U.S. casts lonely vote against establishing war crimes inquiry in Gaza

Thousands hold an anti-Israel rally in the city of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on July 27, 2014.
UN Human Rights Council vote for Commission of Inquiry on alleged war crimes in Gaza,  July 23, 2014. (Photo: Twitter)

UN Human Rights Council vote for Commission of Inquiry on alleged war crimes in Gaza, July 23, 2014. (Photo: Twitter)

The U.S. has cast the sole vote against establishing an investigation by the United Nations into war crimes committed in Gaza.

Yesterday, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted 29-1, with 17 abstentions, to establish an inquiry. The United States was the only no vote. The European nations on the council all abstained.

In a statement, the UN Human Rights Council said it voted to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations” of international law “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014.”

The UN’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, said that “there seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”

The Israeli government immediately condemned the vote. “The decision today by the UNHRC is a travesty and should be rejected by decent people everywhere,” the Israeli government said in a statement sent to journalists. “The predicable result will be the libeling of Israel and even greater use of human shields in the future by Hamas.”

The Israeli news website YNet reported that officials were contemplating whether or not to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council in response to the vote. Israel has long decried the Human Rights Council’s focus on Israel. Both the United States and Israel had withdrawn from the council in recent years over its focus on Israel, but had rejoined over the past two years.

A key U.S. priority at the UN has been shielding Israel from criticism of its human rights record. In 2009, then U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the U.S. rejoined the Human Rights Council so she could, in part, “fight against the anti-Israel crap.” And in 2013, Rice told Reform Jews that a “huge part” of her job was defending Israel.

Israeli assaults on Gaza inevitably draw the council to establish inquiries.

In 2009, the Human Rights Council’s decision to do so lead to what became known as the Goldstone Report. Respected South African Jewish jurist Richard Goldstone authored the comprehensive report which condemned Israel’s attack, saying it was designed to “humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.” The U.S. voiced strong criticisms of the report and ensured that its findings of Israeli war crimes would not come up for a vote at the Security Council or be referred to an international court.

The impact of the Goldstone Report’s findings were diminished after Goldstone himself recanted a key finding of the report: that Israel deliberately targeted civilians. The other three members of the inquiry sharply disagreed with Goldstone’s recantation.

Whether this report on Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” will attract the attention the Goldstone Report received likely depends on who is chosen to lead the authoring of the report. Goldstone was demonized after his report was published.

The UN Human Rights Council found that Israel’s 2012 assault on Gaza violated international law. They also found that Palestinian militant groups violated the law. But nothing substantive came from that report.

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