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Hillary Clinton's UN Human Rights Council Problem—and Opportunity

10:24 AM, Aug 13, 2014 • By NOAH POLLAK
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The new inquisitor has just been appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to “investigate” Israel’s conduct of Operation Protective Edge, following in the footsteps of Richard Goldstone, who famously, incompetently, and unjustly “investigated” Israel's 2009 Operation Cast Lead. The new Goldstone—an obscure pseudo-academic and anti-Israel activist named William Schabas—may be an even stupider and more buffoonish version of the original. At least Goldstone eventually realized that he had lent his name to a sinister project and rescinded the central accusation of his report, that Israeli forces had intentionally targeted civilians in Gaza. It's not clear Schabas would even be able to achieve that level of understanding.

United Nations Headquarters

United Nations Headquarters

Despite years of involvement in anti-Israel causes, Schabas is astoundingly ignorant of simple facts about Israel. In an interview on Israeli TV yesterday, he affirmed his previously stated opinion that Benjamin Netanyahu should be prosecuted for war crimes owing to his involvement in Operation Cast Lead. A minor complication: Netanyahu wasn’t involved in Operation Cast Lead. During that conflict, he was leader of the opposition. Ehud Olmert was prime minister. How could Schabas, who is supposed to be an expert, get something so simple so wrong? He replies that in calling for Netanyahu’s prosecution he is merely “echoing” the Goldstone Report. But the Goldstone Report never mentions Netanyahu.

Then the TV host asks Schabas whether it is appropriate for someone who has prejudged Israel’s guilt to take a job investigating Israel’s guilt. His response: “I expressed opinions about political leaders in Israel in the past. Is there a human being in Israel who’s never expressed political opinions about leaders in Israel?” Say what? 

Having already declared Netanyahu a war criminal, Schabas is asked whether Hamas is a terrorist organization. After pausing to think, he replies: “It would be inappropriate for me to answer a question like that.”

Ho-hum. Nobody familiar with the UN or the anti-Israel academic and activist scene can be surprised by any of this. In fact, it is comforting that a dullard such as Schabas is among the best the “human rights community” has to offer for what is perhaps its most cherished crusade: accusing Israel of war crimes. 

Yet Schabas isn’t the real story here; that would be the UN Human Rights Council. That anti-Israel star chamber was taken out of the penalty box by the Obama administration in 2009 after the Bush administration had withdrawn from it, thereby doing its best to refuse to legitimize it.

In her announcement that the U.S. was rejoining the Council, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system.” Two years later, in a speech to the dictatorships and terror regimes that sit on the Council, Clinton said the administration joined “because President Obama and I believed we could make a difference by working with you on the inside rather than standing on the outside merely as a critic.” She added that she wanted “to set a new agenda, based on three principles,” the second of which was: “the Council must apply a single standard to all countries…It cannot continue to single out and devote disproportionate attention to any one country.” Here she is referring to the standing agenda item on Israel (and only Israel) that guarantees perpetual condemnation of the Jewish State.

With the body set to launch another anti-Israel Report, with the standing agenda item against Israel in full effect, with the administration’s promised reforms having never taken place—shouldn’t Hillary Clinton now endorse U.S. withdrawal and congressional defunding of the Human Rights Council?

After all, Clinton has begun the process of distancing herself from the foreign policy troubles of the Obama presidency. Endorsing the end of U.S. involvement in the Council would complement that process. It would right a wrong that she committed as secretary of state. It would be an act of leadership, of clarity, and would send a powerful signal of friendship to an embattled ally. And it would draw a contrast between her willingness to abandon failed policies and the administration’s stubborn refusal to change course. 

The Obama administration’s representative on the Council did complain last week about the new investigation of Israel, which promises like Goldstone's before it to generate months of media stories promoting false accusations of Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses. Most people who see these stories won’t be aware of their corrupt and dishonest origin. Schabas may be ridiculous, but he is also poised to do real harm. And yet the Obama administration’s discomfort only goes so far. As certain as the new “inquiry” will find Israel guilty, the administration will continue sitting on the Human Rights Council, funding it, and thereby legitimizing it. Hillary Clinton made a mistake in rejoining the Human Rights Council. With a few words now, she could make up for her mistake and help those in both parties in Congress who seek to withdraw U.S. sanction from a dishonorable and disgraceful entity. 

Noah Pollak is on Twitter, @NoahPollak.

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