UN Human Rights Council’s Schabas Commission: An Example of the Ongoing Animosity of the UN towards Israel
By Alex Grobman, PhD
There are a number of non-government organizations (NGOs) in Israel that undermine and delegitimize the Jewish state. Since this is an ongoing problem which reaches a feverish pitch every time the Jewish state responds to a missile or mortar attack against Israeli towns and cities, it is instructive to examine how Israel is investigated for some of its alleged human-rights violations.
For example, on July 23, 2014, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) created its Schabas Commission, which was charged with investigating potential war crimes committed during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s military operation in Gaza during July and August 2014.
The Israeli military operation was launched to halt the continuing barrage of missiles fired by Hamas operatives from Gaza against civilian targets in Israel proper. The operation came in the wake of the June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members
Schabas and Goldstein
William Schabas, a professor of international law at Middlesex University in London, was appointed on August 11, 2014 by the UNHRC President to chair a three-member board of inquiry. When Israel’s UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, heard of the appointment, he compared the selection to “choosing Count Dracula to run a blood bank.”
Anne Herzberg, legal advisor of the Jerusalem-based watchdog organization, NGO Monitor, saw the investigation as part of the political war against Israel. She noted that Mr. Schabas had been “an outspoken advocate of lawfare,” which means he encouraged the use of the legal system to damage or delegitimize Israel in order to win public relations victories against the Jewish state.
She recalled a September 2009 interview in which Mr. Schabas discussed the Goldstone Report, a UN paper issued by former South African Constitutional Court Justice Richard J. Goldstone. Mr. Goldstein’s UN fact-finding mission on Israel’s defensive war against Hamas in Gaza in 2008-2009 charged the Jewish state with engaging in “deliberate attacks” against civilians.
In his interview, Mr. Schabas admitted that when “all the crimes committed in Gaza during the conflict” were investigated, Israel’s “are probably not, on a Richter scale of atrocity, at the top.”
Nevertheless, it was not until April 2011 that Mr. Goldstone retracted his major criticisms against Israel. In The Washington Post, he acknowledged, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.
Conflict of Interest
Mr. Schabas, who led the inquiry into the 2014 Gaza conflict for six of its seven months, resigned from the board of inquiry on February 3, 2015, after it was revealed that, in 2012, he had been paid $1,300 to write a legal opinion for the Palestine Liberation Organization. UNHRC president Joachim Ruecker, who also serves as the German ambassador in Geneva, viewed the resignation as irrelevant to the board’s anti-Israel findings.
“In this way, even the appearance of a conflict of interest is avoided, thus preserving the integrity of the process,” said Mr. Ruecker.
The Wall Street Journal disagreed, stressing that Mr. Schabas should never have been appointed to head the inquiry, since his public pronouncements on Israel indicated a clear bias.
For example, in a 2010 interview with a Greek publication, Mr. Schabas could not understand why the mass slaughter of 1 million Darfuri men, women, and children in Western Sudan was worse than the situation in Gaza. “Why are we going after the president of Sudan for Darfur and not the president of Israel for Gaza?” he asked.
At the 2012 Russell Tribunal on Palestine, an investigation organized by anti-Israel advocates, Mr. Schabas reflected on world leaders who should be brought to the International Criminal Court: “My favorite would be [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” he said.
No Admission of Guilt
When Mr. Schabas’s conflict of interest became public, he claimed his 2012 assignment for the Palestinian Arabs was merely “academic.” He attributed his withdrawal from the UNHRCs board of inquiry to “Israel’s campaign against the Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza Conflict,” instead of his own failure to disclose a material conflict of interest.
Gerald Steinberg, director of NGO Monitor, argued that Mr. Schabas’s failure to disclose “this obvious conflict of interest” violated “one of the basic principles that lawyers are supposed to follow.”
Further, said Mr. Steinberg, the entire affair “highlights the lack of due diligence by the UNHRC, which selected Schabas.”
“As in many similar cases, the revelation also raises the question of other skeletons that might be hiding in his closet,” said Mr. Steinberg, pointing to the hypocritical nature of the UNHRC’s behavior as a whole.
“The original UNHRC mandate reflects the inherent bias of a body whose agenda, appointments, and sessions are controlled by the 56-nation Islamic bloc in the United Nations,” said Mr. Steinberg.
Bellion-Jourdan and Hamood
Another conflict of interest for Mr. Schabas involved European Union policy officer Jérôme Bellion-Jourdan and his wife, Sara Hamood, a staffer at the McGowan Davis Commission.
Mr. Bellion-Jourdan, the primary European representative to the UNHRC involved with the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio, was responsible for negotiating the text of the council’s Schabas report and helping advise EU representatives on how to vote on it. He was responsible for negotiating on behalf of the EU with the PLO and a group of Islamic states at the council about the final text of the July 3 resolution.
Ms. Hamood, a member of the main administrative staff of the Schabas Commission of Inquiry, operates in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) section of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. She had also been a staff member of the commission under Mr. Schabas.
According to the Times of Israel, Ms. Hamood had previously “served as spokeswoman for arguably the most anti-Israel body created by the UN, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, and has penned various reports critical of Israel.”
The EU Knew
The EU was well aware of the Bellion-Jourdan-Hamood relationship, which had not been made public.
“Most disturbing is that full disclosure was sorely missing,” protested David Harris the head of the American Jewish Committee. “If the EU knew about Mr. Bellion-Jourdan’s conflict of interest, why was it not revealed, and why was he not replaced as their representative for dealing with the Human Rights Council regarding Israel? Or, if Mr. Bellion-Jourdan did not disclose this material information to the EU, shouldn’t he be, at the very least, reprimanded? This potentially glaring conflict of interest would be troubling under any circumstances, but all the more since all the EU members on the Council voted in favor of the COI [commission of inquiry] report.”
The bias in the UN against Israel is well documented. The animosity will not end in the foreseeable future, which is why there is a constant need to expose the UN’s duplicity, hypocrisy, and double standard in dealing with Israel.
Alex Grobman, a Hebrew University-trained historian, is a consultant to the America-Israel Friendship League, a member of the Council of Scholars for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), and a member of the Academic Council of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.