Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid has urged United Nations secretary general António Guterres to disband the UN human rights council’s commission of inquiry on Israel after claiming its members “made and defended anti-Semitic slurs”.
“I call on you to honour your word in this egregious case, to set the record straight,” Mr Lapid wrote. “This cannot stand. Slurs about a ‘Jewish lobby’ that acts to ‘control’ the media, are reminiscent of the darkest days of modern history.”
The commission of inquiry (CoI) investigating abuses in Israel and the Palestinian territories was created by the UN human rights council (HRC) last year after an 11-day war between Israel and armed militants in Gaza.
Miloon Kothari, a member of the commission, told a podcast last week that the “Jewish lobby” was controlling social media and questioned why Israel is allowed to be a member of the UN, sparking widespread criticism and calls for his dismissal or the commission’s disbanding.
“It’s not only governments. We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by, whether it is the Jewish lobby or specific NGOs. A lot of money is being thrown into trying to discredit us,” Mr Kothari told the Mondoweiss podcast.
Israel has boycotted the open-ended inquiry and barred entry to its investigators. It condemned the panel’s June interim finding as the latest in a series of biased reports.
“The fight against antisemitism cannot be waged with words alone. It requires action. This is the time for action; it is time to disband the commission”, Mr Lapid said. “This commission does not just endorse anti-semitism — it fuels it.”
The United States and other western countries, including Germany, Britain and Austria have also condemned Mr Kothari’s remarks as anti-Semitic.
“These unacceptable remarks sadly exacerbate our deep concerns about the open-ended nature and overly broad scope of the CoI and the HRC’s disproportionate and biased treatment of Israel,” tweeted Michele Taylor, US envoy to the council.
Refusal to co-operate
Deborah Lipstadt, the Biden administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-semitism, also denounced Mr Kothari’s comments, calling them “outrageous” and “anti-Semitic”.
However, Navi Pillay, the head of the commission, defended Mr Kothari, saying his comments were deliberately taken out of context.
“The commission takes great exception to personal attacks against individual commissioners appointed by the United Nations human rights council. Such attacks have been continuously directed against all three commissioners throughout our tenure, and it is to this that commissioner Kothari was making reference,” she said.
Ms Pillay also addressed the fact that the commission has grown frustrated with Israel’s refusal to co-operate with the inquiry in any way. “Israel is under an obligation to abide by the international legal framework, as well as independent bodies set up by the United Nations,” she explained.
However, UN HRC president Federico Villegas, Argentina’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, called on Mr Kothari to “consider the possibility of public[ly] clarifying his unfortunate comments and his intentions behind them.”