Analysis: How Reform Jews almost got kicked out of UN

Transcripts obtained by the 'Post' capture the zeal of emissaries abusing bureaucratic leverage.

unhrc human rights 224 (photo credit: AP [file])
unhrc human rights 224
(photo credit: AP [file])
There is something unnatural in the councils of international diplomacy. The committees and councils of the United Nations represent no nation, no people and no clear motivation or agenda. To the extent that it represents governments, the international body often does little service to the humanity suffering under the heel of those governments, evidenced in the grotesque invitation of Zimbabwe to a world hunger forum last week. The latest group to learn this lesson in the flesh, so to speak, can be fairly described as one of the most liberal, dovish and pluralistic organizations in the Jewish world, the World Union of Progressive Judaism, an international umbrella of American Reform Judaism and a handful of liberal Jewish movements worldwide. Last week, the group narrowly avoided being kicked out of the UN. It all started predictably enough. At a UN Human Rights Council session on January 24 called solely to excoriate Israel for "human rights abuses" while ignoring the seven-year-long shelling of Israeli civilians, the Reform movement's representative at the meeting, David Littman, chose to focus on Hamas's outright philosophical commitment to human rights violations - in this case their promotion of genocide. Hamas's intentions were the "context of Israel's conduct," according to the WUPJ, and so fell "within the scope of the discussion." Stopped three times during his speech by the Romanian president of the HRC (the second time for quoting article 2 of the Hamas charter: "Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it"), the Reform representative signed off with the Shakespearean lament that "there is a general malaise in the air, a feeling that something is rotten in the state of this council." Five months later, at the next meeting of the UN's NGO Committee, a coalition of Cuba, Qatar, Sudan, Egypt and others sought to have the Reform movement booted out of the UN (where it has been an observer NGO for 36 years) for seeking "to undermine the United Nations system and [making] unfounded allegations against its Member States," in the words of the complaint letter sent by Cuba in May in the name of the entire 118-country Non-Aligned Movement. No explanation was offered as to the nature of the "unfounded allegations," or the identity of the victimized member states. Unofficial transcripts obtained by The Jerusalem Post of the NGO Committee's meetings in the past two weeks offer a kind of monstrous glimpse into the solipsistic echo chamber of professional diplomats, and reveal the zeal with which the emissaries of dictators delight in abusing bureaucratic leverage to their advantage. "We want this organization to be punished" and "measures to be taken urgently against this NGO," declared the representative of Sudan at a May 29 meeting of the committee. Littman "violated all the principles that govern consultative status within the UN because he interfered in political affairs, insulted the HRC in the person of its president and flouted the principles of the [UN] charter," complained Qatar at the same meeting. Egypt's representative agreed "with what the representative [of the WUPJ] said, that there is a feeling - and we have to get rid of it. This is why we have to get rid of this organization." The Pakistani representative joined the chorus by noting that Littman's remark "doubted the intentions of the HRC," a body the Pakistani diplomat believes "is one of the very important bodies of the UN." This opening salvo was slowed when other NGO Committee members, including Israel, Switzerland, Romania, the United Kingdom, Dominica, India and China variously called for a "full report" and "investigation" into the "serious incident." According to the transcripts, a brief argument then ensued between the Egyptian delegate, who insisted such reports must be completed by the following Tuesday, and the American who was worried about "the quality of the information we might be able to receive by Tuesday," since it offered only two working days to compile the presumably voluminous data on the uttered sentence. Another argument then saw Egypt and Cuba explaining that the WUPJ had learned of the complaint on May 22, offering ample time for a response, and Israel noting that the complaint is "serious" and "the committee has to look into it in a very thorough way, and it's important to get details from Geneva and results of this investigation, but also a report from our secretariat about precedents of similar cases." Qatar, Sudan, Egypt and then the US affirmed that the committee would remain apolitical in dealing with the difficult issue. The meeting ended shortly after an annoyed British delegate asked whether - "not to undermine the seriousness of this issue" - the committee's members weren't "talking in circles." Thus ended round one, only to be followed by rounds two and three. The whole process was repeated during the following week, most comically when, at a June 3 meeting which saw Qatar complain of Littman's "obscene words," to which an affronted British diplomat replied that "Shakespeare is one of our greatest works. Shakespeare is not obscene language." In the end, faced with theprospect of losing observer status at the UN, the Jewish world's most progressive umbrella apologized. It was let off the hook with a letter reprimanding it for "bad behavior." According to General Assembly Resolution 60/251 from April 2006, which established the HRC, members should only be elected to the Council after taking "into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto," and "the General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights." The question that must concern friends of the UN is not whether the HRC was somehow unbearably damaged by a Shakespearean insult from a silenced Reform Jewish delegate. Rather, it is whether Cuba and Saudi Arabia - countries listed on Freedom House's "Worst of the Worst" list of repressive societies - belong on such a council in the first place. When the International Humanist and Ethical Union, while defending the WUPJ last week, finds itself explaining to the self-righteous Sudanese chairing the NGO committee that it is "vital to the future of the [Human Rights] Council that minority or dissenting voices continue to be heard," perhaps it is time to admit that though Cuba doth protest too much, something is indeed rotten in Turtle Bay.