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April 10, 2003

B'nai Brith speaks out at UN Human Rights Commission

Below is an introduction, followed by a speech to be delivered by B'nai Brith Canada at the UN Commission on Human Rights. As many of us know, the UN has become the antithesis of a human rights body through its actions and inactions, with the worst violations by far relative to its treatment of Israel directly, and Jews worldwide indirectly.

In many ways, the UN has become one of Israel's primary enemies, and therefore has become an enemy of the Jewish people worldwide. The UN and its actions are indirectly supportive of anti-Semitism worldwide. The corollary of that is that any support provided to the UN by our own country is support for an enemy of many of its citizens.

In this speech David Matas has the courage to speak out directly to this body and, rather than demanding an end to human rights violations elsewhere, he in fact demands an end to human rights violations within the body he is addressing. Good for him. You will note that only Germany and the US are mentioned in a somewhat positive vein. Canada is not mentioned.

David Matas, Senior Legal Counsel for B'nai Brith Canada, spoke out in defence of Jewish communities worldwide in a strong statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights, currently in session in Geneva. Matas, a well-known human rights expert who is attending the UNCHR as part of the B'nai Brith official delegation, said his participation at Geneva was an organizational priority because "Jewish groups cannot afford to be passive in dealing with the challenges we now face in the world arena".

[Matas will be presenting B'nai Brith's positions as outlined in the Submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs prepared by the organization's Institute for International Affairs. This report is available online at]

Matas' statement on the Rights of Minorities reads as follows:
Jewish minorities today around the world are harassed, intimidated, under attack. In recent months, there has been a wave of antisemitism not seen since before World War II. Antisemitism has again permeated global culture.

This rise in antisemitism has a number of causes and sources. But one of the causes, one of the sources, is right here - the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has provided a platform for attacks on the Jewish state. The use of this forum gave these attacks a credibility that they would not otherwise have.

The Commission, year after year, hears speeches and passes resolutions condemning Israel for the worst crimes known to humanity. These accusations have nothing to do with reality and everything to do with the political desire to delegitimize the state and undermine its existence. This vitriol has the purpose of criminalizing the State of Israel and the effect of criminalizing the Jewish people world wide for their actual or presumed support of the state. The expression of the right of self determination of peoples, a basic human right for every other people, has become in the chamber of this Commission, for the Jewish people, a crime.

Governments and non-governmental organizations come to Geneva from around the world to advocate improvement in human rights. But, while others tinker with the wording of resolutions to increase respect for human rights, anti-Zionists have turned this Commission into a forum for the disrespect of the human rights of Jews; a place of incitement to discrimination and hatred against Jewish minorities world wide, in violation of the basic principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Though the main instigators are the states at war with Israel, many states vote in favour of unbalanced resolutions endorsing fabricated charges against the world's only Jewish state. Most states and non-governmental organizations sit silently while this chamber is turned into a hall of incitement against Jews.

When human rights organizations assess the human rights situation in Israel in the context of a global assessment of all countries, using the same standards for all, that is one thing. But here, at the Commission, Israel gets mentioned and other countries with records of real human rights violations are passed over in silence.

As well, there is a problem in what is said about Israel, in contrast to what is said about other countries that are mentioned. Condemnations of Israel are in the most inflammatory language imaginable. Condemnations of real violations by other states, when they are noted, are, in contrast, phrased in language that is mild, kindly, polite, diplomatic.

Even the independent human rights mechanisms within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have been tainted. When the mechanisms mobilize to point out and condemn antisemitism, they are chastised. I remind this Commission that it voted in 1997 to excise from the Report of Mr. Glèlè-Ahanhanzo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary

Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, a text stating only the obvious, that antisemitic motifs in Muslim extremist publications are on the rise.

The Commission has granted a mandate to a rapporteur whose very title "Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967" is a phony accusation against Israel. The territory that is under Israeli control starting from 1967 was Egyptian and Jordanian territory before 1967. Both states have renounced all claims to that territory. This Commission never labeled Egypt and Jordan as occupiers of Palestinian territory.

The reports by special rapporteurs whose mandates in principle have nothing to do with Israel are filled with one sided malicious fantastical accusations against Israel. We draw your attention, to take one example, to the report of Miloon Kothari on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living whose addendum on the West Bank and Gaza, gratuitously mislabeled as occupied Palestinian territories, is, in its entirety, little more than a piece of anti-Zionist propaganda.

German theologian Roland Neibuhr reminded us: first they came for the Jews.

We address the Human Rights Commission to protest its perversion into a launching pad for global antisemitism, not just because we are concerned about the respect for human rights of Jews, but because we are concerned with the respect for human rights of all. There is a direct link between the anti-Zionism of the Commission and its silence on real violators. Many human rights non-governmental organizations have been wringing their hands about the transformation of the Human Rights Commission into an abusers caucus. Some of the worst human rights violators are members of this Commission. These violators join together to block any criticism that might be made of them.

The disintegration of the human rights mandate of the Human Rights Commission may now have reached the point of an inability to muster votes against violations in many countries that are scenes of horrific human rights abuses. But it began with votes against Israel. Once it became plain that the Commission could be a political playground disrespectful of even the most basic human rights principles, violators got the message. If Israel could be condemned for violations it did not commit, simply because it could not muster enough votes, then violators could escape condemnation for violations they did commit, if they could muster enough votes.

The obsessive voluminous fixation of the Human Rights Commission on Israel and its silence about egregious violations elsewhere are two sides of the same coin. Any institution has only so much time and energy. Time and energy spent on Israel are not available to deal with the human rights situations in other countries. Focus on Israel is, for many violators, the tactic of choice to avoid attention to their own misdoings.

We commend the point of order made this year by Germany on behalf of the Western European and Others Group objecting to the parallel made by the Palestinian Authority between Zionism and Nazism. We appreciate the reply made by the United States that criticizes the Commission for its unfair, unbalanced, work and its inflammatory and reckless language against Israel.

But these sorts of interventions have to be more systematic, both by states and non-governmental organizations alike.

We come to the Commission like no other non-governmental organization has come to the Commission before. We do not ask the Commission to work to end human rights violations somewhere else. We ask the Commission to stop its own human rights violations here, inflicted within these walls.

We call on all victim minorities to show solidarity with us as we have shown solidarity with you. We call on all representatives and states and non-governmental organizations who come to the Commission out of concern for human rights to turn first and foremost against the human rights violations being committed here, now in front of you - the incitement to hatred against the Jewish people world wide through the attempt to criminalize the Jewish state.

We say: stop providing a platform to anti-Zionism; stop the use of this Commission as a legitimizer of hate propaganda against the Jewish people.

The safety of Jewish minorities world wide depends on it.