Hillel Neuer
International human rights lawyer, writer & activist
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Reports that Israel joined the UN Human Rights Council’s Western group are premature

But something important is indeed afoot

Reports that Israel has been admitted into the UN Human Rights Council’s Western group are premature. But something important is indeed afoot.

The UN has five regional groups and by geography Israel belongs as of right in the Asian group. Bigotry by the Arab countries, pure and simple, has always blocked Israel’s entry, causing the Jewish state to be segregated — in violation of the UN Charter’s own equality guarantee — into a category of its own: the only nation excluded from all UN regional groups.

In 2000, the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) in New York decided to admit Israel, on an initial temporary basis which has over time become permanent. This importantly enabled Israel to successfully submit its candidacy to various UN posts chosen by the General Assembly, and it allows Israel to bid for a seat on the Security Council.

However, Israel remained excluded from the parallel regional group system at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. European states that had grudgingly approved Israel’s entry to the group in New York, which deals with elections, refused to do the same in Geneva, where WEOG discusses human rights. “Israel is not like-minded,” said the resisters, who somehow never had any problem allowing journalist-jailing, demonstrator-shooting, and Kurd-killing Turkey into the club.

This long-standing anomaly may soon be remedied.

While Israel’s admission is not yet final, there is hope that very soon Israel will be admitted into WEOG at the Human Rights Council, putting an end to a discriminatory practice in which all states were complicit through their participation in the restricted system, not unlike those belonging to a country club that bars blacks, women, or Jews.

Contrary to several news reports, admission to WEOG in Geneva does not mean membership on the 47-nation council. Israel like every other UN member state automatically has the status of an observer state at the council. Whether a state is one of the 47 voting members of the council, or one of its 146 observer states, all (except Israel) essentially belong to one of the five regional groups.

The regional groups provide states with a forum to receive UN briefings, share information, and to affect certain institutional decisions and appointments. Some regional groups also coordinate positions on council votes; WEOG does not.

Contrary to exaggerated reports in the Israeli media, the country’s admission to WEOG would have zero effect on the Arab states’ continued ability to target Israel through excessive, one-sided and disproportionate resolutions, urgent sessions, and the special agenda item that focuses on Israel at every council meeting.

Rather, WEOG admission would merely allow Israel to participate together with all 192 other UN member states in receiving regular briefings, and to have its small say, like others, on the council’s selection of its investigators, known as special rapporteurs, and on certain other appointments.

What regional group admission would really mean for Israel is not so much increased power, but a sign of equal treatment.

It would mean the elimination of a painful, glaring symbol of bigotry, and the removal of an ugly stain upon the reputation of the UN.

While the Arab-dominated council will remain hopelessly hijacked for the foreseeable future, admitting Israel would mean that at least its democratic friends are no longer aiding and abetting the importation of intolerance from the Middle East into the halls of the UN’s European headquarters.

And that is no small thing.

About the Author
Hillel Neuer is executive director of UN Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization in Geneva, Switzerland. An international lawyer, Neuer has been described by the Tribune de Genève as a human rights activist who is “feared and dreaded” by the world’s dictatorships. Israel's Ma’ariv newspaper ranked Neuer as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Jewish People in the World.” Hillel Neuer is a renowned speaker who has published widely, testified before the United Nations and the U.S. Congress, and appeared on CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera. On September 14, 2016, the City of Chicago adopted a resolution declaring “Hillel Neuer Day” in recognition of his work as “one of the world’s foremost human rights advocates.” In June 2018, McGill University awarded Neuer with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, citing his work as “an innovator” in “creating global platforms for courageous dissidents and champions of human rights from around the world,” and for being “a passionate advocate for human rights, fighting tirelessly against discrimination, torture, and injustice."