Israel prepares for another lashing by Human Rights Council

So far, the U.N. fact-finding mission into last January’s war in Gaza has spawned a 574-page report faulting Israel for war crimes, op-eds calling on foreign governments to hold Israel accountable — including one by the report’s author — and  strident denunciations of the findings by Israeli officials.

This may be just the beginning of the battle.

Next week, Richard Goldstone, the South African former judge who headed the inquiry, will formally present his findings to the U.N. body that commissioned the post-mortem, the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The council could vote to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

In the end, however, the Goldstone recommendations are unlikely ever to acquire the force of law. The International Criminal Court cannot even consider war crimes prosecutions without the say-so of the Security Council — and there were indications Sept. 23 that the U.S. would use its veto power on the Council to prevent that from happening.

But the political and public relations challenges for Israel presented by the Goldstone report are unlikely to go away soon.

Richard Goldstone (right), a former judge from South Africa, will present his findings on the Gaza war to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council next week. photo/jta/alex catalan

“When one makes the charges that there were indiscriminate attacks on civilians … this is a document that reverberates throughout the Muslim world,” said Dan Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith. “It ultimately makes its way into rhetoric — by public officials, the media, extremist groups.”


The report chronicles allegations of Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed Palestinians in Gaza without provocation and accuses Israel of possible commission of crimes against humanity. It demands that Israel launch an internal investigation into the allegations and that Hamas investigate its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.

In addition to posing various challenges to Israel, the report also produces a test of sorts for the United States, which recently joined the Human Rights Council in Geneva as part of the Obama administration’s effort to promote change in the much-criticized body.

Since its founding in 2006, the Human Rights Council has made the condemnation of Israel its central focus, with 26 of the 32 resolutions adopted by the body focused on the Jewish state.

The council’s debate on the Goldstone report doubtless will produce another resolution — plus opportunities for member states to condemn or defend Israel.

“That’ll be Sept. 29, the day after Yom Kippur, so people who care about Israel had better pray hard,” quipped Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, which is based in Geneva and is an accredited NGO at the Human Rights Council.

“Israel will be vilified,” Neuer warned. “Israel will be compared to Nazi Germany. This is fuel for extremist elements.”

For a country desperate to steer international focus toward the threat of Iran, the debate over the Gaza conflict is a distraction and an impediment to building a coalition for further sanctions or support for an eventual military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

“We wish the world will concentrate on the real issues: Iran, the nuclear proliferation, the terror that Iran is harboring and financing and training,” said Gabriela Shalev, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Israel refused to cooperate with the U.N. investigation from the get-go, claiming its mandate was inherently biased, and Israeli officials immediately sought to discredit the report after its release.

With the report’s call for the Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court if Israel does not act upon its recommendations within six months, the battle over the Gaza conflict has the potential to be a repeat of the public relations war over the West Bank security fence, which was referred to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

This time, however, the issue is unlikely to reach an international court.

“We do not foresee a situation where this could come before the International Criminal Court,” Shalev said. “We are going to have a concerted and concentrated strategy: to speak with our allies — mainly the U.S. but also our European and other friends — to show how one-sided this report is.”