Middle East Eye / April 26, 2023
Right-wing NGOs and politicians call for dismissal of Francesca Albanese, but UN expert says she will keep calling out Israel for violating international law.
Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, is undeterred by the recent Israeli campaigns accusing her of antisemitism for doing her job.
“This is neither the first nor the last time my mandate and persona will come under attack,” Albanese told Middle East Eye. “An apartheid regime, as the international legal framework acknowledges, may resort to the persecution of persons and organizations opposing it.”
Since assuming her role in May 2022, Albanese has faced significant opposition from the Israeli right wing for her remarks on the Israel-Palestine conflict. As part of her job as the UN rapporteur, she has named and shamed Israel for human rights abuses, including the crime of apartheid and operating as a settler colonial state that is not held accountable for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In December, the Israeli government’s hasbara (PR) platform ACT-IL launched a campaign calling for her dismissal. This was followed by a similar petition on Change.org.
In early April, the momentum to remove Albanese from her role intensified, in what looked like a coordinated campaign using articles and tweets.
Between 9-12 April, multiple articles were published in several outlets, including the Times of Israel, World Israel News, the Washington Free Beacon, Jewish News Syndicate, European Jewish Press, The Jerusalem Post, and The Foreign Desk, accusing Albanese of antisemitism.
The articles were timed to coincide with a Twitter campaign to pressure UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk to dismiss Albanese. Israeli agents also mobilized an Italian legislator to demand Albanese’s resignation.
Albanese says the articles contained many untrue allegations, accusing her of inciting violence by Hamas and “condoning anti-Jewish terrorism”, which the UN rapporteur has denied as unsubstantiated. She said that these accusations were based on a misrepresentation of a conference she attended as a “Hamas-sponsored” event and her affirmation of the right of Palestinians to self-defence.
Albanese has also dismissed all the accusations of antisemitism as “lies” and part of a “smear campaign”.
Despite the relentless pressure, Albanese is adamant that she will continue to speak out against Israeli occupation. “I must stay focused on my work and [on] the millions oppressed under or affected by the occupation, as well as the many threatened around the world for denouncing it,” she told MEE.
It is widely believed that the newly reopened Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which funds NGOs to spread Israeli messaging indirectly, was involved in this campaign. NGO Monitor, known for fabricating evidence against six Palestinian civil society organizations, and the International Legal Forum (ILF) are among the organizations associated with the Ministry. Both NGOs have engaged in online campaigns calling for the dismissal of Albanese.
Meanwhile, Amichai Chikli, Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism, has jumped on the bandwagon, authoring an article earlier this month attacking Albanese and calling for her dismissal.
Conflating antisemitism and criticism
Commenting on the campaign, Carinne Luck, international director of Diaspora Alliance, said, “It does nothing to protect the rights and safety of Jewish people.
“Such conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel only makes it harder to identify antisemitism when it arises,” she told MEE.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has also denounced the attack on Albanese, saying it is linked to her exposure of Israeli “criminality”.
The ministry called on UN member states to “provide protection to mandate holders and human rights defenders from Israeli occupation intimidation and attacks”.
Sid Shniad, founding member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, said that antisemitism accusations are commonly levelled against those who criticize Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.
“Ms Albanese is not alone, given the fact that several former rapporteurs, as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have all been targeted with the same smear,” he told MEE.
Albanese is a renowned expert on forced migration and teaches international law at several universities. She has a law degree and a PhD in progress, and is a married mother of two.
She is the first woman to serve as the special rapporteur on Palestine. Although her male predecessors were also attacked harshly by Israeli officials and pro-Israel groups, the current targeted and forceful effort to remove a rapporteur from office is unprecedented.
Shir Hever is a board member of the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East