NEW YORK, Aug. 6 (JTA) Jewish observers are worried that a candidate reportedly up for a U.N. adviser post is hostile to Israel and would undo recent steps to soothe relations between Israel and the United Nations.
The U.N. Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights is said to be on the verge of appointing Palestinian legal expert Mona Rishmawi as a “special adviser.”
Israel already sees the human rights office itself, led by High Commissioner Mary Robinson, as an unfair critic of its treatment of Palestinians.
Yet relations with the U.N. office had warmed when Israel began making concessions toward peace, like its May withdrawal from Lebanon.
“We want the relationship to continue to improve, and we don’t want anything to hamper that relationship or to bring it back to where it was two years ago,” said an Israeli source who requested anonymity.
But observers suggest rocky times may lie ahead if Rishmawi gains the ear of Robinson, the former president of Ireland.
While Rishmawi has earned praise for her work as the U.N.’s human rights monitor for Somalia, she is also director of the Center for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, an arm of the International Commission of Jurists, which Israel sees as one-sided in its assessments of the Middle East.
Rishmawi is also the former executive director of Al-Haq, an ICJ- affiliated Palestinian human rights group that focuses primarily on alleged Israeli violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In writings obtained by JTA, Rishmawi accused Israel of “Judaization” and “colonial interests” in the West Bank. In a 1989 an article in the Palestinian Yearbook of International Law, Rishmawi compared Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Nazi laws in the foreign lands Germany controlled during World War II.
Jewish observers contend that Rishmawi should not be disqualified simply because she is Palestinian. Rather, it’s that she is an activist with a clear anti-Israel bias.
“I’m not getting into whether the human rights record of Israel is good or bad; I’m talking about whether this candidate is appropriate,” said a source in Geneva, where the human rights commissioner is headquartered.
The U.N. office, said the source, “plays an important bully pulpit role,” and what Robinson says “is taken seriously. Her voice is trumpeted around the world when she speaks to world leaders, and what she says to the general assembly of the U.N. sets the tone for human rights discourse.
“So how can you expect someone like Mona Rishmawi to be neutral, impartial and to possibly serve a mediating role? We’re talking about someone with a track record of antagonism toward Israel.”
The American Jewish Committee also has concerns about Rishmawi.
“Given her background, mixed with the highly charged atmosphere” today between Israelis and Palestinians, “it is not the wisest choice to appoint to such a sensitive position someone with that political orientation,” said AJCommittee spokesman Kenneth Bandler.
Rishmawi did not return phone calls to her home in Geneva. Her staff at the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva said she was ill in France. They also said they were surprised to hear of her possible appointment.
A spokesman for the high commissioner, Jose Diaz, would not confirm whether the appointment is imminent and whether Rishmawi is a candidate.
Israeli sources say word of Rishmawi’s possible appointment has already spurred debate within diplomatic circles about if and what sort of action should be taken against it.
“We trust that the high commissioner, like the head of any other U.N. organization, when making any appointments will consider among their criteria possible bias,” said the Israeli source.
High commissioner spokesman Diaz told JTA that such criteria would, as always, figure prominently.
“Any display of partiality or bias would be unacceptable,” Diaz said.
To suspect that either the High Commissioner or any special adviser would demonstrate anything less than impartiality, said Diaz, “I think that’s not giving enough credit to either Ms. Robinson or Ms. Rishmawi.”