Biden drops candidate’s nomination to human rights post over Israel remarks

Chris McGreal

The Guardian  /  February 15, 2023

Professor says his selection was dropped for describing Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ and accusing Jeffries of being ‘bought’ by AIPAC.

The Biden administration has withdrawn the nomination of a leading law professor to an international human rights post, for describing Israel as an “apartheid state” and accusing the top Democrat in Congress of being “bought” by pro-Israel groups.

James Cavallaro, of Wesleyan and Yale universities, said he was told by the US state department on Tuesday it had dropped his selection to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) “due to my statements denouncing apartheid in Israel/Palestine”.

The withdrawal of his nomination followed an article by a New York Jewish newspaper, The Algemeiner, that also highlighted Cavallaro’s retweeting of a Guardian story about the gratification of pro-Israel groups at the election of the New York Democratic congressman Hakeem Jeffries as House minority leader.

Jeffries is closely tied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other hardline pro-Israel lobby groups. One of them, Pro-Israel America, was his largest single donor over the past year.

Cavallaro retweeted The Guardian story with the comment: “Bought. Purchased. Controlled.”

The state department spokesman, Ned Price, said the administration had not been acquainted with Cavallaro’s views when his nomination was announced on Friday.

“We were not aware of the statements and writings,” he said. “His statements clearly do not reflect US policy, they are not a reflection of what we believe and they are inappropriate to say the least.”

Cavallaro, who was IACHR president six years ago, said he reminded state department officials that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the leading Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, “have issued reports naming the conditions in Israel/Palestine as apartheid”.

“My nomination would not have affected US policy on Israel. What has the withdrawal of my nomination achieved? The removal from the [IACHR] of the potential return of a committed, experienced advocate for human rights in the Americas,” he said on Twitter.

Cavallaro described the withdrawal of his nomination as part of broader “censorship of human rights advocates who denounce apartheid in Israel”, making reference to the Harvard Kennedy School’s blocking of a post for the former Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth over his criticisms of Israeli policies. The school backed down following a public outcry.

Cavallaro, the founder and director of the University Network for Human Rights, said he deleted “many” of his controversial tweets because he was “proactively and in good faith addressing concerns the state department had raised during the vetting process about public expressions of my personal views on US policy”.

Chris McGreal writes for Guardian US and is a former Guardian correspondent in Washington, Johannesburg and Jerusalem


‘Shameful’ – Biden administration withdraws human rights nomination over Israel apartheid comments

Julia Conley

Common Dreams  /  February 15, 2023

“When it comes to human rights in Israel/Palestine, the U.S. State Department is the outlier,” said one advocacy group.

Human rights advocates are warning that the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw its nomination of law professor James Cavallaro to serve on a human rights commission could be the latest incident that chills free speech regarding violent Israeli policies in Palestine, as Cavallaro said he was shut out of the position due to his condemnation of Israel’s apartheid regime.

Cavallaro was nominated last Friday to sit on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a watchdog within the Organization for American States which he previously served on from 2014-17.

The nomination was met with applause from the human rights advocacy community, but on Tuesday Cavallaro said on social media that he’d been informed by the U.S. State Department that the nomination had been withdrawn “due to my statements denouncing apartheid in Israel/Palestine.”

Cavallaro, the founder and executive director of the University Network for Human Rights (UNHR) at Wesleyan University, said he responded to the State Department’s news by noting that mainstream human rights groups including Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, and the Israeli organization B’Tselem have all stated that Israel’s illegal settlements, restriction of Palestinians’ movement, and other policies amount to apartheid. The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Palestine also said last year that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is apartheid.

The Algemeiner, a newspaper that the UNHR called “a fringe, Trump-affiliated media outlet” in a statement Wednesday, reported on Cavallaro’s comments about Israel as an “apartheid state” on Monday, in an article that also focused on a tweet written by Cavallaro in December saying U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) has been “Bought. Purchased. Controlled” by the anti-Palestinian rights lobby.

That tweet was written in response to a Guardian article detailing Jeffries’ close ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel lobbying groups, which donated $460,000 to the Democratic leader last year. Cavallaro also tweeted that right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was “bought and paid for.”

“We were not aware of the statements and writings,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement Tuesday.

Cavallaro acknowledged on Wednesday that he removed some of his tweets “proactively and in good faith,” to address the State Department’s concerns about his public statements on his “personal views on U.S. policy.”

In 2019, Rep. Ilhan Omar(D-Minn.) received criticism for her comments on the pro-Israel lobby giving millions of dollars to like-minded lawmakers annually in order to advance pro-Israel legislation—attacks that groups including Jewish Voice for Peace denounced as “disingenuous” at the time, noting that “lobbies influence politics.”

The withdrawal of Cavallaro’s nomination comes a month after the Harvard Kennedy School, under pressure, reversed its decision to rescind a fellowship invitation to former Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. The longtime rights campaigner accused the school of retaliating against him for his statements about apartheid in Israel.

The decision to withdraw Cavallaro’s nomination, said Roth, “suggests that only Israeli apologists are acceptable” for human rights positions. He noted that the UNHR director’s views on Israel are “a completely mainstream position for any human rights defender.”

“There is consensus today across the human rights movement on Israel’s system of apartheid, and many other prominent voices—from the former U.N. secretary-general and director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry to the South African government and French foreign minister—have referenced apartheid in relation to Israel’s systematic subjugation of Palestinians,” said the UNHR. “When it comes to human rights in Israel/Palestine, the U.S. State Department is the outlier.”

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, warned that the State Department’s decision “sends a dangerous message and chills speech critical of Israel.”

David Kaye, a former U.N. special rapporteur on free expression, called the withdrawal “a huge and totally unjustified mistake.”

“While Cavallaro’s potential participation on the commission would have absolutely no impact on U.S. policy on Israel, the withdrawal of his nomination will have real consequences for human rights in the Americas,” said the UNHR. “Cavallaro has been a courageous and committed voice for justice for victims of human rights abuse across the region; as an experienced commissioner in his second term, he would have advanced the cause of human rights in the hemisphere significantly.”

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams