Becca Wertman is Managing Editor and Canada Liaison at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.
December 10 marks Human Rights Day, a day meant to recognize and reiterate the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Declaration captures the fundamental human rights of equality, life, and freedom, among others, which are supposed to underpin everything the UN does.
However, what I experienced last week at the UN in Geneva was the polar opposite of this promise.
On December–5, 2019, as a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Israel underwent its regular review by a panel tasked with evaluating State Parties’ adherence to this convention.
There was some hope that this would not be a standard UN attack against Israel. This was the same UN CERD Committee that in August reviewed the Palestinians, and took them to task for the deplorable presence of incitement and antisemitism in Palestinian textbooks. Perhaps the review of Israel would be fair; criticisms, which are unavoidable, would at least be based on fact.
Unfortunately, my speck of optimism was misplaced.
The Committee members’ evaluation of Israel was informed in large part by a group of organizations that seek to delegitimize the Jewish State. These non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which falsely claim to champion human rights and fight discrimination, utilized the review of Israel to promote racism and deny universal rights to Jews.
Their vitriol was in full effect during an informal briefing between NGOs and Committee members, where NGOs could provide the Committee with information they could use in their evaluation and answer questions. Other than me, the Managing Editor of NGO Monitor and someone who believes that the Jewish people deserve a sovereign state of our own, the NGO representatives were all virulently hostile to Israel.
What ensued in the hour-long meeting was a well-coordinated tirade against the only Jewish State, its right to exist, its right to defend its population, and the latter’s right to life. Very few comments made were actually based on fact. Most were based on pure hatred.
One familiar theme was the false canard of “apartheid”. An NGO official claimed that “there is an arbitrary categorization of Palestinians under different names imposed on Palestinians by Israel… Muslims, Christians, Druze… in order to deny Palestinian identity.” Needless to say, there was much consternation when I pointed out that many Druze, at least the ones I know, do not identify as Palestinian, but as Druze, and more importantly, it is not their role or mine to determine how anyone should self-identify.
Nor were they pleased when it was finally my turn to speak. I told the Committee that allegations that Israel has a “shoot to kill” policy are false, and that Israel faces real security concerns, including rockets regularly fired from Gaza and terror attacks throughout the country–such as the one I was in at Sarona Market in June 2016.
What made them most enraged was when I highlighted the widely endorsed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism (adopted by the Canadian government in June 2019). I encouraged Committee members to use the definition as a tool to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism. As the NGO activists fully understood, this definition renders most of their attacks as antisemitic, in particular claims that Israel’s “raison d’état” is racist.
Unfortunately, the NGO rhetoric was parroted by members of the Committee in their review of Israel. As mentioned in an official UN press release about the proceedings, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the UN took note that “some of the non-governmental organizations that submitted reports to the Committee were exploiting this opportunity to present false facts that were later reflected in the questions raised by some Committee Experts.”
The UN ought to uphold the values of universality and not deny rights to select groups–especially at the time of year surrounding Human Rights Day. It is my sincere hope that in their forthcoming report, the Committee members will understand the absurdity of the NGO claim that every Israeli policy–from its security concerns to its very existence–is only in place to discriminate against the Palestinians. Such NGO statements are not only false, but are also antisemitic and contrary to universal human rights.