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U.N. Rights Commission Blasts Israel, but Observers Notice a Slight Change

April 22, 2005
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The latest session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, an annual event that is notoriously anti-Israel, was a bit less harsh this year than usual, observers say. The 53-member commission, which concludes its six-week session in Geneva on Friday, singles out Israel for condemnation more than any other country, passing a batch of anti-Israel resolutions each year.

That tradition continued, but the debate at the session was less contentious this year, Jewish observers say.

Resolutions condemned Israel for allegedly violating international law with its settlements and for its practices in the West Bank and on the Golan Heights.

In an indirect condemnation, a resolution was passed calling for Palestinian self-determination, the only group the commission singled out for such treatment.

Still, no special session was called to condemn Israel this year. Such sessions have been convened in the past to discuss Israel’s slaying of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin and the Israeli army’s battle with terrorists in the Jenin refugee camp.

This year’s resolutions were stridently anti-Israel, but delegates’ speeches “were less virulent than in the past, possibly reflecting the new realities on the ground” as a nascent peace process takes hold in the region, said Amy Goldstein, director of international and U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch in Geneva, agreed that speeches lacked the usual anti-Israel vehemence. But he argued that “the resolutions against Israel are even more one-sided than last year,” referring to the resolution on settlements, which didn’t include an earlier call for the Palestinians to prevent terrorism.

“By ignoring reality, the U.N. dooms itself to irrelevance,” he said.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan addressed the commission and warned the group that it was too politicized and needed a complete overhaul. But member states seemed to ignore the warning, Goldstein said.

In the meantime, it may take more gumption to change a written resolution than to soften a speech, said Felice Gaer, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights.

“It takes courage to change the text in a positive direction, and the European Union countries still have not really been willing to grapple with reality in the context of the commission,” Gaer said.

Other factors may have contributed as well to the slight change in atmosphere, such as the fact that Nabil Ramlawi, the longtime Palestinian representative to the United Nations in Geneva, has been replaced.

In addition, Itzhak Levanon, Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, is “disarming in his optimism, in his style and in his use of Arabic,” she said.

Additionally, a recent phenomenon — a batch of condemnations of anti-Semitism — continued.

Anti-Semitism was condemned in three resolutions this week: one on the incompatibility between democracy and racism, one on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, and one condemning racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination.

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