(CNSNews.com) – Israel was in the dock at the U.N. Human Rights Council Tuesday, as nation after nation praised as “balanced” and “objective” a report accusing the Jewish state of war crimes during its offensive against Hamas in Gaza last winter.
Envoys for Iran and Libya added “genocide” to the charge sheet, although the head of a fact finding mission that compiled the document, South African Judge Richard Goldstone, said later that doing so was “misuse of our report.”
The delegations taking part in an “interactive dialogue” following Goldstone’s presentation of the report in Geneva fell into two broad categories, reflecting the divisions that have long characterized the world body’s top human rights organ.
Countries representing the Arab, Islamic, African and “non-aligned” blocs pressed for support for a resolution at the Human Rights Council (HRC) this week endorsing the recommendations of the Goldstone report “in full.”
Those recommendations include having the U.N. Security Council refer the situation to International Criminal Court prosecutors unless the Israeli government and “the appropriate authorities in Gaza” launch independent investigations into allegations of violations within six months.
In contrast, the United States, taking part in its first HRC session, urged the body to pass a consensus resolution encouraging Israel to investigate and address the allegations through credible domestic processes, and calling on the Palestinians to investigate allegations of Hamas abuses.
Australia took a similar position, and said it shared concerns about “the balance, scope and recommendations in the report.”
European nations were less clear about their position, but the envoy for Liechtenstein did reject the idea of the council accepting “a wholesale endorsement” of the report’s recommendations.
Goldstone said in response to her remarks that the report drafters expected the recommendations to be adopted as a package, and did not view them as “a sort of a la carte menu.”
‘My people will not forgive’
In a section of his prepared remarks made available by the U.S. mission in Geneva – although condensed during his actual delivery to the council – Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner took issue with what he called “the grossly disproportionate attention the council pays to one country, Israel.”
“Since the council was created in 2006, it has passed 20 resolutions on Israel, more than the number of resolutions for all 191 other U.N. members combined,” the comments continued.
“The council also has held 11 special sessions, five focused exclusively on Israel. This is unfair, and it prevents the council from devoting adequate time and attention to many other situations around the world that deserve our attention.”
Posner urged other members to join the U.S. in “rejecting this double standard” saying this was a high priority for the U.S.
Israeli envoy Aharon Leshno-Yaar attacked the Goldstone report, saying that it made no mention of Israel’s “right to self-defense.” Israel says it mounted its 22-day campaign only after thousands of rockets fired from Gaza targeted southern Israeli communities over several years.
Leshno-Yaar said the report was instigated as part of a political campaign against Israel and the end result justified Israel’s decision not to cooperate with the fact finding mission.
He said Israel had launched more than 100 separate investigations into operational questions and allegations of misconduct after the offensive, and that 23 had already resulted in criminal proceedings.
“Unlike the Hamas terrorists who rejoice with every civilian death, Israel regards every civilian casualty as a tragedy,” he said. “Israel is committed to fully examining every allegation of wrongdoing – not because of this report, but despite it.”
Palestinian envoy Ibrahim Khraishi praised the report, and said it should not be just “another report to simply document and archive.”
“History will recall what is happening,” he said. “My people will not forgive the international community if it leaves the criminals without punishment.”
‘How does it feel, Richard?’
Tuesday’s session had its share of dramatic moments.
-- The representatives of Libya and Iran both accused Israel of “genocide,” prompting Sweden’s envoy, speaking on behalf of the European Union, to intervene on a “point of order,” asking the council president to ensure speakers did not make “gross and baseless allegations.”
Cuban envoy Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez in turn complained about the Swedish intervention, saying points of order should not be misused to curb freedom of expression.
When Libya’s envoy continued condemning Israel Leshno-Yaar, who was seated next to him – countries are seated in the HRC alphabetically but according to their names in French – walked out.
-- Yemen’s representative during his statement referred to the “Gaza holocaust” although no-one challenged him.
-- During interventions by non-governmental organizations, Goldstone was confronted by an Israeli woman, Dr. Mirela Siderer, whom he had questioned during the investigation earlier this year. Siderer was injured by a rocket fired from Gaza, and says she will soon undergo an eighth round of surgery resulting from the attack.
Siderer, whose appearance was arranged by a Geneva-based NGO, U.N. Watch, accused Goldstone of ignoring her testimony and of dedicating only two pages of a 575-page report to Israelis “who suffered thousands of rockets over eight years.”
“Why did you choose to focus on the period of my country’s response, but not on that of the attacks that caused it?” she asked him.
Goldstone later in the proceedings rejected Siderer’s charge that her testimony had been ignored, saying “she was treated in the report in no way different to that of other victims who spoke to us.”
-- During another NGO statement, Anne Bayefsky of the Hudson Institute slammed the mission, the report and the HRC, ending with a stunning attack on Goldstone: “There is only one question to put to you, Richard: How does it feel to have used your Jewishness to jeopardize the safety and security of the people of Israel, and to find yourself in the company of human rights abusers everywhere?”
Bayefsky was scolded by the council president, and Goldstone called her remarks “unfortunate.”
“It should not be regarded as a matter for criticism that a member of the Jewish people should criticize the government of Israel or the Israeli Defense Forces for what are seen to be violations of international law,” Goldstone said.
“The history of the Jewish people, a very sad history of persecution over two millennia, I would have thought should be an absolutely compelling reason for all Jews to speak out against injustice and the violations of human rights.”