Middle East Eye / August 24, 2022
Dozens of Jewish scholars signed a letter to the UN urging member countries to back the probe into Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.
The letter comes after the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has come under attack from Israeli groups who accuse the body of being biased and antisemitic in its targeting of Israel.
“In recent years, right-wing advocates, representing both Jewish and non-Jewish groups, have invested enormous energy and resources to frame legitimate criticism of Israel and attempts to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of international law as inherently antisemitic,” the letter read.
The latest pressure on the UN body comes after commissioner Miloon Kothari gave an interview chastising Israel for not cooperating with the investigation, adding that if Israel wants to be part of the UN, it has to abide by its rules.
“I would go as far to raise the question of why are they even a member of the United Nations, because the Israeli government does not respect its own obligations as a UN member state. They in fact consistently, either directly or through the United States, try to undermine UN mechanisms,” he told Mondoweiss.
The UN investigation’s primary critics, Israel and the US, pounced on the statement as evidence of the body’s apparent bias. One pro-Israeli organization went as far as to accuse Kothari of questioning Israel’s right to exist and antisemitism, charges he denies.
Kothari recently also faced accusations of antisemitism after claiming social media was “being controlled largely by the Jewish lobby”. Kothari later apologized for his remarks, saying his choice of words was “incorrect, inappropriate, and insensitive”.
But the letter’s signatories say that Israel and pro-Israel groups are capitalizing on the special rapporteur’s remarks to attack the validity of the probe and taint it with claims of antisemitism.
“I signed the letter because I strongly object to practices, all to common, by Israel advocacy groups and by the Israeli government, to avoid substantive discussion of real issues by making ad hominem attacks on critics,” said Ian Lustick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Atalia Omer, a signatory to the letter and a professor of religion, conflict and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, told Middle East Eye that the “accusation of antisemitism undergirds and entrenches Israeli impunity”.
“It needs to be called out, especially when deployed to demobilize an inquiry into Israeli state violence at the level of the United Nations.
“The letter is significant because it again demonstrates that many Jewish scholars and public intellectuals reject the weaponization of antisemitism to avoid holding Israel accountable for its policies and actions while also recognizing that antisemitism is a real phenomenon.”
Last year, the UNHRC agreed to launch an investigation – with a broad mandate – to probe all alleged violations Israel had committed against Palestinians following its May offensive on Gaza, which killed 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to the UN.
The first of its findings which came out this June said that Israel’s occupation and discrimination against Palestinians are the main causes of the endless cycles of violence in Israel and Israeli-occupied territory, UN investigators have concluded.
Earlier this year, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories also submitted a report to the UNHRC that concluded that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid.