Institute for Contemporary Affairs
August 2, 2006:
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) reviews signatory states' compliance with standards of racism and discrimination. In its 69th session in August 2006, it will examine Israel's record, relying largely on submissions by Israeli and Palestinian NGOs. The entrenched political biases of some of the contributing NGOs indicates that the CERD will provide a forum for the continuing campaign to undermine Israel using the rhetoric of human rights, in a manner that is consistent with the strategy adopted in the 2001 Durban conference.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is the monitoring body for the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). It examines the implementation of the Convention by the signatory states, who are obliged to submit reports to the Committee every two years on how the rights are being implemented. The Committee examines each report and compiles a "concluding observations" statement, detailing its concerns and recommendations for the county in question. NGOs which work in a particular country, or do research on it, can submit their own reports about that country for consideration by the Committee. Israel is one of fourteen countries being examined in the Committee's Sixty-Ninth Session, 31 July-18 August, 2006.
A number of NGOs have submitted reports to the Committee for its session on Israel. These include Amnesty International (AI), B'Tselem, Adalah and others. The following report by NGO Monitor does not seek to dismiss all claims of discrimination made by NGOs in question. However it does highlight problematic issues with their submissions, and questions the reliability of their evidence given their clear political agendas.
Amnesty International's (AI) twenty-seven page report focuses almost exclusively on Israeli policy in the West Bank. It is worth noting that out of the fourteen countries covered in the Sixty-Ninth session of CERD, AI (despite its global nature) only submitted a report on Israel. The other thirteen countries covered in the Sixty-Ninth Session include states which have serious deficiencies in human rights and racism, such as Ukraine and Yemen.
AI argues that Israel violates discrimination laws in the West Bank through policies, laws, or infrastructure projects that favor Jewish citizens over Palestinians. The submission also alleges that Israel has violated ICERD based on UN Human Rights Committee General Comment No 31, which asserts that states have a duty to respect and ensure the rights laid down in the Covenant to anyone "within the power or effective control of that State Party, even if not situated within the territory of the State Party."
This interpretation of international law is itself problematic, in that it claims that Israel is obligated to provide Palestinians with the same rights and services that they do for Israelis even though they are not citizens. In making this argument the document ignores, or in a number of cases actively dismisses, Israel's security requirements, and deliberately misinterprets its intentions. For example, the report rejects the possibility that any security considerations motivated the construction of access roads for Israeli communities in the West Bank, insisting "Palestinians are forbidden or severely restricted by virtue of the fact that they are Palestinian." The claim that this policy discriminates against Arabs on the basis of their identity ignores the fact that Israel's Arab citizens, as distinct from the residents of the Palestinian Authority, are in no way prevented from using these roads, thereby demonstrating the centrality of the security motivation. The submission also argues that fewer soldiers than terrorists have been prosecuted for killing civilians, which is, according to AI, a racist double standard. The document does not acknowledge anywhere that terrorists target civilians, as distinct from the case of soldiers who sometimes unintentionally kill civilians while fighting terrorists. AI's submission states that "not a single Israeli soldier or member of the security forces has been prosecuted for murder" which is unsurprising since the charge for causing the accidental death of a civilian would generally be manslaughter.
AI's criticism of Israel is extremely disproportionate compared to other countries, including those with problematic human rights records. This was documented by the Capital Research Center study which showed that Israel is the subject of the greatest number of AI publications per million people, with fifty-six times more reports per million than North Korea and twenty-five times more than Egypt. AI's political agenda is apparent in its frequent condemnations of Israel that do not reflect a systematic human rights analysis. On March 14, 2006 AI called on Israel to "end its policy of assassinations and excessive use of lethal force," after the Jericho prison incident. AI ignored many key details in its condemnation of Israel, including the crucial role of one of the captives, (PFLP leader, Saadat) in the assassination of Israeli Minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001.
B'Tselem's submission addresses two issues in which it considers Israeli policy contravenes ICERD. The first relates to Israel's practice of restricting travel for Palestinians along roads in the West Bank. In the wake of the terror campaign, Israel has applied strict restrictions on Palestinian travel to help thwart attacks. B'Tselem's report asserts that this policy is based on a "racist premise" that "all Palestinians are security risks" and that instead, when security requirements necessitate travel limitations, "such restrictions should precisely target the specific individuals or areas of concern." However, the nature of Palestinian terrorist activities precludes such a solution as the identity of every suspect is not known by Israeli security services. The sheer number of individuals involved in violent activities against Israel means that a targeted travel-restriction scheme is not a realistic method of preventing terrorism.
B'Tselem does not claim to be free from political objectives. It states that it "endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, [and] combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public." However, some claims and assumptions made by B'Tselem in its in-depth reports are extremely dubious. For instance in its "Take No Prisoners" report of May 2005, B'Tselem claimed that "the danger faced by the soldiers participating in these operations [in West Bank towns] is not substantively different from that faced by police officers engaged in operations to detain armed criminals." This greatly understates the capabilities of Palestinian paramilitary organizations, in order to portray the Israeli Army as disproportionately aggressive.
A joint submission to CERD was made by a number of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs including Al Haq, Al Mezan, BADIL, ICAHD, Ittijah and others. These groups accuse Israel of a number of violations of ICERD in their lengthy submission. Regarding Israeli Arab women, the report states that this group is "the most disadvantaged sector of the population, doubly discriminated against as Arabs within the Israeli state and women within Palestinian society." However, the basis for blaming Israel for the low social status of Israeli-Arab women is political and unsubstantiated. The report also criticizes Israel for setting the minimum age of marriage at 17, which is outside the recommendations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It is unclear why this law is mentioned and how it is relevant to a submission on racism as the law applies to all Israeli citizens. The report also blames the State of Israel for violence against women in Arab society. It provides statistics of violence against Arab women and claims that "this state of violence against women is only perpetuated by the lack of support from the Israeli government" (emphasis added).
Many of the NGOs which drew up this joint submission have a documented history of bias and politicization. For instance BADIL is very active in promoting the Durban strategy of political warfare against Israel, and supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns. ICAHD is an extremely politicized NGO which calls Israeli policy towards the Palestinians "apartheid" and engages in political lobbying activities. Al Haq, in response to Israel's operation in Gaza in June/July 2006 aimed at freeing captured soldier Gilad Shalit, affirmed the "Palestinians right to resist and confront the occupation." Al Mezan is ostensibly a human rights NGO working in Gaza but is highly partisan and stated in June 2006 that "incidents in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory] and notably in the Gaza Strip, highlight Israel's organized killing of Palestinian civilians" (emphasis added).
Adalah, an Israeli NGO working on behalf of Israel's Arab citizens, also provides a submission which included some highly contentious claims. For example, it objects to a number of laws that are plainly meant to address Israel's security needs, such as Section 7A of Israel's Basic Law, which states "any candidate list or single candidate running for the Knesset elections will not participate in the election if the direct or indirect goals or actions of the candidate list or of the candidate is...denial of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic state; incitement to racism support of the armed struggle, of a enemy state or of a terrorist organization against the state of Israel." Adalah stated this law highlights "the ways in which Israel has violated its duty to protect and ensure the political participation rights of the Palestinian minority."
Adalah states that "it serves Arab citizens of Israel... [and] works to protect human rights in general, and the rights of the Arab minority in particular" (emphasis added). Despite this claim, Adalah seldom acts to defend the human rights of Jewish Israeli citizens. Furthermore, Adalah has rarely condemned Palestinian infractions of human rights such as terrorist attacks against Jewish citizens.
As stated above, the intention of this report is not to dismiss every claim brought by the NGOs in question but simply to highlight the questionable credibility and reliability of these organizations. Many of these NGOs have a political agenda and are using the CERD forum as a means of advancing it. As such, CERD should exercise caution when utilizing the material provided by the groups mentioned in this report.
1. It is important to note an anomaly in the submissions relating to Israel. The ICERD refers primarily to racial discrimination against citizens of a state. Many of the NGOs which submitted reports to CERD included Israeli policies towards the Palestinians as examples of racism and discrimination practiced by the State of Israel. Israel contends that since Palestinians are not Israeli citizens they are not entitled to the same rights enjoyed by Israeli citizens. These NGOs also tend to erase the context of the ongoing conflict, including the history of terrorism, thereby greatly distorting the policies and ignoring their justification.
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