Earlier this week, the United States signaled that once again it would seek a term on the United Nations Human Rights Council. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken addressed the UNHRC to note all of America’s human rights concerns, speaking of abuses by Russia, Egypt, South Sudan, Venezuela, Cuba, China, as well as a strong statement about North Korea. He also complained about what he correctly termed the council’s “persistent bias” against the state of Israel. But while the UN body has done little good in recent years and much harm with respect to undermining the already minimal chances for peace in the Middle East, he also said that the U.S. faith in the institution was still strong.
While there was merit to many of the concerns Blinken’s address pointed toward, the decision about American intentions it highlighted sums up just about everything it that is wrong with the Obama administration’s attitude toward the United Nations and international diplomacy. No matter how squalid the UN’s failures, their ideological blinders require them to not merely acquiesce to its continued abuses but to substantially aid and abet them.
The U.S. has pulled out of the UNHRC before. But it eventually returned and, under the current administration, it has dug in its heels and ceased even to threaten to abandon this travesty.
To understand the depths of this problem, you need to understand that the UNHRC runs on two commodities: hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.
The hypocrisy stems from the fact that members of the UNHRC’s governing council contain some of the world’s most egregious human rights abusers. Most of the countries that were mentioned in Blinken’s address as violators of human rights are also part of the council. That means that rather than investigate Russia, China, Cuba or Saudi Arabia, to name just a few of the worst offenders, the council exists to protect them from scrutiny. Hypocrisy isn’t just an ever-present element of life at the UNHRC. It is its engine.
That means that rather than act as a watchdog for human rights or even a driving force for helping the oppressed peoples of the world the UNHRC is instead essentially the diplomatic bodyguard for dictators.
But there is one issue that the UNHRC works hard to promote: the plight of the Palestinians. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it tries to promote peace with Israel or an end to terrorism. Instead, it supports terror campaigns against the Jewish state. It devotes a disproportionate amount of its time creating resolutions and setting up committees and writing reports aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state’s right of self-defense. Its reports on the last two wars fought between Israel and Hamas over the latter’s terror attacks have been travesties that didn’t even bother with a pretense of objectivity. They solely condemned Israel while ignoring Hamas’ firing of thousands of rockets at Israeli cities, its use of terror tunnels to kidnap and murder Israelis or its use of the population of Gaza as human shields.
At the same time that it works overtime attacking Israel, the UNHRC hasn’t done much that is effective about a real human rights catastrophe next door in Syria where hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions made refugees. To the contrary, as with most UN efforts, it has failed the people of Syria.
The argument for staying in the UNHRC has always been that the U.S. could accomplish more by staying in it than by boycotting it. But the systematic bias against the one Jewish state on the planet is not an exception to an otherwise fine record but actually key to understanding why it does little to advance human rights. By diverting the UN’s attention to an embattled democracy that tries to save the lives even of its foes, the UNHRC does more to harm that cause than to help it. Moreover, by giving it the imprimatur of U.S. participation, the administration has legitimized the very anti-Semitism that it says it wishes to oppose.
Among the priorities of the next president ought to be a revisiting of the decision to stay in the UNHRC. The argument for staying in was always unpersuasive. But the longer the U.S. sits alongside human rights abusers on this council, the more it will be complicit in the problem.