Sunday, November 3, 2013

Israel's foolish boycott backtrack

Israel's foolish boycott backtrack

Ruthie Blum

Israel's decision on Sunday to backtrack on its boycott of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and to attend the council's Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on Tuesday, was disappointing. If this, as was reported in Haaretz, is because Germany warned of the "severe diplomatic damage" that would ensue if Israel remained steadfast, it is downright disgusting.

Israel severed ties with the UNHRC a year and a half ago, in March 2012, after having grown completely fed up with being the repeated target of unfair resolutions. The UNHRC was established in 2006 to replace the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which allowed countries with poor human rights records to be members.

Now there's a hoot. Anyone who expected the name change to make a difference in the snake pit that puts primitive Third World states headed by abusive despots on a par with North America and Europe ought to have his head examined.

In fact, in the Orwellian universe we all currently occupy, the very term "human rights" means the exact opposite. When embedded in a title of an organization, it is a clear indicator of that body's bias towards the forces that would bring down Western values. The fact that even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his predecessor, Kofi Annan, accused the UNHRC of disproportionate focus on Israeli violations of human rights shows just how pernicious and pointless it is.

Indeed, according to U.N. Watch -- a non-governmental organization whose mission is "to monitor the performance of the U.N. by the yardstick of its own charter" -- the Human Rights Council "has criticized Israel on 27 separate occasions, in resolutions that grant effective impunity to Hamas, Hezbollah and their state sponsors."

In addition, its "fixation with Israel is not limited to resolutions. Israel is the only country listed on the council's permanent agenda. Moreover, Israel is the only country subjected to an investigatory mandate that examines the actions of only one side, presumes those actions to be violations, and which is not subject to regular review."

It is this sorry state of affairs that prompted the U.S., under George W. Bush, to boycott the council. Naturally, President Barack Obama brought the U.S. back into its bosom.

Nor should it come as a surprise that Saudi Arabia and China are being vetted in Geneva this week for seats on the council. Saudi Arabia has been in the headlines over the past few days due to a video-gone-viral featuring women -- gasp! -- driving. China's massive oppression, too, is completely on the record.

Objections to these two repressive regimes sitting on a council charged with monitoring and safeguarding the world's freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women's rights, LGBT rights and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities were expressed by delegates from the U.S., Britain, Canada and Germany. Tibetan activists held protests outside.

Among the countries backing the bids of Saudi Arabia and China were Turkey, Somalia, Pakistan and Egypt. True colors make for strange bedfellows, that's for sure.

Meanwhile, other paragons of virtue planning to run in November to fill 14 seats on the council for the term that begins in 2014 include Algeria, Chad, Cuba, Russia and Vietnam.

It is beyond unfathomable, then, that Israel reversed its decision to stay away. No good can come of its subjecting itself, yet again, to the hypocritical judgment of its detractors. Worse still, ahead of Tuesday's Universal Periodic Review, Israel had to submit a report defending its human rights activities and progress, particularly in light of "information" provided to the council by left-wing NGOs about its ostensibly poor track record on this score.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli report "provided a positive account of advances in … issues [of] gender, disabilities, human trafficking, children, education, migrants and Bedouin."

On the Palestinians, the report stated: "Israel is willing to make painful compromises towards peace and will act to achieve this through negotiations conducted on the basis of mutual recognition, signed agreements and cessation of violence."

The outcome of this pathetic exercise in futility will become apparent by the end of the week. But since the best predictor of the future is the past, Israel would have done better -- and been far wiser -- to uphold its boycott.

Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"