Delegation slams choice to head war crimes probe, UNRWA in meeting with Ban Ki-Moon.
A review of 40 United Nations statements made during the Gaza war found that only once was there a mention of Hamas’ so-called “terror tunnels” dug under the Gaza-Israel border to launch terrorist attacks in Israel.
The newly appointed chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes during the war, William Schabas, has previously called for the prosecution of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres for war crimes.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in a statement last month that “dozens more civilians have been killed in the Israeli military strikes [in Gaza]. … I condemn the atrocious action.”
These and other actions by the United Nations and its leaders came under attack last week from Israel’s United Nations ambassador, Ron Prosor, and also from an 11-member delegation of Jewish leaders that met separately with Ban Ki-Moon to express their concerns about what they perceived as UN bias against Israel during the war in Gaza.
“We laid out our concerns, from the appointment of a commission and a chairman whose biases have been evident for years, to our concerns about UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency] and why [Hamas] missiles were placed in several UNRWA installations,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Why were UNRWA spokespeople prosecutorial in their comments, condemning Israel consistently? And they used language that has legal consequences, like the use of the word proportionality. …
“You had a fight in a semi-urban area and civilians were deliberately put in harm’s way so there would be civilian casualties. … He said he attempted to be fair and he took notes and said the points we raised would be reviewed.”
Evelyn Sommer, the Women’s International Zionist Organization’s representative to the United Nations, pointed out to the secretary-general that UNICEF in its February 2013 report, “Children in Israeli Military Detention,” concluded, “Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israel military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized.”
“We know very well that is not a fact and a terrible lie,” she said she told Ban Ki-Moon. “Israel has doctors that treat children in Israeli hospitals. … What is really very heartbreaking is that Israel has always been a strong supporter of UNICEF, and Israel as a country is on the executive board of UNICEF. That is why when the UNICEF report came out, Israel tried to make them change it — but without success.”
Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, which raises funds for UNICEF and advocates for children, defended the report and said UNICEF “is on no side except the side of children.”
She said the report “was taken to the [Israeli] ministry to look at, and there were civil and frank conversations about things that needed to change. UNICEF’s intention was that there was a problem and that children needed to be treated differently. And changes were made. …
“We are an independent organization and a summary of findings a year later identified the changes that Israel had made and applauded them. … I’m the first to point a finger if I fear an unjust attack. In this case, an analysis was done that was no different from ones done in other countries. The report was not issued in a public way to humiliate anyone; the intent was to make changes.”
Stern, who previously worked as a senior associate national director at the ADL, said: “I have a strong Jewish background and am very much a Zionist, and I have confidence that there was no bias against Israel in that report.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said his organization asked the secretary-general to conduct an “independent investigation” of the activities in Gaza of UNRWA.
“Only after the shooting stopped did reporters say that [Hamas] had been shooting from in and around UN facilities,” he said. “Even though it was not their mandate, they should have communicated this to the secretary-general.”
Just last week, the head of Hamas’ information ministry told Lebanese television that foreign journalists caught filming the locations of Hamas rocket attacks against Israel were “deported from the Gaza Strip” or given an opportunity to “change their message.”
She said also that some foreign journalists were kept under “security surveillance.”
Several news organizations have in recent days released footage of Hamas rockets being fired from civilian areas — but they waited until the fighting ended and their news crews had left Gaza.
The Foreign Press Association issued a strongly worded statement last week condemning Hamas for intimidating journalists and trying to manage the news.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he asked Ban Ki-Moon why he had not disagreed with Schabas’ appointment to head an investigation into Israel’s conduct of the war.
“The UN Human Rights Council is a UN agency and the secretary-general can disagree with something it has done,” the rabbi said. “And why didn’t the commission say it was going to investigate the murder of the three Israeli teenagers and the rockets Hamas fired and the tunnels it built? I told him that they are doing all of this in his name. That he is the boss and should say something. He said they are on their own and that he can’t get involved, which is ridiculous.”
The secretary-general issued almost the same response a year ago when asked about the comments of Richard Falk, a UN appointee, who said the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing was an understandable reaction to the “American global domination project.”
At first, the secretary-general’s office said Falk, then a member of the UN Human Rights Commission, was not Ban Ki-Moon’s representative and was “free to say what he wants to say. The secretary-general doesn’t comment on everything everybody says.”
But later, Ban Ki-Moon’s office issued another statement saying the secretary-general “rejects Mr. Falk’s comments” and added that nothing could justify such an attack.
Following the secretary-general’s meeting with the Jewish leaders last week, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric, said that during the 70-minute meeting there had been a “very solid exchange of views about the situation in Gaza and the issue of anti-Semitism.”
“The secretary-general reiterated that he fully understands Israel’s legitimate security concerns but also stressed the need to show restraint in their actions in Gaza so as to avoid civilian casualties,” he said. “He also reminded them that he has, on many occasions, condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas into Israel as well as the tunnels. The secretary-general told them that the nightmare of the last four weeks has been a terrible reminder that only a negotiated political settlement can bring security and peace to Israelis and Palestinians alike.
“He also shared with the Jewish leaders his very real concern over a rise in anti-Semitic activity in Europe and beyond. He reminded them that he has forcefully spoken out against anti-Semitism in the past and will continue to do so.”
Schabas’ appointment has been strongly criticized by Israel. In a video on his Facebook page, Netanyahu questioned why the council ignored Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israeli civilians and its use of Palestinian civilians to act as “human shields” to prevent Israeli retaliatory raids.
“First, let them visit Damascus, Baghdad, Tripoli,” he said. “Let them see the Islamic State, the Syrian army, let them see Hamas — that’s where they’ll find war crimes, not here.”
Netanyahu repeated that refrain in a meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who led a two-day solidarity mission to Israel of the state’s top elected officials. (See Lens on page 4.)
“Hamas continues to do these horrible things that ISIS does: They persecute Christians, they persecute gays, they persecute women, they basically reject modernity and they are a terrorist tyranny that is imposed on their people,” he said. “And where their people reject being used as human shields, you know what they do, Governor? They execute them.”
Israeli officials pointed out that within Israel itself there are several investigations into the way Israel’s military executed the war, as criticism has mounted over the number of Palestinian civilian deaths. The military said it had already taken disciplinary action against soldiers who were photographed congratulating themselves after shooting an 18-year-old Palestinian in the leg before he could throw a Molotov cocktail at other Israeli troops.
“The IDF expects its soldiers to maintain a high level of professionalism at all times,” it said.
Rabbi Cooper said the delegation was also critical of the secretary-general’s harsh criticism of Israel for rocket attacks that killed and injured civilians — comments that were sometimes made even before it was known who fired the rockets.
The delegation also asked the secretary-general to request that delegates to the upcoming UN General Assembly be mindful of their language when speaking about Israel. In the past their language has been hate-filled.
“The GA overlaps this year with the High Holy Days, and if the UN allows itself to be a platform for that kind of language again, there will be more hate crimes [worldwide],” Rabbi Cooper said. “We need him to see to it that the GA and other UN agencies don’t add more fuel to the fire.”
The ADL released a report last week documenting the spike in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide since the Gaza war began a month ago.
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