The man chosen to head the United Nations Human Rights Council’s latest probe into the war in Gaza won’t state clearly whether Hamas is a terror group. Moreoever, he says “some believe Israel ‘gets off easy’ at the UN Security Council.”
International Law Professor William Schabas, appointed to head the UNHRC probe into Operation Protective Edge, also claimed in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television news anchor Danny Kushmaro Tuesday that past comments he has made on the record, accusing Israel’s government leaders of war crimes were “exaggerated.”
Schabas was questioned about his alleged bias against Israel, which has led the foreign ministry to advise the prime minister not to cooperate with the investigation.
The man selected to investigate Israel’s counter terror operation against Hamas and allied terrorists in Gaza, Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem this summer said a year ago that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would be his choice of a leader to send to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.
Israel’s Channel 2 television news anchor Danny Kushmaro began the interview with a polite, if not cordial tone.
“Good evening Professor Schabas. Shall we say congratulations?”
“Uh… perhaps,” Schabas answered carefully.
Kushmaro then went right for the jugular, asking the UN investigator about his suggestion that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would be his “favorite” world leader to be brought before the International Criminal Court at The Hague to face war crimes charges.
“Not President Assad of Syria, Not Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal – you said, ‘Netanyahu.’ Can you explain why?’ the interviewer asked pointedly.
Schabas looked uncomfortable.
“We were having a discussion about the International Criminal Court,” he said, “and the fact that the International Criminal Court had focused all of its attention on African countries. I had referred to a statement by Archbishop Tutu, where he had said, ‘Tony Blair should be brought before the International Criminal Court to show that it can deal with Western countries as well as with countries from the south, and particularly from Africa.
“And so I said, well, uh, my favorite would be Netanyahu. I was, of course, echoing what was in the Goldstone Report, which is that the International Criminal Court should deal with the conclusions of the Goldstone Report, concluding the possibility that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed during Operation Cast Lead.
“But as you know the International Criminal Court never did address those matters. So that was the context of my comment.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid quickly pointed out in subsequent comments that the Goldstone Report was compiled during the administration of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, not Netanyahu.
Schabas has also said he believes that former President Shimon Peres should stand trial before the Court as well.
The interviewer asked him whether he, as a professor of international law, would advise his own client to cooperate with “such an investigation” given what he had just heard.
“I think this is a great exaggeration of some of the statements. I expressed opinions about political leaders in the past. Is there a human being in Israel who’s never expressed political opinions about leaders in Israel? Once someone who sits in a commission or as a judge has to do is to put these things behind them, and start fresh, and this is of course what I intend to do.”
Kushmaro: Do you plan to investigate Hamas crimes as well? Are you really able to investigate a terror organization who threatens its own people?
Schabas: “I cannot tell you what the commission is going to do in terms of interpreting its mandate because I’m only one member and I haven’t had a meeting with the other commissioners. We will have to agree on the interpretation…
Kushmaro: “By the way, do you consider Hamas a terror organization?”
And then Schabas sighed and said, “It would be inappropriate for me to answer a question like that, uh, given what I said earlier, about having to start basically with a blank sheet and start to study this question in as neutral and objective a manner as possible. It would be inappropriate for me,” he repeated, “given my position.”
There should be no difficulty on the part of the professor with regard to the legal status of Hamas. The entity is legally designated as a terrorist organization not only by Israel, but also by three of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, the United Kingdom and France.
In addition, the entire European Union has officially designated Hamas to be a terrorist organization, as well as Jordan, Egypt, Australia, Japan and Canada – Schabas’s country of origin. The group is not, however, listed as a terrorist organization by Iran, Russia, Turkey, China, South Africa and many Arab nations. Russia and China are the other two permanent members of the UN Security Council. Kushmaro continued, “Professor Schabas, I’ll ask you again, why Israel should cooperate with your delegation.”
“I think it’s very important for Israel to cooperate. The allegations – here he raised his voice – uh, the specific allegations have a great deal to do with the use of force, the targeting and the proportionality of the targeting, the identification of military objectives. Israel has already spoken to this.
“It’s in the public domain, Israel has made statements saying first of all, we’re acting in self-defense about the Hamas rockets and when we use force in Gaza Israel’s position is that it is proportionate and that it is not targeting civilians. These are matters of public record.
“Now, it’s one thing to say that as a broad statement. It’s another thing to look at individual cases and see whether that’s actually accurate. It’s in Israel’s interest to be there in that discussion and to give its version of the events. If it doesn’t then that leaves a, uh, an unfortunate one-sided picture of it.”
Kushmaro asked Schabas why the United Nations imposes double standards on Israel. For example, the US carries out attacks in Iraq, Russia periodically attacks Chechnya and the NATO forces that were in Libya. Thousands of innocent civilians were killed each time. No one raised eyebrows in the United Nations, let alone demanded any investigations. Yet now Israel faces the second formal investigation into its defensive military actions against Gaza terrorist attacks aimed at its civilians in the past six years alone.
Politely, Kushmaro asked, “Isn’t it a double standard, professor?”
Another deep sigh. “You know, there are lots of double standards in the United Nations and lots of double standards at the international level. And as I explained, the fact that there haven’t been inquiries into some atrocities and some areas of violent conflict in the world is explained by the political balances and the relative strength of the powers, and that’s a very unfortunate situation. But it’s a fact of life. And different crises and different countries fare differently depending on where they are.
“Many people think there’s a double standard in the United Nations Security Council because Israel gets off rather light in the United Nations Security Council,” Schabas commented.
“The fact that there’s no inquiry into Russia or into the United States is obviously explained by the fact that those countries dominate not only the Security Council but also have a huge amount of political influence in bodies like the Human Rights Council. We unfortunately live with that as a reality in the world situation,” the UN investigator concluded.Hana Levi Julian
About the Author: Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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