U.N. Taps American Jewish Critic of Israel as Rights Expert

By Marc Perelman

Published March 27, 2008, issue of April 04, 2008.

As if relations between Israel and the United Nations had not deteriorated enough, a new cause for strain arose this week when a prominent American Jewish law professor, who accuses Israel of genocidal policies in the Palestinian territories, was named by the world body’s top human rights entity to monitor the situation in the Palestinian territories.

FALK: The Princeton professor has been named to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
FALK: The Princeton professor has been named to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Richard Falk, an emeritus professor of international law at Princeton University, was appointed on March 26 by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council to become the next special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories. He will replace South Africa’s John Dugard, a staunch critic of Israel whose six-year term is about to end. On the same day, the council elected another departing special rapporteur — and nemesis of the Israeli government — Switzerland’s Jean Ziegler, to an advisory position.

Pro-Israel advocates have for years criticized the human rights apparatus of the U.N. for its perceived anti-Israel bias, and the latest nominations are likely to fuel their disenchantment with the U.N.’s recent vows to become more even-handed. That effort appeared to take a step forward with the creation in 2006 of the Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, but the new appointments are seen as a step in the other direction.

“Unfortunately it seems that right now, the council is not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” said Sybil Kessler, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International. “Change on the margins feels ever more challenging when member states select and promote experts with obviously biased views toward Israel…. The struggle for change has just gotten that much harder, I am sad to say.”

Falk’s appointment was reached by a consensus of the Human Rights Council’s 47 members, despite efforts by Jewish groups to have Canada and the European Union publicly oppose his nomination. The E.U. remained silent, and Canada did not block the consensus, choosing instead to issue a statement dissociating itself from the choice. The United States, which is not a member of the council, also took the floor to criticize Falk’s published writings.

The terms of Falk’s position, which was created in 1993, are to investigate “Israel’s violations of the principles and bases of international law” while excluding Palestinian actions. No such mandate exists to examine Palestinian violations.

Falk, who is also a visiting professor at the University of California, has an extensive written record on the Israel-Palestinian issue, most of it critical of Jerusalem’s policies over the past 40 years. A recent article that has particularly irked his pro-Israeli critics is titled “Slouching Towards a Palestinian Holocaust.”

In it, Falk writes that “it is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ‘holocaust.’”

After describing the Nazi horrors, he asked: “Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty.”

The Human Rights Council overwhelmingly elected Ziegler, a Swiss socialist and university professor, to its 18-member advisory committee. He garnered 40 out of 47 votes. As the U.N. expert on the right to food for the past seven years, Ziegler was a fierce critic of Israel and the United States, prompting several Jewish groups to call for his resignation.



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