UN Taps Israel Critic for Top Human Rights Post

Experts concerned about continued anti-Israel bias

Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein / AP
June 9, 2014

The United Nations has tapped as its next High Commissioner for Human Rights a Jordanian prince who has said that Palestinian suicide bombings are "no less horrific" than Israel’s efforts to prevent civilians from terror attacks.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced over the weekend that he has nominated Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, a member of Jordan’s royal family and its current UN ambassador, as the next high commissioner, a senior official who monitors human rights across the globe.

The post has been used in the past as a bully pulpit to target Israel for criticism over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Human rights leaders expressed concern that al-Hussein will be no different given controversial comments he has made equating the activities of Palestinian terrorists to Israeli "practices" in the West Bank and elsewhere.

Al-Hussein, whose appointment must still be confirmed, is set to replace current High Commissioner Navi Pillay, who pursued for years what observers have called an "anti-Israel and anti-American agenda."

Pro-Israel advocates warn that al-Hussein will be no different, pointing to controversial past attacks he leveled on Israel.

During a 2004 U.N. meeting about "the consequences" of Israel’s security barrier, which prevents terrorists from waging attacks in Israel, al-Hussein equated suicide bombings with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Al-Hussein condemned "attacks mounted against civilians in Israel," but went on to state that "those events do not stand by themselves."

"Those suicide bombings have indeed been nothing less than horrific. But, Mr. President, those events do not stand by themselves," al-Hussein said, according to an official record of his remarks.

"Israel’s argument, centered as it is on the sporadic suicide bombings of the last three years in particular, must be weighed against almost four decades of Israel dominating and, by virtue of its occupation, degrading, an entire civilian population; often unleashing practices which have been no less horrific, resulting in a huge number of innocent Palestinian deaths and casualties," he said.

Al-Hussein went on to condemn Israel’s security barrier and claimed it is an attempt to seize land that belongs to the Palestinian people.

"It is when one looks at the overall picture presented by the Wall and its accompanying controls that one fears for the future of the Palestinian inhabitants of the Occupied Territories," he went on to say. "It is consistent with what is known already of the Wall to see in its construction steps aimed at the further assimilation of the Occupied Territories into Israel."

Human rights scholar and pro-Israel advocate Anne Bayefsky warned that al-Hussein would bring the same anti-Israel baggage to the post as his predecessor Pillay.

"So how likely is it that a High Commissioner for Human Rights who comes from a country that is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—which has hijacked the UN Human Rights Council to serve as its personal Israel-bashing tool—will confront his nation's allies and refuse to become part of the problem?" asked Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust (IHRH).

"The answer is, as the British would say, not bloody likely," Bayefsky said.

Al-Hussein "represented Jordan before the International Court of Justice when it considered the legality of Israel's security fence in 2004," Bayefsky explained. "The case was a farcical ‘legal’ exercise that answered a ‘question’ posed by the General Assembly. The Assembly had already decided the illegality of ‘the Wall’ and gave the Court the information to ‘prove’ the foregone conclusion."

"During his appearance Al-Hussein said that Israeli 'practices' were 'no less horrific' than suicide-bombing," she said. "Exactly the orientation that will be encouraged and welcomed by the UN's ‘human rights’ establishment."

Al-Hussein’s appointment has already been praised by some in the press.

Peggy Hicks, the global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told Foreign Policy magazine in a recent interview that al-Hussein will "stand up to abusive governments."

"Prince Zeid's work on sexual violence and his leadership on the international criminal court give a good foundation for this new role," Hicks was quoted as saying. "As states in his region silence civil society and crush peaceful protests, the real test for Prince Zeid will be his willingness to stand up to abusive governments and speak out for those facing injustice and human rights violations worldwide."

However, Hicks herself has come under fire for having an anti-Israel bias, according to Bayefsky, who called her comments "predictable."

"This kind of comment coming from Hicks is predictable in view of her own long history of anti-Israel bias," Bayefsky said. "Because the real test for a Muslim who becomes the UN's top human rights authority, will be his attitude toward the obsessive demonization of Israel and the constant dissemination of anti-Semitism by the UN human rights system itself."

"The grotesque double-standards that the UN human rights apparatus applies only to Israel, day after day, constantly impede UN action on real human rights abuses around the world," Bayefsky said. 

Outgoing High Commissioner Pillay faced criticism for what observers described as a undue bias against Israel.

Pillay, among other things, championed the highly controversial Durban human rights conferences, which were widely condemned after participants focused their criticism mostly on Israel and made what many described as anti-Semitic comments.