Israel Won't Cooperate With UN War Crimes Probe, Accuses Chair of 'anti-Israel Agenda'

In a strongly worded letter from the Foreign Ministry, Israel accuses members of UN commission of inquiry into latest Gaza war of 'politically motivated' bias and anti-Israel positions

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray near the rubble of a destroyed mosque in Beit Lahia in May, 2021.
Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray near the rubble of a destroyed mosque in Beit Lahia in May, 2021.Credit: THOMAS COEX / AFP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel will not cooperate with the United Nations' inquiry into alleged war crimes committed during its latest war in Gaza last year, and has refused a request by the Commission of Inquiry's chair to meet with Israeli officials.

The Foreign Ministry said in a letter sent Thursday to Navi Pillay, a former UN human rights chief, that her commission is biased and its three members – Pillay, Chris Sidoti and Miloon Kothari – hold anti-Israel positions.

The harshly worded letter, issued by Israel's envoy to the United Nations' institutions in Geneva, Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar personally attacks Pillay over her positions and the Human Rights Council for a "politically motivated" decision to appoint the commission.

Israeli officials fear the commission may conclude that Israel maintains an apartheid regime against the Palestinians. In March, a UN report accused Israel of imposing an “apartheid regime,” the first time that such language had been used by a UN body, but the report was later withdrawn.

Pillay, a South African jurist, has served in several senior UN roles, including a judge at the International Criminal Court.

Then United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, 2014.Credit: Fadel SENNA / AFP

"There is simply no reason to believe that Israel will receive reasonable, equitable and non-discriminatory treatment from the Council, or from this Commission of Inquiry that you were appointed to lead," Ambassador Eilon Shahar wrote. "All three members of the Commission, yourself included, have repeatedly taken public and hostile positions against Israel on the very subject-matter that they are called upon to 'independently and impartially' investigate."

According to the letter, Pillay is "well known for personally championing an anti-Israel agenda and for numerous anti-Israel pronouncements, including the shameful libel comparing Israel to Apartheid South Africa, as well as advocating for the radical BDS campaign against Israel."

Another member of the commission, Kothari, "has, appallingly, used terms such as 'ethnic cleansing' and 'massacre' in relation to Israeli actions," the ambassador further charged. "Curiously, none of the above information appears on the Commission members' official biography, as published on the website of the COI."

In July, the UN Human Rights Council approved a proposal put forward by Pakistan to establish the commission. In an unusual move, no time limit was imposed on the commission’s work and its members were charged with gathering evidence that would hold those responsible legally accountable.

Pakistan’s proposal, like previous proposals put forward by UN bodies during the fighting, did not mention Hamas or rocket fire toward Israel, nor did they mention Israeli military operations within the Strip – giving the commission authority to investigate crimes committed within Israeli territory too.

The decision by the UN Human Rights Council allows the committee to investigate events beginning around April 13, though the salvo of rocket fire toward Jerusalem that initiated the round of fighting occurred on May 10.

Israeli officials believe that the designated timeframe will allow the commission to include the clashes that took place on the Temple Mount and the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City prior to the fighting.

The Israeli ambassador argued the commission's members were "appointed because they were tainted by bias, and based on their history of activism and hostile accusations against Israel, so as to guarantee a politically motivated outcome that is tailored in advance… It should be of no wonder that Israel, and anyone who actually cares about human rights and the rule of law, will treat the establishment of the COI, its functioning and its findings accordingly."

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