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U.S. ouster from U.N. rights panel prompts fears

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NEW YORK, May 8 (JTA) – Now that the United States has been booted off of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Jewish activists predict it will be open season on Israel at the world’s leading human rights body.

During the seven months of Israeli-Palestinian violence, the Geneva- based commission has already accused Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and it issued reports and passed resolutions that Israel has deemed one-sided.

What’s next? Some predict the commission just might dust off and re- introduce the notorious 1975 resolution that equated Zionism with racism.

In a stunning vote last Friday, the 53-member organization ousted the United States – effectively replacing it with Sudan, which has been in the spotlight lately for its state-sanctioned slavery trade.

With three seats available for the West, the United States came in fourth behind France, Sweden and Austria in the vote.

It’s unclear what exactly led up to America’s removal, but analysts suggest a range of factors:

* China, stinging from the spy-plane incident, sought to embarrass Washington and deflect attention from its own poor human rights record;

* the Europeans, trying to play a greater role on the world stage, were irritated by recent shows of U.S. unilateralism;

* Arab states were outraged by what they view as continued U.S. protection of Israel, especially its recent veto of a U.N. Security Council move to send peacekeepers into the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and

* the actions of the Bush administration itself – for being, as some have described, “asleep at the wheel” and neglecting the requisite behind-the- scenes lobbying.

While some described last Friday’s ouster as a blow to “American prestige,” observers suggest that the anti-American forces behind it may have won themselves only a Pyrrhic victory.

Since much of the world continues to look to the United States for moral and diplomatic leadership, observers say that without America at the table, the rights commission may have marginalized itself.

With countries like Sudan, Syria, China and Cuba sitting on the commission, “Why should anyone concerned with human rights pay attention to it?” asked Michael Colson, executive director of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch.

“I wouldn’t ask a country that’s all desert its opinion on forest conservation. So I may not ask a commission largely composed of abusive states, or those not willing to confront them, its opinion on human rights.”

The United States has long been pressured to pay its back dues to the United Nations, a debt the world body estimates at $1.3 billion.

While no one is calling for Washington’s out-and-out disengagement from the United Nations, some Jewish activists now want the Bush administration to review its relations with the commission – and perhaps go it alone on human rights.

“It’s appropriate for Congress to call hearings to re-evaluate a system that a) will never treat Israel equally among nations, and b) because of the fiasco” of certain rogue states “serving as prosecutor, jury and judge on human rights issues,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is an accredited non-governmental organization within the United Nations.

“Instead of returning with hat in hand, we should consider taking our marbles elsewhere. Nobody likes to go it alone. But the U.S. is powerful enough, and has the self-image and bipartisan support for human rights, that if it needs to skip Geneva for a few years, so be it.”

Meanwhile, Jewish leaders were heartened by the long-awaited granting to Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America of a “special consultative status” to the U.N. Economic and Social Council.

For a year and a half, several Arab states have attacked the 89-year-old humanitarian organization as inherently political because of the “Zionist” in its name.

During that time, the Palestinian observer to the Commission on Human Rights has even accused some doctors who work at the Hadassah- Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem of injecting Palestinian children with the HIV virus, said Amy Goldstein, Hadassah’s director of Israel, Zionist and international affairs.

On Friday, the council admitted Hadassah and 51 other groups.

As far as the human rights commission is concerned, though, it is unclear how severely the Jewish state will be affected without its American defender.

Some say there will be a ratcheting up of anti-Israel rhetoric. There may be more resolutions, they add – and more will pass unimpeded.

But for the most part, it’s bluster, say Jewish observers.

Only the U.N. Security Council, where the United States remains one of five permanent members, can take action that is bound by international law.

Nevertheless, much of the world still looks to the commission as a moral authority that has historically set a human rights framework for the rest of the world to follow.

Already, some in the Arab world have spoken of reviving the 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution, which was repealed in 1991.

Now, there will be little blocking their path, some fear.

Goldstein of Hadassah said there is a potential silver lining to last Friday’s vote.

Here’s an “opportunity” for President Bush to demonstrate moral leadership, unrestrained by diplomatic protocol, Goldstein said.

“Now the administration can speak out more loudly, because they won’t be a part of the process of negotiation or hammering out resolutions,” she said.

Likewise, “If things turn ugly at the commission, the U.S. won’t be tainted by what happens.”

Most disturbing for Israel, Cooper said, is how quickly and dramatically its relations with the United Nations have unraveled.

One year ago, there was upbeat talk about warmer relations with the world body, as Israel was praised for, among other things, withdrawing from southern Lebanon and showing flexibility in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Now, that seems so long ago, Cooper said.

“The hope for a new world, a new age of normalcy for Israel is now a distant pipe dream,” he said.

“We’re bracing for a rocky road ahead.”

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