Representing Jewish students at the UN Human Rights Council

Representing Jewish students at the UN Human Rights Council

It is not just what you say, but from where you say it. And the higher the platform you occupy, the deeper the level of responsibility you hold.

These were the sentiments of Dr Mukesh Kapila, former United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, who I heard during my week- long experience at the United Nations Human Rights Council, where my eyes were opened to the internal workings of the UNHRC and the bias adopted and injustices exhibited towards Israel. On 17 March, I had the privilege of travelling to Geneva to spend a week with 24 young Jewish leaders from around Europe as part of the EUJS ambassadorial delegation to the UN Human Rights Council.

The week’s seminars were dedicated to underscoring the role of human rights in our current society; the numerous violations of these rights worldwide; and the particular treatment of Israel by the UNHRC and the effects that this council’s actions have lobally — specifically pertaining to the conversion of anti-Zionism to antisemitism. Throughout the week, I met a kaleidoscope of human rights representatives, ranging from Dr Mukesh Kapila, champion for human rights who brought the world’s attention to the genocide in Darfur; to Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of the UN Watch organisation, who strives for equality for all countries represented within the UNHRC. He plays a key role in insisting on a legitimised position for Israel within a regional grouping in the council, as well as an end to the biased position held towards it by many of the member states. With further meetings arranged with representatives of the US, French and German missions, this was the key point, or moreover, one could say the bone of contention to be discussed: Was Israel’s decision to retract from the UNHRC correct, and what kind of progression can we expect in the future?

Biased agenda

In order for one to understand this, we need to contextualise their leaving, which begins with our attendance at the UNHRC for the discussion of the biased Agenda Item 7. This item proposed as the ‘human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories’ is solely dedicated to the delegitimisation of Israel, as well as an obsession with exposing rights violations. It justifies the discussion of the fact finding missions (FFMs) to Israel, as well as allowing for the adoption of various anti- Israel resolutions by the member states to the council. For this purpose, owing to their constant condemnation, the Israeli foreign ministry decided to retract from the council, as they hold the stance that there is no point in being present only to be berated, where your opinion is vehemently ignored and discarded.

However, their exiting poses another problem: When or if they decide to return, what kind of light are they going to be seen in? Would they be perceived to be ceding to the criticism and pressure, or would it be a movement in the right direction and a step towards trying to normalise theirposition in the council?

Given the fact that Israel is not allowed to be included in any regional grouping, one cannot expect their reintegration as a possibility in the near future. There has to be normalisation on both sides, and one can go as far to say that their exclusion from a regional grouping is a breach of the UN charter, where all countries are entitled to be treated equally, and able to give their opinions. However, this is not a possibility when Israel is unable to participate owing to the bludgeoning of their political arguments.

Representing European Jewish students

One cannot declare any single nation at war to be completely free of human rights violations. However, it is this Item 7 session that provides a public vituperation of the Israeli state. In no other item does one encounter as many resolutions against one country as there are against Israel. The decision to delegate one entire session of resolutions against Israel, when we are aware of the atrocities taking place in Syria and Sri Lanka, sets the wheels in motion for the promotion of anti-Zionist principles. I was privileged to have been selected to deliver the speech on behalf of the European Union of Jewish Students in this session, representing the Jewish student population of Europe; whereupon I called for an end to the one-sided condemnation of the Israeli state, as well as for the search for common ground. This is the only way that we are going to promote peace and justice in the Middle East.

The crux of my argument, however, was that we have to stop the public demonisation, as it is fueling a rapid rise in antisemitism and endangering Jewish citizens worldwide. Owing to ignorance regarding the difference between anti- Zionism and antisemitism, it is most often seen as the same thing and therefore spurs actions such as global Apartheid Week, which garners support of people who are unaware of the situation in the Middle East. The raw reality of the UNHRC is that they are the chief distorters of human rights principles. The primary champions against Israel were the greatest world human rights abusers, from Sri Lanka, to Syria, China, and Cuba. Included in these ‘human right’s champions’ was the Maldives, where ongoing violations are palpable..

Going back to the words of Dr Kapila, the platform of power that one occupies is only as powerful as the actions and words that stem from it. The UNHRC is the mirror within which the world gazes directly or indirectly through the media; which provides the fuel that generates global antisemitism. Until there is equilibrium in that council and chief human rights abusers are not condemning the state of Israel, the reflection that we receive will remain distorted, and resolutions towards peace, democracy and justice will remain unfulfilled.

Aviva Liora Moses is a Jewish student from Cape Town who is studying for a Masters degree in Spanish and Internationalism in Stockholm. She was selected as one of 20 ambassadors to represent the EUJS at the UN Human Rights Council.