Commentary Magazine


Topic: Richard Falk

Meet the New Special Rapporteur, Same as the Old Special Rapporteur

Having 9/11 truther Richard Falk retire from his position as “United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories” might have been cause for celebration if it hadn’t been almost inevitable that Falk would simply be replaced by someone no less off the wall. That is what has now happened. Under pressure from the Arab League, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s president Remigiusz Hencze has rejected the candidacy of Georgetown Law lecturer Christina Cerna despite the fact that Cerna had the unanimous endorsement of the UNHRC’s five-member vetting committee. Although initial reports from diplomats suggested that the decision had been made to have Indonesia’s former UN envoy Makarim Wibisono as a replacement for Falk, it now emerges that the position will likely go to the equally dubious Christine Chinkin, one of the authors of the infamous Goldstone report.

What was it that got Christina Cerna disqualified? Well, going by the letters that the Arab League sent to the UNHRC’s president it would seem that what counted against Cerna was that she had no previous record of condemning Israel. Without a resume peppered with pro-Palestinian statements she just couldn’t be considered up to the job. Chinkin, on the other hand, has an impressive record of anti-Israel statements to recommend her. 

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Having 9/11 truther Richard Falk retire from his position as “United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories” might have been cause for celebration if it hadn’t been almost inevitable that Falk would simply be replaced by someone no less off the wall. That is what has now happened. Under pressure from the Arab League, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s president Remigiusz Hencze has rejected the candidacy of Georgetown Law lecturer Christina Cerna despite the fact that Cerna had the unanimous endorsement of the UNHRC’s five-member vetting committee. Although initial reports from diplomats suggested that the decision had been made to have Indonesia’s former UN envoy Makarim Wibisono as a replacement for Falk, it now emerges that the position will likely go to the equally dubious Christine Chinkin, one of the authors of the infamous Goldstone report.

What was it that got Christina Cerna disqualified? Well, going by the letters that the Arab League sent to the UNHRC’s president it would seem that what counted against Cerna was that she had no previous record of condemning Israel. Without a resume peppered with pro-Palestinian statements she just couldn’t be considered up to the job. Chinkin, on the other hand, has an impressive record of anti-Israel statements to recommend her. 

Falk was always going to be a tough act to follow. This is the man who has accused the Jewish state of “slouching toward nothing less than a Palestinian Holocaust.” Yet, the monitoring group UN Watch has complied a rogues gallery of some of the other candidates. Many had their money on Falk’s friend and close associate Phyllis Bennis who assisted Falk in compiling a number of his reports, some of which were so pro-Hamas that the Palestinian Authority actually blocked Falk from presenting one of them.

Then there was the application from British lawyer Michael Mansfield, who along with the eminent Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters served as a leading “juror” for the Russell Tribunal, which has been described as a Stalinesque show trial of one-sided evidence against Israel. Mansfield also acted as the attorney defending the Palestinian bombers convicted of the 1994 attack on London’s Israeli embassy and has condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden. Among the other applicants was the already mentioned Makarim Wibisono, who has gone out of his way to talk down Israeli suffering, referring to “the handful of Israelis who have died,” and claimed that Israel uses terrorism as a “flimsy pretext” for its acts of aggression. Then there was former Dutch ambassador to Saudi Arabia Jan Wijenberg who has claimed that the European Union is an instrument of Israeli foreign policy and that a “creeping genocide” is taking place in Gaza.

The woman now most likely to get the job, London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin, can certainly hold her own among this crowed. Chinkin served as an author of the infamous Goldstone report despite the fact that she was on record accusing Israel of war crimes before the “investigation” even began. Her role in the Goldstone enquiry earned Chinkin a rare rebuke from one of her British legal colleagues Sir Nigel Rodley, then Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Committee, who questioned her impartiality, as did a large group of academics under the umbrella of the respected foreign policy think tank Chatham House. When Justice Richard Goldstone later retracted many of the allegations made against Israel in the report, Chinkin came out in publicly criticizing him.

While at one point it had appeared that Falk’s position would go to Indonesia’s Wibisono, it seems that even he was not hostile enough towards Israel for the tastes of the Arab Group, by all accounts acting in line with the wishes of Ramallah. No less outrageous is the announcement that Falk’s wife, former Turkish government adviser Hilal Elver, is to be appointed to another top UN human rights post. Still, none of this should be considered surprising. Among the UNHRC’s current member states are Algeria, China, Congo, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. The UNHRC was supposed to be the more credible successor to the UN’s Human Rights Commission. That body’s loss of legitimacy may have had something to do with the fact that as of 2003 it was chaired by Libya.

Groups such as UN Watch have been calling on the U.S. to use its position on the UNHRC to step in and put pressure on Remigiusz Hencze so as to prevent the appointments of Chinkin and Elver from going ahead. Whether or not this will happen still remains to be seen. 

This post has been updated. 

   

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Why Replace Richard Falk?

Many here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere have written regarding the sorry legacy of Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Falk has, for example, blamed Israel for the Boston Marathon bombing; he has described the murderous Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a paradigm of human rights, used his platform to promote anti-Semitism, and engaged in 9/11 conspiracy theories. In short, Falk has been an embarrassment to the United Nations and confirmed the worst accusations of the UN’s critics.

Fortunately, Falk’s term is coming to an end. Hillel Neuer, who does yeoman’s work at UN Watch, recently published a “rogues’ gallery” of those seeking to replace him. The list is not pretty: Hard-core Stalinists, unabashed anti-Semites, and political activists who oppose the peace process on the ground that Israel should cease to exist.

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Many here at COMMENTARY and elsewhere have written regarding the sorry legacy of Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Falk has, for example, blamed Israel for the Boston Marathon bombing; he has described the murderous Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a paradigm of human rights, used his platform to promote anti-Semitism, and engaged in 9/11 conspiracy theories. In short, Falk has been an embarrassment to the United Nations and confirmed the worst accusations of the UN’s critics.

Fortunately, Falk’s term is coming to an end. Hillel Neuer, who does yeoman’s work at UN Watch, recently published a “rogues’ gallery” of those seeking to replace him. The list is not pretty: Hard-core Stalinists, unabashed anti-Semites, and political activists who oppose the peace process on the ground that Israel should cease to exist.

If the United Nations cannot operate with a modicum of professionalism and if Ban Ki-moon sees his job to subsidize opponents of peace and those with an ideological axe to grind, perhaps it is time for the United States and other liberal democracies to ask just why such a position should continue to exist on the back of their contributions to the UN. If the UN Secretary General and UN cheerleaders like U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power are serious about reforming the UN, ending its worst excesses, and restoring its credibility, perhaps they should ask why Falk’s position should be filled, and why such mendacious positions, which do more to harm reconciliation than promote it and which undercut serious human-rights advocacy, should exist in the first place.

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The ASA Responds to its Critics

Evidently stung by over seventy statements of opposition by college and university presidents to their boycott resolution, and the loss of some of its institutional members, the American Studies Association has issued a plea for support. As Yair Rosenberg says, it’s like they’re not even trying.

To be precise, the statement comes not from the ASA’s National Council, which voted unanimously to endorse the resolution and to have ASA members vote on it, but from the ASA Academic and Community Activism Caucus, which originally put it forward. As I explain here, the ASA, although it includes members who have vigorously opposed the resolution, has a long history of radicalism and politicization. The ASA Academic and Community Caucus represents the constituency within the ASA that thinks the group is not radical or political enough. These are the people to whom the defense of the boycott has apparently been left.

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Evidently stung by over seventy statements of opposition by college and university presidents to their boycott resolution, and the loss of some of its institutional members, the American Studies Association has issued a plea for support. As Yair Rosenberg says, it’s like they’re not even trying.

To be precise, the statement comes not from the ASA’s National Council, which voted unanimously to endorse the resolution and to have ASA members vote on it, but from the ASA Academic and Community Activism Caucus, which originally put it forward. As I explain here, the ASA, although it includes members who have vigorously opposed the resolution, has a long history of radicalism and politicization. The ASA Academic and Community Caucus represents the constituency within the ASA that thinks the group is not radical or political enough. These are the people to whom the defense of the boycott has apparently been left.

The Activism Caucus is engaged in propaganda rather than debate. Consider its call to defend the “right of the association to act according to the will of the membership.” When it proposed the resolution, the Caucus did not call for a general membership vote and indeed, boycott supporters “overwhelmingly urged the [National Council] to immediately act and approve the resolution—any delay, they argued, was a tactic for defeat.” The pro-boycott leadership  then presided over a rushed discussion, in which it refused to share any arguments other than its own with the general membership, and vote. The Caucus is a late convert to democracy.

The Caucus also complains that the ASA Facebook page has “been subject to a barrage of inflammatory attacks.” It is true that the ASA comes in for some harsh criticism on the page, which also includes assertions that the mainstream media is controlled by Zionists. But the comments on the page—see for yourself—are hardly distinguishable from what you would see in the comments section of a typical article on a sensitive issue. Nonetheless, we are told, “tactics of intimidation may be illegal.” The Caucus’s “legal team” (they have a legal team!) is on the case.

The Facebook page is also worth looking at in the context of the Caucus’s insistence on “the right of the ASA to develop independent political positions based on the scholarship and research of its members.” In fact, the only work relevant to the boycott posted by administrators is from the Electronic Intifada and Al Jazeera America. While the Caucus is able to name six “internationally renowned scholars” who support the boycott, not one of them is a scholar of the Middle East. Admittedly, Richard Falk is a scholar of international law, but he is also, as Rosenberg is the latest to document, a 9/11 truther who once posted “a cartoon of a yarmulke-wearing dog urinating on Lady Justice while chewing on a bloody skeleton.” The citation of Falk, whose words are actually quoted and incorrectly attributed to “the United Nations” in the original resolution, leads Rosenberg to wonder, tongue in cheek, whether the Caucus has been infiltrated by Zionist operatives.

The Caucus is able to quote one “well-known scholar of Mid-East politics,” “Professor Henry Siegman,” who also helps the ASA’s “some of my best friends are Jews!” defense by being a “former director of the American Jewish Congress.” Professor Siegman, though he has, indeed, written a great deal on the Middle East, lists as his sole scholarly credential a bachelor’s degree from the New School for Social Research.

I am no snob, so I do not think that lacking an advanced degree in a subject means that you cannot become an expert in it or, for that matter, know more about it than people who hold advanced degrees. Moreover, the Caucus would have had no problem, had they taken the trouble to look, finding advanced degree holding professors of Middle East Studies, like Mark LeVine of the University of California-Irvine, who support BDS. But the Caucus’s choice of Siegman and Falk as the closest thing they could find to experts in the area the boycott covers is telling. Far from developing “independent political positions based on the scholarship and research of its members,” the Caucus cannot be bothered to Google its way out of the bubble from which it issues its pronouncements.

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Richard Falk Thinks He’s the Victim

When UN rapporteur Richard Falk blamed the Boston Marathon bombing on Israel and on America’s “global domination project,” it renewed a longstanding debate. Was Falk the worst possible person for the United Nations to put in charge of a special investigating office dedicated solely to Israel’s supposed crimes? Or was Falk, as a conspiracy theorist with a penchant for blaming all the world’s ills on Israel, in fact the perfect representative of the UN in the Middle East?

It certainly depends on how you view whatever is left of the UN’s credibility. One group that does not want to give up quite yet on the UN is UN Watch, an NGO that holds the world body accountable to its own stated values. The organization blasted Falk’s remarks, and Falk responded by trying to force the closure of UN Watch. The U.S. on Friday said enough was enough, and called for Falk’s resignation. Naturally, though Falk has been trying to put his critics out of a job, he is painting himself as the victim. The Times of Israel reports:

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When UN rapporteur Richard Falk blamed the Boston Marathon bombing on Israel and on America’s “global domination project,” it renewed a longstanding debate. Was Falk the worst possible person for the United Nations to put in charge of a special investigating office dedicated solely to Israel’s supposed crimes? Or was Falk, as a conspiracy theorist with a penchant for blaming all the world’s ills on Israel, in fact the perfect representative of the UN in the Middle East?

It certainly depends on how you view whatever is left of the UN’s credibility. One group that does not want to give up quite yet on the UN is UN Watch, an NGO that holds the world body accountable to its own stated values. The organization blasted Falk’s remarks, and Falk responded by trying to force the closure of UN Watch. The U.S. on Friday said enough was enough, and called for Falk’s resignation. Naturally, though Falk has been trying to put his critics out of a job, he is painting himself as the victim. The Times of Israel reports:

A United Nations special investigator said his reputation was being smeared and he wouldn’t resign, despite calls for his ouster over provocative remarks on terrorism, the United States and Israeli policy.

Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, told reporters Tuesday in Geneva that he was only doing his job and “it’s important to distinguish criticism from this kind of smear campaign.”

Considering his obsession with anti-Israel propaganda and that his UN mandate excludes criticism of the Palestinians to focus solely on Israel, Falk’s entire job description could be considered a “smear campaign.” It is quite literally what he does for a living.

Falk has signaled his appreciation for 9/11 conspiracy theories, compared Israel to Nazi Germany, and two years ago republished a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon on his personal blog. He even ran afoul of the Palestinian Authority for criticizing them for going too easy on Israel. Being too anti-Israel for Mahmoud Abbas should be a sign that Falk perhaps can’t be expected to present an evenhanded view of the facts. But that, as he told the Forward, misunderstands his mission. As he explained when denied entry to Israel to conduct a report:

“My role is less presenting the facts than interpreting their legal significance,” said Falk. “That doesn’t depend on me having access. It would be humanly helpful to, but it wouldn’t alter my basic analysis or conclusion.”

In conducting an investigation on Israel, actually going to Israel would not change his “basic analysis or conclusion.” That is how Falk has always seen his responsibility: not to get the story right, but to write up a paranoid screed blaming Israel for everything under the sun from wherever he happens to be at the time. Why would he need to enter Israel, when he already knows what he’s going to say?

It’s that kind of honesty from Falk that has been both refreshing and maddening. Refreshing, because at least no one has to spend time or energy arguing over his motives, and maddening, because the United Nations cannot espouse moral influence on the many very pressing human-rights crises around the world while vesting Falk with the authority to act in its name.

As long as Falk remains at his post, the UN’s reports on Israel will lack even a hint of legitimacy. After all, even Falk acknowledges that we already know what they are going to say.

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At UN Human Rights Council, Will U.S. Go Down with the Ship?

One of the reasons the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has had trouble gaining adherents is that everyone knew the movement would never just target Jews. It would begin with Israel, but surely expand to anyone deemed insufficiently hostile to Israeli companies.

And soon enough it did so, targeting American companies such as Caterpillar, which makes the type of tractor that hit Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist attempting to shield terrorists’ weapons smuggling tunnels from the Israeli military. Since Corrie was attempting to aid those who wanted to kill Israeli civilians, you would think a “social justice” movement would spare Caterpillar its ire. But that’s not how BDS works. And so it is not surprising that such a movement has found a stalwart ally in the United Nations, an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s worst human rights violators while relentlessly targeting the Jewish state.

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One of the reasons the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has had trouble gaining adherents is that everyone knew the movement would never just target Jews. It would begin with Israel, but surely expand to anyone deemed insufficiently hostile to Israeli companies.

And soon enough it did so, targeting American companies such as Caterpillar, which makes the type of tractor that hit Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist attempting to shield terrorists’ weapons smuggling tunnels from the Israeli military. Since Corrie was attempting to aid those who wanted to kill Israeli civilians, you would think a “social justice” movement would spare Caterpillar its ire. But that’s not how BDS works. And so it is not surprising that such a movement has found a stalwart ally in the United Nations, an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s worst human rights violators while relentlessly targeting the Jewish state.

When the UN went looking for a special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories who embodied the world agency’s values, they settled on Richard Falk, a 9/11 truther who compared Israel to Nazi Germany. Falk hasn’t disappointed, and his latest stunt was to expand his brand of economic warfare against the Jewish state to America. Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Falk’s belligerent threats against American companies:

“The costs to companies and businesses of failing to respect international humanitarian law are considerable,” the report warns, “including damage to a company’s public image, impact on shareholder decisions and share price and could result in employees being criminally responsible for rights abuses.”

The report warns American employees of targeted companies that they face legal risks.

“Employees of companies can face investigation and prosecution for human rights violations committed irrespective of where the violation was committed.”

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, got it only half right in her response:

“Throughout his tenure as Special Rapporteur, Mr. Falk has been highly biased and made offensive statements, including outrageous comments on the 9/11 attacks,” Rice said. “Mr. Falk’s recommendations do nothing to further a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indeed poison the environment for peace. His continued service in the role of a UN Special Rapporteur is deeply regrettable and only damages the credibility of the UN.”

But credibility is not what the dictators’ playground is looking for. (Falk does hold an emeritus professorship at Princeton, so perhaps the prestigious university’s credibility is done continued harm by its association with Falk.) But Rice gets it wrong with respect to the UN. Falk’s report is for the UN’s Human Rights Council, a historically and notoriously anti-Israel committee. The administration of George W. Bush made the decision to withdraw from the council when it was clear it could not and would not be reformed. But President Obama rejoined the council in an attempt to round out his administration’s new focus on doing the opposite of whatever George Bush did.

Falk doesn’t harm the UN’s credibility. Just the opposite. The UNHRC eats away at America’s credibility by our continued participation in an explicitly anti-Israel “human rights” group that can put America’s name on its hateful work. John Bolton put it best when he said the Obama administration’s decision to join the council when it did was “like getting on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg.” And now Rice is scolding the iceberg when she should be heading for a lifeboat.

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Mearsheimer Makes a List

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

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