JERUSALEM—The appointment by the United Nations of an outspoken critic of Israel to head a commission investigating alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza has been termed “a complete travesty of justice” by Israel’s ambassador to the UN.
Ambassador Ron Prosor was protesting the appointment of William Schabas, a Canadian jurist and lecturer on international law, to the post.
In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prosor said: “In light of his hate-fueled rants, one doesn’t need to be a fortune teller to predict the outcome of any inquiry led by Mr. Schabas.”
In a tape shown on Israel’s Channel Two last night, Schabas is heard telling colleagues last year that the person he would most like to see tried by the International Court of Justice in the Hague was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also suggested that then Israeli President Shimon Peres be tried.
Interviewed by Channel Two, Schabas said his reference to Netanyahu was in the context of a discussion of the Goldstone Report on alleged Israeli war crimes during an incursion into Gaza in 2009, Operation Cast Lead. “I didn’t prejudge him and I didn’t say he was guilty,” said Schabas. Israeli critics, however, were quick to point out that Netanyahu was not prime minister during that operation.
In the tape, Schabas also asks why former Israeli President Shimon Peres was not tried in the Hague. “Why are we going after the president of Sudan for Darfur and not the president of Israel for Gaza?” he asked.
Peres has long been one of Israel’s most outspoken advocates for peace and had no decision making role in the incursion into Gaza.
Schabas was appointed to head the commission by the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which also appointed the commission headed by Richard Goldstone five years ago to investigate Operation Cast Lead. That commission found Israel and the Palestinians both guilty of war crimes but Goldstone himself later recanted and said that Israel had not deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians as it had originally been accused of.
The UNHRC has long been accused by critics of being virulently anti-Israel. Asked in the Israeli television interview why the UN body repeatedly ignored nations involved in massive abuses while focusing instead on Israel, Schabas acknowledged that “there’s a lot of double standards in the United Nations” because of the influence of world powers. Israel had also profited from this double standard, he suggested, when it was protected on the Security Council by the U.S.
Schabas declined to comment on whether Hamas was a terrorist organization. He said it had not yet been decided whether alleged Hamas war crimes, such as the firing of rockets at Israeli cities, fell within the commission’s mandate. “Our mandate determines we investigate violations of international law and war crimes committed only within the the occupied territories during the fighting,” he said.
The other two jurists named to the commission were British-Lebanese rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin and Doudou Diène of Senegal. However, Ms. Alamuddin, best known as the fiancée of actor George Clooney, declined her appointment and a replacement has not yet been announced.
Despite Ambassador Prosor’s sharp denunciation of Schabas, the Israeli government has not yet decided whether to cooperate with the commission. The Israel Defense Forces says it has meticulously taped all operational decisions made during the Gaza war and can demonstrate that it was not guilty of war crimes.
Schabas denied that he was anti-Israel, noting that he had come to the country frequently to lecture. Referring to his controversial remarks about Netanyahu and Peres, he said that anyone sitting on such a commission “has to be able to put these things behind and start fresh. And this is, of course, what I intend to do.”