Pressure grows on UN investigator to resign after Jewish Lobby remark

“it remains the sole decision of a member of the COI to step down from their position as they are independent experts,” UNHRC spokesman said.

 Former UN human rights chief and lead of a international commission of inquiry into alleged crimes committed during the latest conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, Navi Pillay arrives to deliver her report on the opening day of the 50th UNHRC session, June 13, 2022. (photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
Former UN human rights chief and lead of a international commission of inquiry into alleged crimes committed during the latest conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, Navi Pillay arrives to deliver her report on the opening day of the 50th UNHRC session, June 13, 2022.
(photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

Pressure grew this week on United Nations investigator Miloon Kothari to resign for reasons of antisemitism after he made reference to the Jewish Lobby in an interview he gave to the Mondoweiss website last week. He also questioned why Israel was a UN member.

At least 13 countries, as well as the European Union and top UN officials, have condemned Kothari’s use of the term “Jewish Lobby,” which is reminiscent of the antisemitic trope that Jews control the world, particularly given that there is no such organization.

Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel have all issued statements.

Belgium tweeted Tuesday that it was “firmly engaged in the fight against #antisemitism” and “deplored” Kothari’s statements.

 Deputy Minister, Alvin Botes delivers a National Statement at the Annual High Level Panel on Human Rights Mainstreaming under the theme “Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities”, at the UNHRC, Geneva. (credit: FLICKR) Deputy Minister, Alvin Botes delivers a National Statement at the Annual High Level Panel on Human Rights Mainstreaming under the theme “Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities”, at the UNHRC, Geneva. (credit: FLICKR)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “has always been extremely clear in saying that there is no antisemitism in the work of the United Nations,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday.

Dujarric also affirmed that “Israel is unquestionably a member of the UN with the same rights and responsibilities as the 192 countries that make up this organization.”

Kothari is one of three investigators on the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Israel (COI). The other two are Christopher Sidoti and Navi Pillay who chairs the commission. On Sunday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid asked Guterres to remove all three investigators from their positions and to disband the COI.

Dujarric clarified that “the secretary-general has no authority over the COI, whose members are appointed by the Human Rights Council.”

UNHRC President Fredrico Villegas has already asked Kothari to clarify his comments, but he also lacks the authority to force him to retract them or to remove him from his position.

“It remains the sole decision of a member of the COI to step down from their position as they are independent experts,” the council’s spokesman said.

Former Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who is now the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), also spoke out against Kothari’s words.

“Words matter. Hate rhetoric is toxic. Therefore, education about antisemitism is key to combating it in all its forms. It is also essential to agree on a definition on antisemitism,” Moratinos said.

“Words matter. Hate rhetoric is toxic"

Miguel Angel Moratinos

“UNAOC remains committed to take a firm stance against antisemitism including any comments or actions seen as stigmatizing the Jewish people.”

Outgoing UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed said that in May last year, “a foreign minister claimed that Israel controls the global media. Now this trope has come to the UN! The UN must take up my call to use the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism for awareness-raising across the UN system, in line with international human rights standards.”

Defending Kothari

But UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, defended Kothari.

She stands in solidarity with the Commission of Inquiry against the “preposterous allegations of antisemitism. The COI is mandated to investigate the root causes of violence [and] pursue accountability,” questioning whether or not this was the “real target of the smear campaign.”

Pillay last week said that Kothari’s comments were taken out of context, noting that the commission has been accused of antisemitism from the start of its work.

The COI has an open-ended mandate and intends, among other things, to investigate Israel for the crime of apartheid.

Other voices weigh in

A number of international pro-Israel and Jewish NGOs have also weighed in on the conversation.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said that UN investigators must be “individuals of the highest moral standing” but “unfortunately, this past week has shown us that the members of the COI are unfit to carry out their sensitive duties.”

Kothari’s statements that “Jews control social media and [that he] questioned Israel’s standing as a UN member, shine a light on his antisemitic views,” Lauder said.

A COI that is “composed of openly antisemitic individuals is further proof of the brazen anti-Israel bias at the UN,” Lauder said. “It’s time to disband the investigation.”

The Palestinian NGO Al-Haq defended Kothari, noting critics of the COI had accused it of antisemitism since its inception.

"The attacks on the CoI will only further perpetuate impunity for Israeli crimes. We call on Third States & civil society to support and engage in good faith with the CoI to enable it to continue with its work unhindered," Al-Haq tweeted.