The US on Monday issued a strongly worded statement accusing a United Nations body of longstanding bias against Israel.
Amid threats from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to withdraw entirely from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the State Department announced it would boycott the council’s entire discussion about human rights abuses committed by Israel and vote against any resolutions that came from it.
“The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the existence of the UN Human Rights Council’s Agenda Item Seven: ‘Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,’” acting spokesperson Mark Toner said in a statement.
Agenda Item Seven is a permanent fixture requiring the council to discuss three times each year any alleged abuses of human rights committed by Israel against Palestinians. Toner said that the item threatens the credibility of the council.
“Today’s actions in the Council are yet another reminder of that body’s longstanding bias against Israel,” he said. “No other nation has an entire agenda item dedicated to it at the Council. The continued existence of this agenda item is among the largest threats to the credibility of the Council. It does not serve the interests of the Council to single out one country in an unbalanced matter.”
Israel is the only country-specific issue that has a permanent place on the council’s agenda, an opening for discussion about the Jewish state that often sees anti-Israel invective delivered at council meetings from Arab and Muslim states.
“Later this week, the United States will vote against every resolution put forth under this agenda item and is encouraging other countries to do the same,” Toner said.
Earlier, Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on Palestinian territories held by Israel since 1967, warned that the “illegal settlement enterprise has moved at an alarming pace” this year.
The US has always boycotted the discussion of the agenda item on Israel, and for the past several years Jerusalem has encouraged other nations to do the same.
Last month, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called out the Human Rights Council for “breathtaking double standards” and “outrageously biased resolutions” against Israel, during a press conference after her first meeting with the UN Security Council.
Earlier this month US envoy Erin Barclay said the United States’ commitment to human rights “is stronger than ever.” However, she slammed the council for its focus on Israel.
“No other nation is the focus of an entire agenda item… The obsession with Israel… is the largest threat to this council’s credibility,” said Barclay, a career diplomat. “It limits the good we can accomplish by making a mockery of this council. The United States will oppose any effort to delegitimize or isolate Israel.
Last week Tillerson sent a letter to nine nonprofit groups in which he explained that the United States may quit the council unless it makes reforms, Foreign Policy reported.
In the meantime, Tillerson said, the US would reiterate its “strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.”
Tillerson wrote that the US was concerned as well about membership in the council of countries accused of human rights violations, such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Should US President Donald Trump’s administration opt out of the UNHRC, it wouldn’t be the first to shun the body.
When the UNHRC was created out of the discredited UN Human Rights Commission in 2006, then-US president George W. Bush refused to join the new group, believing that it would lack credibility and that, like its predecessor, it would allow human right violators to become members.
In 2009, president Barack Obama reversed that decision, hoping to improve the UNHRC.
“With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system,” then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton said at the time