Gaza Inquiry’s Bias Against Israel Is Already Clear

The UN inquiry’s chair has said he will ‘park’ his personal views about Israel at the door. But what about the track record of a fellow commission member, Doudou Diene, in shaping facts and the law for his own political agenda?

Robert C. Blitt.
Robert C. Blitt
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A Palestinian man walks past a fire in a street set by a home owner in an effort to keep mosquitoes away from their shattered homes in Shejaiya on August 27, 2014.
A Palestinian man walks past a fire in a street set by a home owner in an effort to keep mosquitoes away from their shattered homes in Shejaiya on August 27, 2014.Credit: AFP
Robert C. Blitt.
Robert C. Blitt

The United Nations’ latest commission of inquiry into the recent conflict in Gaza spirals towards irrelevance without even having begun its investigation. Born from a partisan vote in the Human Rights Council, the commission’s chair, William Schabas, is under fire for making comments deemed hostile to Israel.

He has responded to critics by pledging to “park” his personal views at the door. Reasonable minds may differ as to the viability of this assurance. Far more problematic, however, is the appointment of Doudou Diene, a former UN special rapporteur with a long track record of promoting political agendas instead of objective reporting grounded in law and fact.

In a 2003 report prepared for the Council’s predecessor body, and championed by the 57-member state Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Diene concluded that media coverage of 9/11 “contributed to a sharp increase in Islamophobia.” To prove his claim, Diene pointed to the “non-stop” broadcast of Palestinians celebrating in Gaza after the 9/11 attacks. According to his analysis, the demonstration “consisted only of youths and was an isolated incident in the Palestinian territories.” As if to underscore the severity of the incident, Diene reprimanded the media for failing to set the record straight.

This representation of events is utterly detached from reality: First, those celebrations were anything but isolated. Similar revelry emanated from a variety of locales beyond Gaza, including refugee camps in Lebanon, the streets of Nablus, and East Jerusalem. Second, video footage from at least one of these spontaneous street celebrations shows jubilant men and women alongside children. Had Diene attempted to substantiate his findings, he would have discovered CNN and Reuters had already rechecked and confirmed the authenticity of celebratory footage from East Jerusalem that some had alleged was fabricated.

Other reports penned by Diene demonstrate a similar disregard for objectivity and professionalism. An analysis of defamation of religion submitted to the UN in 2004 fails to provide even a basic definition for the amorphous term. More jaw-dropping still, Diene concludes there has been a “manifest increase in Islamophobia”, despite lamenting in the same report “little in the way of reliable data” existed to substantiate the claim.

Despite this scarcity of evidence, Diene remains content attributing the ostensible rise in Islamophobia to the interpretation of individual acts as collective behavior. This phenomenon is best illustrated by, in his view, offensive comments such as: “[Dutch film director Th?o] Van Gogh’s murder is an attack on our values and our civilization.” But attempting to apply this bizarre methodology elsewhere—for example the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.—leads to the obscene conclusion that it would somehow be hurtful to characterize the assassination as an attack on “our values and our civilization”.

This type of ideologically-driven reporting culminates in 2006, when Diene tackles, in his words, the most serious manifestation of Islamophobia: The publication the year before in a Danish newspaper of twelve editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Instead of providing a dispassionate and objective assessment, this report is beset with gross distortions, hyperbole and omission. Diene’s conclusion, that the cartoons’ dominant theme associates Islam with terrorism, is unfounded and leaves one wondering whether the drawings at issue were even examined. Had they been, Diene would have reported that the pictures reflected a diversity of views: Some unsavory and critical of Islam for a variety of reasons; others critical of the newspaper for seeking to publish the cartoons at all; but in any case, only four arguably depicted Islam in an unfavorable light.

Undeterred by this reality, Diene uses the link between Islam and terrorism suggested by several of the cartoons to impeach all of them without distinction as “clearly defamatory of Islam”. He then proceeds to condemn any newspaper that dared to republish the cartoons as perpetrating an “intransigent defense of unlimited freedom of expression.” Nowhere does he define what expression might not constitute defamation, and no effort is made to balance the competing rights at stake.

This type of conduct makes plain that Diene’s reporting is untethered from an objective ability to assess facts or establish violations of international law. Rather, his expertise lies in consistently omitting or misrepresenting both for the benefit of a political agenda primarily espoused by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Such conduct, unlike Schabas’ “views”, cannot reasonably be parked at the door. Worse still, inviting it in—or asking it to stay—is tantamount to premeditating a biased, inaccurate accounting of events in Gaza.

Robert C. Blitt is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law.

Israeli tanks drive near the border as they return to Israel from Gaza August 3, 2014. Credit: Reuters

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