WASHINGTON (JTA) — The new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council said battling anti-Israel bias on the body was a “key priority.”
Keith Harper, addressing a conference of pro-Israel groups meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, also advocated for continued U.S. engagement on the council.
Of the council’s anti-Israel bias, Harper said, “It’s not going to be easy, this bias is deep, its continual, its structural. No country should have to deal with the kind of bias that has occurred with the council from year to year.”
A number of Republicans have advocated leaving the council because of its bias, which was the policy of President George W. Bush’s administration, but the Obama administration policy has been to engage in a bid to temper the bias and build alliances on other human rights issues.
“What we have seen in the last few years about those things that we care deepest about in human rights is that engagement is better than disengagement,” said Harper, who was confirmed last month and has already had meetings with his Israeli counterpart in Geneva, Eviatar Manor. “When we engage we can use U.S. leadership with our partners, including Israel, to advance human rights all over the world.”
Harper is the first Native American to be confirmed to a U.S. ambassadorial post. The conference he attended, the July 9 Symposium, was in protest of what organizers called the “unjust” International Court of Justice decision in 2004 against Israel’s security fence.
Groups participating included B’nai B’rith International, EMET, the Louis D. Brandeis Center and the Jewish Federations of North America. Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, also addressed the event.
A special meeting of the U.N.’s Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was held Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the International Court of Justice decision. A statement read on behalf of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the meeting called on Israel and the Palestinians to “abide by their obligations under international law and to refrain from any actions that could further escalate this highly tense situation.”