Kerry Pledges Ongoing Effort to End ‘Anti-Israel Bias’ at U.N.

December 3, 2013 - 5:16 AM

UN israel

Aharon Leshno Yaar, the Israeli foreign ministry’s deputy director general for the U.N. and international organizations who served formerly as permanent representative to the U.N. in Geneva, addresses the Human Rights Council in 2011. (UN Photo by Jean-Marc Ferre)

( – In a rare victory at the United Nations, Israel has been admitted to a regional group at the U.N.’s institutions in Geneva, ending a longstanding anomaly that has prevented it from fully taking part in U.N. activities there.

Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed what he called the “overdue” step Monday, and pledged that the U.S. would “continue to support efforts to normalize Israel’s treatment across the U.N. system as a full and equal member of the community of nations.”

“It goes without saying that at a time when the scourge of global anti-Semitism is on the rise, it is more important than ever for Israel to have a strong voice that can be heard everywhere,” he said.

All U.N. member states belong to one of five regional groups, and that membership is key to a country’s participation, since U.N. agencies operate on the principle of geographical rotation, and regional groups put forward candidates for posts in elections across the U.N. system on that basis.

Israel’s natural U.N. geographical grouping is Asia, but due to the hostility of its neighbors it was shut out of the group for decades. Eventually in 2000 it was admitted to the Western European and Others (WEOG) group, which includes such non-European democracies as the U.S., Canada and Australia.

But that applied only to U.N. activities in New York, not in Geneva, where agencies including the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) are located.

Israel and its supporters portrayed the ongoing exclusion as just another sign of pervasive anti-Israel sentiment at the U.N. – and especially at the HRC, where Israel alone out of a total of 193 U.N. member-states is subjected to a permanent item on the agenda. That means that time is set aside at every regular council session to scrutinize and criticize Israel, no matter what may be taking place anywhere else in the world.

On Monday, the regional group situation was finally rectified, with WEOG announcing that Israel will be a member with effect from January 1.

“This is a particularly welcome development as we work to end anti-Israel bias in the U.N. system,” said Kerry.

“After decades of discrimination, a historical wrong has been corrected,” Israel’s U.N. Mission said on its Twitter feed. “Israel’s voice will finally be heard loud & clear in WEOG in Geneva.”

It thanked U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power for “leading efforts to right this wrong.”

After claiming unfair treatment at the HRC for years, Israel in May 2012 formally cut ties with it. It subsequently set two conditions for resuming its cooperation – admission into a regional group, and the elimination of the permanent agenda item.

Its first demand has now been met. On the second, however, it reportedly settled for a compromise. According to the foreign ministry’s deputy director general for the U.N. and international organizations, Aharon Leshno Yaar, the agenda item remains in place, but countries friendly to Israel have undertaken to limit their involvement in discussions under the item, the Jerusalem Post reported.

How that works in practice, however, remains to be seen: Most countries that are supportive of Israel are in the Western group, which at no time holds no more than seven seats on the 47-member council.

Under the resolution that established the HRC in 2006, African and Asian countries have 13 seats each, so together they make up a majority. Of the remaining two regional groups, Latin America gets eight seats and Eastern Europe gets six.

Every year since then, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has held the balance of power at the HRC, having a majority of seats in both the Asian and African groups. After a recent election that situation will continue next year, with OIC members holding seven of the 13 Asia seats and seven of the 13 Africa ones.

The Islamic bloc, together with non-Muslim allies like Cuba, Russia and China, has largely driven the council’s critical focus on Israel.