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Israel Becomes First Country to Boycott UN Human Rights Council

Occupation is a crime that Israel would rather not own up to.

Occupation is a crime that Israel would rather not own up to.

Israel has become the first country to ever boycott the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a rebuff to the United States and other friendly nations which had urged the Jewish state to cooperate with the body.

“I see that the delegation of Israel is not in the room,” a disappointed UNHRC president Remigiusz Henczel said at the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday. Like all 193 UN member states, Israel is required to show up for a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record. Although Israel is not a member of the UNHRC, it is still obligated to undergo UPRs.

Israel has come under intense international criticism for its illegal construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Previously, UN human rights official Richard Falk, an American, called the continued colonization of these lands “ethnic cleansing.” 

The United Nations has passed more resolutions condemning Israeli policies and actions in occupied Palestine than against any other nation in the world body’s 67-year history. Many more would have been passed were it not for repeated vetoes by the United States.

Israel has resorted to increasing violence and economic pressure against occupied Palestinians ever since the United Nations voted 138-9 to recognize Palestinian statehood in November. The Israeli government also announced an increase in illegal settler colonization in the occupied territories in the wake of November’s UN vote.

International reaction to Israel’s UNHRC absence ranged from mild disappointment to anger.

“We wonder … whether this kind of cooperative spirit would be extended to some other countries that are not as close to some of the major powers in the world,” Pakistan’s representative said.

The most powerful country in the world and Israel’s main ally and benefactor, the United States, surprised some by backing a proposal by Henczel to draft a resolution on how to respond to the Israeli boycott.

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the US ambassador to the UNHRC, issued a statement that did not mention Israel by name but called on UN member states to make the “best effort to find common ground and to protect the UPR mechanism going forward”.

On Thursday, the UNHRC responded with its harshest-ever criticism of Israeli policies in actions in the occupied West Bank by calling on governments and private corporations around the world to consider economic sanctions against Israel. It is the first time the UN has ever done so.

Human rights advocates were taken aback by Israel’s boycott.

“If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody,” Peter Splinter of Amnesty International wrote on the group’s human rights blog.

Israel claims that the UNHRC is biased against it, pointing to the fact that more than half of the resolutions passed by the council since 2006 have focused on Israeli policies and actions in the occupied or controlled territories, mainly the West Bank and Gaza.

“There have been more resolutions condemning Israel than the rest of the world put together. It’s not a fair game – it’s not even a game,” an Israeli government spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Last May, Israel called the UNHRC “a political tool and convenient platform, cynically used to advance certain political aims, to bash and demonize Israel.”

But with Israel launching repeated wars and encouraging continued colonization of the illegally occupied West Bank, constant and shocking human rights violations give the UNHRC plenty to condemn. Israel is currently the only nation in the world that practices occupation, colonization, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

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