”
Takahashi continued: “There is no serious data on the proportion of the Israeli settlers that are whackedout extremists, it just doesn’t exist,” and “The best data... is Peace Now’s sort of assessment, which goes settlement by settlement.
...[A]nd classifies the settlements by ‘This is a predominantly whacked-out...
national-religious settlement, or this is an economic, quality of life-settlement.’” While Takahashi admitted that the vast majority of settlers (70-75 percent, he claims) are “for the most part, generally, not engaging in violence,” he then elaborated on this point further, saying, “The mass-settlers coming out with shotguns and shooting people up, this is a little bit less in east Jerusalem, it’s more way out in the ‘Wild West.’” Of course, this implies that there are in fact settlers who regularly go out and shoot people for fun, or with no apparent cause.
Takahashi then argued that not only does Israel not prosecute these instances of violence – “The idea that settlers would ever be brought to justice is pretty much a joke” – but that the IDF actively participates: “[The IDF] is quite often there on the scene, they don’t do anything, and sometimes they also participate.”
Takahashi made no mention of the fact that the government( s) of the Palestinian territories has a long history of praising, inciting to, assisting, or engaging in wide-scale terrorism in civilian population centers throughout Israel proper.
Takahashi also criticized Israel for withdrawing from the UNHRC, claiming that it was a “personal” issue for then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, rather than an issue of participating in an organization that has condemned Israel more times than all other countries in the world combined.
“Last year, last March....
The Human Rights Council, our political masters, adopted a resolution about Israeli settlements, and they made a sort of fact-finding mission that would come here and investigate violations that arise from Israeli settlements.
So, when this happened, the Israelis went crazy, they hit the roof, it was sort of a personal thing for Liberman, and he announced that he was going to walk out [and cut off ties with the Human Rights Council].”
When asked about the UN dismissal of rocket-fire from Gaza, Takahashi stated, “When somebody tells you the UN doesn’t say anything about the rockets from Gaza.... This is a lie. Sorry, it’s a lie. It’s a vicious and it’s a malicious lie.” He went on to state that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has made some sort of statement every single time there is a rocket from Gaza.
This would mean there have been over 8,000 statements made by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights since 2006, when the UNHRC was created – yet if this were indeed true, why has the State of Israel sent multiple letters asking the UN to condemn rocket-fire from Gaza? And why have there been no resolutions from the UNHRC with the explicit purpose of condemning Hamas for human rights violations as there have been countless resolutions against Israel? Why did Ambassador Haim Waxman write in January 2012, “In letter after letter, Israel has warned the international community about the dangerous potential for escalation....
There has been no concerted effort in the international community to halt the fire of rockets into Israeli cities?” Where were these strong statements from the United Nations that Takahashi was talking about? Not surprisingly, it seems this is not the first time Takahashi has expressed his negative attitude when it comes to Israel – he has previously been criticized by the NGO UN Watch. In October 2009, he said that the Goldstone Report is “the strongest executive report in UN history,” and even criticized the UNHRC for not acting quickly enough to vote on the report, so that they could condemn Israel and prosecute Israeli officials who were involved in Operation Cast Lead. This is quite a contrast to his claims that the UN condemns every single rocket, and that it is indeed concerned by Hamas’ war crimes.
Takahashi also gave us an estimate of how many incidents his office records every day: approximately two. In other words, roughly 730 incidents a year for a population of approximately 500,000 people (he was being very clear that people living in east Jerusalem are also considered settlers).
Incidents in the settler community are therefore 146 per 100,000 people.
To compare this number with countries regarded as the most peaceful in the world: Norway registered 19,200 incidents of physical violence (only violence – not arson, vandalism, etc.
which are also included in the two incidents per day for settlers) in 2012, and Denmark registered 9,700 incidents of physical violence in 2012. These numbers translate to 384 per 100,000 people in Norway, and 176 per 100,000 people in Denmark. This would mean that settlers are in fact less criminal than these two countries, known as the most peaceful countries in the world – this is hardly what one is led to conclude from Takahashi’s comments.
Perhaps before Takahashi is so quick to condemn Israel, along with the rest of the UN, he ought to first examine the statistics. As documented above, the settlers, by his own account, are less violent than the most liberal and peaceful societies in our world. This lack of perspective from a senior UN official, though nothing new, is totally unacceptable.
Takahashi’s statements are just another representation of the irrational obsession that the UN has demonstrated so many times by condemning the only true democracy in the Middle East.
Magnus Frank is a Danish student living in Israel, and Emily Schrader is a freelance writer and MA degree candidate at Tel Aviv University in political communications.