Is it pro-Israel to withdraw from the Human Rights Council?

There is no doubt that the UN Human Rights Council is a problematic body. Its misplaced focus on Israel comes at the expense of focusing on more serious human rights crises around the globe, like Sudan, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Syria. Often, the Council has included some of the world’s most egregious human rights violators among its members, including: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and more.  These countries were reticent to condemn the human rights violations of others, because they did not want to create an international standard that they did not wish to adhere to, and they feared that condemning others would make them seem hypocritical and provoke a backlash that drew global attention to their own inappropriate behavior.

However, withdrawing from the Human Rights Council does not solve these problems; it merely takes away whatever limited chance America had of changing the situation. Even if America has been unable to change the situation thus far, it still matters that America is there to vote no on certain measures, especially when it comes to Israel. Haley claims that by withdrawing, the United States is taking a principled stance against anti-Israel bias, but how is that stance any more principled than voting no anytime an unfair measure against Israel is up for the vote? It should also be noted that America’s turn on the Human Rights Council ends in 2019, after which the US could have simply declined to seek a second term.

Quitting the council sends a message to the world, that the United States will simply disengage from diplomatic struggles it can’t win. Ultimately, this message makes America look weak: That type of disengagement looks an awful lot like defeat.

Furthermore, America’s move puts pressure on Israeli government officials who want to engage in diplomacy in order to combat anti-Israel bias; their very agreement to engage the world will seem like an act of pandering, next to America’s principled stance of refusing to enter the debate, in order to avoid legitimizing the biased terms of the debate.

But ultimately, to refuse to engage is a position of privilege: America can afford to not engage with anti-Israel bodies, because it knows that it’s stronger than they are, and because anti-Israelism isn’t an existential threat to its existence -so it doesn’t have to win. Israel doesn’t have that luxury.

So although, at face value, resigning from the Human Rights Council might look like a pro-Israel policy, in fact, it weakens America – Israel’s greatest ally – and puts pressure on Israel to disengage diplomatically, at precisely the point when Israel must engage in a diplomatic struggle that is vital for its future.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.