Even the chairman of the session could not keep silent. The Nigerian Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva called on participants to treat each other respectfully. His request was a direct response to the speech by the Iranian ambassador who, as is the custom of his government, called Israel "the Zionist entity," and not by its official name. The chairman's words were also meant to protest the fiery, if expected, speeches of the envoys from the Arab and Muslim countries who attacked Israel one after the other. The most prominent was the Yemeni ambassador, who called Israel's actions against the Palestinians the greatest atrocities in human history. No less.
He had not heard about the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks, the Holocaust of the Jews, and the genocide in Rwanda, the horrors of the Balkan wars. He did not remember that 40 years ago, his own country had been attacked with chemical weapons by the Egyptian army.
The occasion, last Thursday, was a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. The discussion was being held close to the date the world will mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Out of the declaration grew a number of bureaucratic bodies to deal with this important issue, among them the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Council, established at the beginning of 2006. One of its most important instruments is the Universal Periodic Review: an accounting by each UN member of the status of human rights in its country: the attitude to ethnic minorities, religions, women, the gay community, freedom of the press, etc. Other countries respond and make suggestions for improvement.
Some in Israel thought that the issue of the territories should not be part of the review, since the matter comes up so often in other UN bodies, and that the focus should be on Israel within the Green Line.
However, it was eventually decided that it would be improper not to mention the situation in the territories. Israel's representatives, headed by the ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Ya'ar, told the council that Israel was living with terror and therefore some human rights are not absolute. Israel's representatives also said that the separation wall had proven itself efficient in preventing suicide bombers.
They noted the large number of human rights groups operating in Israel; governmental, judicial, and non-governmental. Israel's representatives acknowledged there was room for improvement and pledged to seriously discuss the council's recommendations The democratic countries praised Israel's report, although they expressed reservations about certain issues, such as the situation of the Negev Bedouin. However, the blood of the Arabs and the Muslims was boiling. Their central recommendation was that Israel put an end to the "racist" occupation, as the Syrian representative expressed it.
"The Human Rights Council is a political body," Leshno-Ya'ar told Haaretz. "We would like to learn from the experience of others in this issue, but we do not need the review process to remind us of the history in the territories. The recommendations of the Arab countries are political, and not only do they not advance the cause of human rights, they even do it harm."
The Human Rights Council consists of 47 members, with an automatic majority of third-world countries, led by Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt and Cuba. The council appears to be making almost obsessive efforts to denounce homosexuality and stop texts that are critical of religions. The Western countries see these steps as attempts to deflect criticism from the serious human-rights situation in the other countries. The United States has decided not to continue its membership in the council.
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