UK puts UN ‘on notice’ over bias against Israel
BRITAIN HAS said it will vote against all future UN Human Rights Council resolutions on Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories until the body ends its “disproportion and bias” against the Jewish state.
In what has been described as a “moral breakthrough”, the UK’s mission to the UN institution said in an unprecedented statement that it was putting the council “on notice” over its lack of impartiality.
On Tuesday, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, attacked the UNHRC’s condemnation of Israeli bombing of Hizbollah positions in the Golan Heights as “a profound absurdity”.
He described the motion condemning Israel’s policy in the Golan as “preposterous… when after all in that region we have seen the most appalling barbarity by the Assad regime”.
The policy change came after a UNHRC vote last Friday on the “occupation” of the Golan Heights.
Following the vote, the UK mission’s statement said: “Israel is a population of eight million in a world of seven billion, yet since its foundation, the Human Rights Council has adopted 135 countryspecific resolutions; 68 of which [have been] against Israel. Justice is blind and impartial. This selective focus on Israel is neither.
“Syria’s regime butchers and murders its people on a daily basis. We cannot accept the perverse message sent out by a Syria Golan resolution that singles out Israel, as Assad slaughters the Syrian people.
“Nowhere is the disproportionate focus on Israel starker and more absurd than in the case of today’s resolution on the occupation of Syria’s Golan.”
A Whitehall source said that the stance on the UNHRC was indicative of a new governmental bullishness towards support for Israel: “If you thought Stephen Harper [the former Canadian Prime Minister] was pro-Israel, just you wait.”
Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch in Geneva, said the new policy was a “moral breakthrough”.
UK FOREIGN policy took a significant and welcome shift last week when it called out the UN Human Rights Council’s bias against Israel as unacceptable and disproportionate.
By voting against what it labelled a “perverse” resolution that condemned Israel for the “suffering” of Druze “Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan”, the UK broke with both the EU and prior British practice.
On past votes on the same absurd text — historically introduced each year by Syria’s Assad regime and, more recently, to avoid embarrassment while Damascus is murdering its own citizens, by the Islamic group together with Cuba and Venezuela — the UK had abstained, together with France, Germany and other EU states.
This time, however, the UK joined the US in voting “no” in what appears to be a move by London to further align itself with Washington. With Brexit beginning, the UK increasingly needs to rely on close ties with America.
More significantly, the UK also declared that if the UNHRC did not change its anti-Israel bias, the country would vote against all five of the annual resolutions concerning Israel.
“Today we are putting the Human Rights Council on notice,” said British envoy Julian Braithwaite before the 47-nation body, sounding more like a US Republican than a Foreign Office diplomat.
In language and tone, therefore, in addition to votes and policy declaration, the UK is signalling its proximity to America in the international arena.
Indeed, the US ambassador struck an almost identical note at her appearance before the annual conference of Aipac, America’s pro-Israel lobby.
Have Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson abandoned London’s harsh criticism of Israeli practices and policies?
Hardly. The statement issued on Friday made clear that the UK regarded the Golan as “occupied” Syrian territory, and criticised the “negative” trend of “Israeli conduct in the occupied Palestinian territories over the past year.”
Hence the UK justified its continued support for two UNHRC resolutions on Friday condemning Israel, and abstention on two others — even as it noted that these texts failed to address Palestinian incitement or terrorism.
To see if the UK is serious and principled in opposing the bias that it has now called out at length, the test will be in future votes.
When the World Health Organisation in May will absurdly single out Israel as the only country in the world that violates health rights, will the UK change its position and vote against? For the credibility of the UK — and of the UN — let’s hope so.