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Israel's new status at the U.N.: Will it make a difference?

New adviser critical of Israel's policies toward Palestinians

Jewish Telegraphic Agency
September 19, 2000

NEW YORK—Israel may now be getting good vibes from the U.N. General Assembly, but Jewish observers expect continued hostile treatment from another prominent U.N. organ, the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights.
Courtesy Conference of Presidents
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, second from left, joined Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Chairman Ronald Lauder, right, and U.S., Israeli and other dignitaries at an event sponsored by the Conference of Presidents marking Israel's inclusion in the U.N.'s Western European and Others Group Sept. 13 in New York. From left to right: Michael Miller, executive vice president of the JCRC New York, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, Shlomo Ben-Ami, acting foreign minister of Israel, Gedale Horowitz, president of JCRC New York, Albright and Lauder.
The Jewish state is no longer the only U.N. member not to be included in one of five regional groupings in the world body, plus it has been lauded for "going the extra mile" to achieve peace in the Middle East.

But in what could be a sign of trouble for Israel, Palestinian legal and human rights expert Mona Rishmawi was named special adviser to Mary Robinson, the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights.

Rishmawi's past activities and academic writings have displayed clear antipathy for Israel and its policies toward Palestinians, observers say.

Robinson's office, which carries out the will of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and is mandated to carry out its duties without bias, is already notorious among Israeli officials.

Rishmawi, who has earned praise for her work as the U.N.'s human rights monitor for Somalia, is the former executive director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group that focuses primarily on what they view as Israeli violations in the "Occupied Territories" of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In the past, Rishmawi has written of Israel's "Judaization" and "colonial interests" in the territories, and compared Israeli policy there with Nazi laws in the lands Germany controlled during World War II.

Israeli diplomatic sources expressed concern over her appointment earlier this month, and reportedly tried to block it. The Israelis said they had objected not simply because Rishmawi is a Palestinian, but because they believed she will lack sufficient fairness and objectivity whenever Israel comes up for discussion.

"Ms. Rishmawi has been known for several years as a harsh critic of Israeli policies," said one Israeli source.

"We express the hope that Ms. Rishmawi will be able carry out her responsibilities in the required manner."

The human rights commissioner's office, also based in Geneva, apparently believes she will.

"The selection committee, in doing its work, takes into account standards of impartiality and neutrality that all prospective U.N. staff must fulfill to work for the organization," said spokesman Jose Diaz.

Messages left by JTA at Rishmawi's office and home were not returned.

She is also director of the Geneva-based Center for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, an arm of the International Commission of Jurists.

Israel deems both groups to be one-sided in their assessments of the Middle East, though the ICJ Web site indicates the group has also criticized the Palestinian Authority and various Muslim states for repressive policies.

The ICJ was awarded the Council of Europe's first European Human Rights Prize in 1980 and the United Nations Award for Human Rights in 1993.

That the United Nations would honor the ICJ doesn't surprise Israeli and American Jewish observers. They have long perceived anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.

Both the 53-member human rights commission and the office of High Commissioner Robinson, the former president of Ireland, are notorious among Israelis for what is seen as their relentless criticism of Israel.

The commission's history of anti-Israel resolutions, Jewish observers say, rivals that which was directed at South Africa during the apartheid era.

At its annual spring sessions, the commission basically discusses two agenda items, said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

"Item one is the Israeli-occupied territories; item two is everything else, literally," said Harris.

"Every other human rights violation in the world, whether in Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Congo or Iran, is all subsumed under one agenda item, while the other item is country-specific. To think this goes on, year after year, with the acquiescence of countries that should know better, is mind-boggling."

© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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