COI on Israel and ‘Jewish lobby’ comment are antisemitic, UNGA nations say

PRIME MINISTER Yair Lapid addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, last week.
(photo credit: Mike Segar/Reuters)

South African legal expert Navi Pillay: "I am 81 years old and this is the first time I have been accused of antisemitism."

UN member states took an unusually strong stand against the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Israel, condemning both its bias and the past “Jewish lobby” statement made by one of its members when the issue was debated Thursday.

“We cannot ignore the fact that a current member of the commission made antisemitic comments in late August, referring disparagingly to the ‘Jewish lobby,’” a US envoy to the UN Lisa Carty told the General Assembly’s Third Committee.

She referenced a comment made over the summer by COI member Miloon Kothari charging that social media was controlled by the “Jewish lobby.” He later apologized for that comment and a second one he made, which appeared to question whether Israel should be a UN member state.

“We categorically reject this statement, which we deem to be outrageous, inappropriate and corrosive,” Caty said. “We regret that senior UN leadership has still not publicly repudiated these repugnant statements or asked this commission member to step down.”

Caty asked the COI chair, South African legal expert Navi Pillay, to report on steps she has taken to ensure that the commission “remain[s] fully objective and impartial.”

Outgoing UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay talks during an interview to Reuters in her office in Geneva August 19, 2014. (credit: REUTERS/RUBEN SPRICH)

Pillay has yet to condemn Kothari’s comments.

The Hungarian envoy said that her country was "outraged by the recent anti-Israel and antisemitic comments made by a member of the COI." She added that such comments were "unworthy of the UN."

The Palauan envoy asked how the three members of the commission had been appointed, given "the numerous outright anti-Israel public statements made by the members both before and during their tenure.

"The report states Israel's unwillingness to participate (in the investigation), but how should one support an investigation where members have shown their bias very publicly," she said.

At least 10 countries including Israel referenced that comment when taking the floor to condemn the commission’s stance against Israel, while another nine of the 35 speakers also rejected the COI and the report it delivered.

It is unusual for so many countries at the UNGA to speak out so forcibly in support of the Jewish state. The UNGA chair intervened at times, asking that the speakers not speak critically of a COI investigator, but that request was ignored.

Who spoke on Israel's behalf?

Among the countries that spoke on Israel’s behalf were the Netherlands, Guatemala, Germany, Australia, Austria, the United Kingdom, the Marshall Islands, Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Canada, Liberia, Italy, Uruguay and Micronesia. The European Union also issued a statement against the COI.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva created the three-person commission in 2021 in the aftermath of the 11-day Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Guardian of the Walls.

The COI is unique in that it is an open-ended investigation with no end date and with a mandate to investigate any Israeli human rights violations both within the country’s sovereign borders and in territories that it controls over the pre-1967 lines.

The British envoy said that the COI had an "overly expansive mandate" which furthered a "disproportionate focus" on Israel without a time limit for such an investigation. 

The Palestinian Authority envoy, in contrast, said that she was disappointed that UNGA members focused on the open-ended nature of the COI, rather than the "open-ended nature of the occupation."

In delivering the COI report to the UNGA, Pillay asked that the 193-member body seek an International Court of Justice advisory opinion regarding the illegality of “Israel’s occupation” of Palestinian territory, noting she believed it was a “permanent occupation.”

She rejected charges of prejudice level at her and other COI members.

“We are not antisemitic!” Pillay emphasized. “I am 81 years old and this is the first time I have been accused of antisemitism.... In my own country, that will not be received well.”

Pillay claimed that the commission’s open-ended mandate is not an expression of bias but a response to an open-ended “occupation” that “has no end in sight.” The commission’s wide mandate will allow it to explore many issues relating to the conflict over time, he added.

Do be patient, we are going to be here for a long time,” Pillay said. 

At a press conference in New York after the morning UNGA meeting, Pillay said that "the abuse is so bad and so false we have no way of defending it."

She called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to issue a statement protecting the three members of the commission from charges of antisemitism.

"He has to protect us from personal attacks," she said.  "If states are going to take the false allegations seriously then it needs two be addressed at the highest level," Pillay said.

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