Anti-Israeli bias and antisemitism are nothing new at the United Nations. However, a new report blaming Israel as the root cause of conflict in the Middle East is not just prejudiced, but pernicious, different and will have lasting consequences for Israel and the United States.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel (or just COI) was created by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) following the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization.
International outrage was immediate, but not directed at Hamas which had initiated the violence. Instead, allegations of Israeli war crimes permeated the airwaves, including by Human Rights Watch and others.
Such accusations are unfounded. According to an assessment conducted by retired U.S. generals, admirals, and military legal advisors on behalf of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), Israeli “military operations complied with [the law of armed conflict] and consistently implemented precautions to mitigate civilian risk, some exceeding those implemented in recent U.S. combat operations.”
Yet, the UNHRC assigned Navi Pillay, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during the infamous Goldstone Report, to chair the Commission investigating Israel and gave it a dangerous mandate distinct from previous such bodies.
First, the COI is charged with investigating violations of international law outside of a specific timeframe. For example, a similar Commission called following the 2014 Israel-Hamas conflict examined just the duration of the fighting. The 2021 COI, on the other hand, investigates all alleged violations “up to and since April 13, 2021.”
Additionally, the Commission has the broadest mandate in history. The COI is not restricted to specific incidents, such as actions taken by both sides during the May 2021 conflict. Rather, this COI is mandated to “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict” in the Palestinian territories and Israel. Thus empowered, the COI, in its first report, not only accuses Israel of war crimes but, through a series of legal and factual contortions, claims Israel is also responsible for Hamas’ war crimes.
The COI does briefly note that Hamas’ indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israeli civilians is a violation of international law. Yet, it assigns culpability for Hamas’ violence to Israel, assessing that “ending the occupation of lands by Israel…remains essential in ending the persistent cycle of violence.” The absurdity of this claim is revealed by the fact that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip exactly fifteen years ago. The only group occupying that territory now is Hamas.
Finally, the COI has no expiration date. Each year the COI will disseminate unfounded legal accusations against Israel. To add insult to injury, U.S. taxpayers will foot the bill for this legal assault against a vital U.S. partner. With eighteen staff and a budget of $4.2 million in 2022, Americans will pay approximately $1 million annually to support the COI.
What makes the COI’s sweeping mandate so dangerous, however, is that its power is not limited solely to reports. It can mount an informational, political, and legal campaign for delegitimizing Israel. Its findings will be shared with, and voted on, by the UN General Assembly. The “evidence” it compiles can be sent to the International Criminal Court and used to open proceedings against Israel, its leaders, and its military officers, despite Israel not agreeing to ICC jurisdiction.
For its part, the Biden administration firmly opposes the establishment of the Commission and its report stating, that it “represents a one-sided, biased approach that does nothing to advance the prospects for peace.” Additionally, a cross-regional group, including 47 percent of UNHRC members, signed on to a statement objecting to the Commission for its “disproportionate scrutiny” on Israel. Congress also weighed in through letters, op-eds, and legislation.
Such objections are not sufficient.
The United States should work with like-minded partners to stand up for Israel when the Commission’s report is considered by the UN General Assembly in September. President Biden should appoint congressional representatives to the UN General Assembly who will make the COI report a top priority. These delegates should track the report vigorously, working with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations urging countries to reject the report.
Additionally, the United States should invite those countries that signed the UNHRC statement to join the U.S. campaign against the COI, ensuring that they will continue to object to the report New York as well as bring other countries into the fold.
Finally, President Biden should host a high-level event welcoming the opportunities that the Abraham Accords and the success that normalizing relations with Israel offers the region. The administration should make it clear that the COI carries no weight when confronted by historic unity in a region known for its divisions.
The Biden administration promised to reaffirm America’s commitments to its partners and to strengthen international organizations. Unless it acts decisively against the COI—a UN organization spending U.S. funds to de-legitimize one of America’s closest partners—these twin goals will remain mutually incompatible.