The Daily Press Briefing from the Offices of the UN Secretary General and General Assembly is an Israeli can of worms today. It refers to much of what this post deals with.
Last May, the UN’s Human Rights Council (or perhaps the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon – not clear) appointed Richard Falk UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, an appointment which according to Wikipedia is unremunerated and as far as I can see is only tenuously connected to the New York or Geneva offices of the UN. There were protests from Israeli, American and Canadian representatives that out of nearly 200 candidates Falk surely wasn’t the best choice; others disagreed – in a moment of bigotry the Palestinian representative said it was curious that Israel was “campaigning against a Jewish professor”.
In keeping with UN exceptionalism on Israeli and Palestinian issues, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories is a one-of-a-kind appointment – no other Rapporteurs are dedicated to single countries. Falk has a biased remit which involves reporting on Israel’s behaviour as occupier while ignoring the human rights abuses enacted by Palestinians against Israelis and each other. In response to criticism on this count, Falk’s predecessor John Dugard has written:
“Terrorism is a scourge, a serious violation of human rights and international humanitarian law. No attempt is made in the reports to minimize the pain and suffering it causes to victims, their families and the broader community. Palestinians are guilty of terrorizing innocent Israeli civilians by means of suicide bombs and Qassam rockets. Likewise the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are guilty of terrorizing innocent Palestinian civilians by military incursions, targeted killings and sonic booms that fail to distinguish between military targets and civilians. All these acts must be condemned and have been condemned. Common sense, however, dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by Al Qaeda, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation. While such acts cannot be justified, they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation.”
In order to defend his remit, he had to resort to conflating the terrifying experience of a nearby Israeli targeted strike with the deliberate terrorism against civilians perpetrated by a Palestinian bomber. He also resorted to excusing Palestinian acts of terror as inevitable responses to colonialism. This determination to identify with and make excuses for only one side of a conflict is commonly known as bias. Without question this kind of cod analysis prolongs and even fuels conflict – but I understand Dugard was never banned from Israel.
Falk, on the other hand, is more than critical of Israel, compares Israelis to Nazis and the blockade of Gaza to a Holocaust, and, after being appointed as Special Rapporteur, reaffirmed these earlier analogies. It was on the day of this reaffirmation that Israel announced that Falk would be barred from entering Israel in his official capacity. Presumably it is in Falk’s hands to qualify what he said – after all he implies that the analogy was only a publicity stunt:
“He said he understood that it was a provocative thing to say, but at the time, last summer, he had wanted to shake the American public from its torpor.”
However, he stands by it – and in doing so as David Hirsh observes, he provides excellent cover for antisemites. As well as this, he was part of investigations that determined Palestinian suicide bombings were a valid method of resistance, warmly supported the Islamic revolution in Iran, and speculated that the U.S. government was involved in the 9-11 attacks. Although Falk had addressed charges of bias his predecessor ignored by seeking an expansion of his remit to include violations of human rights by Palestinians against Israel, he continues to apply double standards to Israel, calling its embargo of Gaza a “crime against humanity” and calling for the indictment of Israeli leaders by the International Criminal Court. Moreover, it seems that the Human Rights Council has been slow to respond to his request. The HRC this year has (with the exception of Switzerland and Germany) an abjectly bad human rights record.
Yesterday Israel expelled Falk when he arrived at Ben Gurion, as he had been informed they planned to. Another publicity stunt – and I think this one reflects badly on him too. Visa bans are not enacted lightly. For example, Al Qaradawi was refused entry to the UK earlier in the year on the grounds that “The UK will not tolerate the presence of those who seek to justify any acts of terrorist violence or express views that could foster inter-community violence.” Falk also fits this bill – and he’s a UN official.
On Z-Word blog, Ben Cohen writes:
“Some NGOs are also claiming that Israel’s action was undemocratic. I don’t agree. The issue is not really Falk’s seething personal hatred of Israel. Plenty of people with similar views have entered Israel in the past and will do so in future. It’s the fact that his hatred is now grounded upon a UN mandate; that he has become one more node in the UN’s extensive network of agencies, offices, commissions, committees and special representatives on Palestine which result in the diminishing of Israel’s sovereign equality under the UN’s own rules.”
The UN Human Rights Council, dominated by members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, is isolating Israel in increments. Durban 2, the follow-up to the major turning point in UN antisemitism, the UN World Conference Against Racism, threatens to be a farce of an anti-racist conference, and Israel and Canada have already pulled out. Today the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, has cancelled a meeting with UN General Assembly Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann because D’Escoto associated Israeli media coverage with death threats against him. D’Escoto supports the boycott of Israel, giving added plausibility to Shalev’s claims that he tried to prevent her from speaking at the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The ban on Falk has dismayed Palestinian NGOs. But anybody who has to resort to lies about planned Holocausts to make his argument is missing the point about what is actually happening in Gaza. For the Israelis, allowing this person to go about his business is manifestly against Israel’s interests. The Palestinians, as an occupied people, need an advocacy which will maintain impetus of the flagging peace process. Falk is probably worse than nothing because his publicity-seeking exaggerations and falsehoods give the strong impression that the facts don’t speak for themselves. He is a walking excuse to ignore the Palestinians. But even so, no amount of popular outrage could resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Calling Jews Nazis hasn’t got anything to do with the promising US-Russian draft peace plan soon, it looks likely, to be adopted by the UN Security Council, its first resolution on the conflict in five years.
Update: Falk responds in Democracy Now, scrutinised by Ben Cohen. The response is remarkable for denying the charges made against him while simultaneously continuing the things he is charged with – not a conspiracy believer, but Griffin makes sense. Not saying that there is a Holocaust – but there’s going to be – as he wrote last year, “Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.” Jews are often accused of bringing up the Holocaust as a diversion – the waving of a shroud – from criticism of Israel, but when figures of influence such as Falk start bandying round analogies, there s little else to do than rehearse the facts of the Holocaust – the legalised withdrawal of rights from Jews based on racial pseudoscience, the ghettoisation prior to herding off to slavery and the slaughter houses. Falk also responds in perhaps most comfortable place for somebody with his outlook on the conflict – The Guardian. He admits that he was forewarned that he would not be permitted entry. He denies bias but not making inflammatory remarks – i.e. he thinks that it is faithful reflection of fact, and appropriately forceful, to refer to Israel as Nazi-like. His response accuses Israel of a “politics of distraction” but the funny thing is that it was Falk himself who calculated a media storm, as I try to explain above. It’s hard to see what Israel has to gain from this publicity for expelling yet another academic (I know the three so far do a certain amount of injury to the term ‘academic’, but still). It clearly works for Falk, though. He deserves no indulgence – he is a diplomat. If diplomats are misunderstood, then they are bad diplomats who should resign from jobs on intractable conflicts. Remember the peace-makers? Name me the teams from Oslo. No? – there’s a reason for that: they are modest people who work earnestly away from the media spotlight to bring about reconciliation.