The Jerusalem Post
US ambassador balks at calling UNHRC antisemitic
But Thomas-Greenfield blasts council’s anti-Israel bias
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield balked at labeling the UN Human Rights Council antisemitic at a congressional hearing on Wednesday, despite her condemnation there of its anti-Israel bias.
“It is also appalling that the council has one standing agenda and that is Israel, when there are so many other countries committing human rights violations and we see it every day on the news,” Thomas-Greenfield said as she testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In her role as US ambassador to the UN, she answered questions for four hours about the Biden administration’s priorities at the UN. She also told the representatives in the room that she planned to visit the Middle East in the coming months.
Many of the representatives who quizzed her focused on the UN bias against Israel, particularly at the UNHRC.
Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL) went one step further when he asked: “Is the UNHRC an antisemitic institution?”
Thomas-Greenfield, who had spoken strongly in support of Israel in her testimony, ducked the question.
“There are individual [UNHRC member] countries that are antisemitic,” she countered.
Mast rebutted by asking, “Which ones?”
Said Thomas-Greenfield: don’t want to call them out.”
Mast did not accept the response, saying if someone was racist, the US would say they were racist.
“So I would ask you again, which nations are antisemitic?,” he asked.
Thomas-Greenfield responded: “We have seen countries that have put Israel on the agenda on a regular basis, have expressed views that are antisemitic, and many of those countries are in the Middle East. I work with them, and I work with them on a number of issues, and we have called them out.”
“Would you say that the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet was antisemitic?” Mast asked, as he pointed to statements she had made about the possibility that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza.
“No, I would not say that she is antisemitic,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Mast also asked Thomas-Greenfield about the UNHRC call for an arms embargo against Israel, and if the US would abide by that call if the council’s probe on Israel found that it had committed war crimes.
“The Biden administration has been clear that Israel has a right to defend itself and we support Israel’s right to defend itself,” said Thomas-Greenfield.
She fielded a number of questions about the Biden administration’s decision to rejoin the council, thereby rescinding the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the UNHRC in 2018. The Biden administration plans to run for a seat on the 47-member body, thereby increasing its power within the institution.
At issue in particular was the presence of human rights abusers on the council, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and China and the fear that the US presence lends them legitimacy.
“We know the council is not perfect, it is extraordinarily flawed,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “When we are there, we can call out those countries. Very few countries will be able to call out China, but with our support and backing they will call out China and Venezuela. No one will play that role if we were not sitting at the table. When we leave a vacuum, others who do not share our values and priorities are eager to step in” to create a more favorable environment for authoritarianism.
With respect to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, Thomas-Greenfield said that the Biden administration was intent on preventing the use of school books that promoted antisemitism and incitement against Israel.
“It is unacceptable to have textbooks that push for violence and has antisemitism in their teachings,” she said. “This is something that we will be closely monitoring,” with more attention than has been paid to this issue in the past. She said UNRWA also takes the issue seriously, and has moved problematic material out of its school system.
Thomas-Greenfield hinted that the Biden administration could review the Trump administration’s decision to cut ties with UNESCO in 2019 over anti-Israel bias.
The US had initially withdrawn its funding from the organization in 2011 after UNESCO became the first UN body to grant the Palestinians membership status as a state. Congressional legislation mandates the withdrawal of funds from international organizations that grant such recognition
“We are still reviewing our decision on UNESCO,” she said. “We do see that UNESCO does provide some needed services across the world,” but there is a concern with respect to the Palestinian membership.
“We are working through that at the moment,” said Thomas-Greenfield.
She also appeared to hint that the Biden administration could review Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.
“This is an issue the administration is still working on,” Thomas-Greenfield said. She clarified, however, that “we have not changed any of the decisions of the prior administration,” and that the issue was not on the agenda at this time.
Thomas-Greenfield also pledged to work to “shine a light” on the genocide and the crimes against humanity China is perpetrating against the Muslim Uighurs.