When he was president, Donald Trump withdrew US support for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), accusing it of being biased against Israel. Then-ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called the council “an organization that is not worthy of its name.” Of course, everyone knew what was going on. Trump was wearing his love for Israel on his political sleeve, rather than tempering his rhetoric or hiding American bias toward Israel as other administrations had done.
When she spoke about human rights violations, Haley never mentioned those committed by the US or its allies. The truth is that the issue of human rights is a political football used by politicians to beat up and pressure those nations they want to dominate, while undermining the concept when it involves their allies.
Last week, Trump’s successor Joe Biden announced that he had directed the State Department to “re-engage immediately and robustly” with the UNHRC. The move is being cheered by people willing to close their eyes to policies that hypocritically excuse some human rights violations, only addressing those committed by countries that contradict US foreign policy.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the administration was re-engaging with the UNHRC because the US is “centered on democracy, human rights and equality.” But he quickly added a caveat that undermines the true principle of human rights and ensures Israel will be exempt from scrutiny, saying: “We recognize that the Human Rights Council is a flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel.” This view was reminiscent of the criticism leveled by Haley.
Blinken added: “When it works well, the Human Rights Council shines a spotlight on countries with the worst human rights records and can serve as an important forum for those fighting injustice and tyranny.” The key phrase here is “the worst human rights records,” which means that any country not perceived to be “the worst” — such as Israel — will get a pass. This is despite Palestinians being oppressed every day in a system of discrimination based on religion and race.
Biden’s support of Palestinian rights is yet to be fully determined. His nominee to be UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, made it clear during her Senate confirmation hearing that she will fight the pro-Palestinian activists who criticize the theft of Palestinian land and resources by Israel’s racist settler movement. Thomas-Greenfield will be Biden’s pro-Israel point person at the UN.
Additionally, Biden, like Trump, has been critical of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision that it can investigate potential Israeli war crimes in the Occupied Territories. The irony is that the ICC was founded in 2002 to bring to justice those responsible for the world’s “worst” war crimes. There is that subjective word again, “worst.” It is a relative term that means not all war crimes will be prosecuted. Trump used that to protect Israel, and so will Biden.
Blinken added a caveat that undermines the true principle of human rights and ensures Israel will be exempt from scrutiny.
When the ICC last year announced it would investigate American soldiers for potentially engaging in war crimes in Afghanistan, Trump denounced the court and sanctioned senior officials. As an American veteran who served during the Vietnam War, the idea of protecting any war criminal is abhorrent to me. A refusal to allow the prosecution of potential war criminals demeans the principles that the majority of American soldiers have adhered to during their service.
For me, it is all a political game: How you speak about issues rather than how you change them. Trump was pro-Arab as long as it did not include the Palestinians or jeopardize his loyalty to Israel. Biden is also pro-Arab, but he too will not jeopardize America’s relationship with Israel. Just because he has not yet called Benjamin Netanyahu does not mean that he won’t support Israel’s policies of settlement expansion.
- Ray Hanania