On 4 August 2202 Miloon Kothari, one of three commissioners to the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (the Commission), apologised for comments he made to the media.

Kothari apologised for any offence caused by saying that the social media are ‘being controlled largely by the Jewish lobby’ in a televised interview. He said the remark was made to ‘denounce the relentless and vitriolic attacks against the media on social media and some publications, launched to delegitimize and undermine its work’. 

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed the following resolution: The “State of Palestine” requested a special session to discuss ‘the Grave Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.’ 

It was supported by 22 Council member states; more than half of whom were members of the OIC and ten of which have appalling human rights records – Bahrain, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela. 

The Western democracies did not support the resolution.

The resulting resolution was an ‘ongoing independent, international commission of inquiry with a sweeping mandate to investigate “all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up to and since April 13, 2021, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability, and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity’.

The Commission is unprecedented in the UN’s human rights system in terms of its funding, staffing and, particularly, its permanence.

On 22 July 2021, the President of the Human Rights Council, Nazhat Shameem Khan, (a Muslim lawyer from Fiji) appointed the Commission’s three commissioners. Much of the Jewish world that supports Israel was outraged over what was seen as a process to delegitimise Israel and ensure the end of the Jewish state.

However, the outrage was heightened with the choice of the three commissioners. 

Firstly, Kothari has been the subject of a formal complaint filed by Israel to the UN for lying on a visa application. 

Kothari entered Israel under false pretences, and then issued a report in which he described the Second Intifada as the ‘wave of Palestinian resistance in September 2000′. He alleged that Israel was guilty of ethnic cleansing and made the racist allegation that Israel had a theocratic legal system based on ethnic criteria. Kothari’s UN report called it ‘Israel’s long record of implantation of settlers prior to and since its establishment as a State’.

In a UN press release, Kothari encouraged countries to discontinue military cooperation with Israel. He said that the factors that underlie the ongoing conflict were ‘namely, the colonization activities of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish National Fund’.

The second commissioner, Chris Sidoti of Australia, posted an article in 2018 on the website of the Palestinian organisation, the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR). He said that he worked closely with Arab and Palestinian Human Rights organisations, and is a close friend and ally to ICHR. Sidoti wrote of the ICHR: ‘It has courageously denounced violations by the occupying Israeli forces.’ 

The ICHR has told the UNHRC that Israel has systematically targeted Palestinians including children, committed crimes against humanity, and that throwing stones at Israelis ‘which kill and maim’ are acts of natural rights. The ICHR has submitted to the UNHRC that Israel’s pure ‘intention was to eliminate all the assets of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip’. This was after Sidoti complained to the UNHRC of the ‘jewishizing of Jerusalem’. 

Sidoti also advises the Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ). The ACIJ is promoting criminal prosecution of Israelis at the ICC. In 2021 the ACIJ partnered with the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council in a report to the Australian government labelling Israel a settler-colonial and apartheid regime, guilty of crimes against humanity and recommending that Australia endorse BDS. 

After May 2021 the ACIJ published a joint open letter which included: ‘In the spring of 2021, the world once again watched in horror as Israeli occupying forces attacked defenceless Palestinian civilians. They also said: ‘this systematic brutality, perpetrated throughout the past seven decades of Israel’s colonialism, apartheid, prolonged illegal belligerent occupation. The solution was to render Israelis defenceless by imposing a total arms embargo.

It seems to not matter that the war was started by Hamas.

The embarrassment to South Africa, however, lies in the person of the chair, our very own Navi Pillay.

Pillay served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008-2014. She has labeled Israel a racist state and prejudged Israel as guilty of criminal atrocities. Pillay glorified the Durban antisemitic hatefest that was the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban in September 2001. She became the world’s leading pro-Palestine advocate, and personally justified the inclusion of alleged Palestinian victims of Israeli racism in Durban manifestos. 

Pillay initiated, organised and led a global campaign to defend and promote the Durban follow-up conferences in 2009 and 2011. 

Pillay generated and championed the Goldstone Report which was, effectively, a blood libel that the 2008/9 Gaza conflict was about Israel targeting the innocent and deliberately murdering civilians. She referenced it well after Judge Richard Goldstone himself refuted the report’s central lie.

The 2014 Gaza conflict occurred just weeks before Pillay ended her term as High Commissioner. The conflict included the kidnap and murder of Israeli teenagers, hundreds of rockets fired at Israeli civilians, a cross-border terror tunnel network uncovered, and twelve ceasefires violated by the Palestinians. Pillay accused Israel of having deliberately murdered children

According to Pillay, Israelis are ‘criminals who should be rounded up and imprisoned’ and BDS should be supported. Like Sidoti, she believes that Israelis should be denied military support and armaments.

On 29 November 2017 Pillay spoke at a special event for United Nations International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. She claimed ‘apartheid…is happening in Israel.’ She praised ‘the world-wide anti-apartheid movement…mobilized on the moral principle of abhorrence against racism’. She declared: ‘I hope that the Palestinian struggle to end colonization gains this kind of momentum, especially in the civilian campaign of BDS, Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions’. 

As High Commissioner she empaneled four fact-finding missions targeting Israel, more than any other country; permitted the appointment of the notoriously antisemitic Richard Falk as the Special Rapporteur for the Palestinians; and convened the 2009 Durban II conference, which was boycotted by most democracies. Durban II provided Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad a prominent platform to disseminate antisemitic vitriol.  Because of this record, on 14 February 14, 2022, UN Watch* filed a brief calling for her recusal from the COI.

Pillay’s egregious record includes:

On 31 May 2010 Pillay declared that ‘the Israeli Government treats international law with perpetual disdain’.

In 2017 she said that ‘Apartheid is now being declared a crime against humanity in the Rome Statute, and it means the enforced segregation of people on racial lines, and that is what is happening in Israel’.

In June 2020, Navi Pillay signed a petition to boycott the Jewish state entitled ‘Sanction Apartheid Israel!’

On 14 June 2021 (shortly after the Hamas-Israel war which is to be examined by the Commission), Pillay publicly declared Israel guilty of the crimes that she is still meant to impartially investigate. She did so in a joint letter to U.S. President Biden, decrying Israel’s ‘domination and oppression of the Palestinian people,’ calling on the U.S. to ‘address the root causes of the violence’ by ending Israel’s ‘ever-expanding discrimination and systemic oppression’. 

Pillay also claimed that the April 2021 clashes at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (to be examined by the Commission) constituted ‘aggressive actions by Israeli forces’ against ‘peaceful protesters and worshippers,’ which amounted to ‘forced dispossession of Palestinians’, the ‘latest evidence of a separate and unequal governing system’. 

The idiom of the fox guarding the hen house doesn’t begin to cover her antisemitism and its pivotal role in her world view. It’s so much worse than that. To say that Pillay’s (and her colleagues’) presence on the Commission is a travesty of justice grossly understates the situation. 

International law unequivocally requires impartiality; it is the first principle of fact-finding. Impartiality is set out in Articles 3 and 25 of the UN Declaration on Fact-Finding. Impartiality is listed as the first qualification in the UN’s own guidelines for Commissions of Inquiry, produced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (“OHCHR”).

As an attorney and former judge of international tribunals, Pillay should more than understand this. 

Given the UNHRC’s founding principles of ‘universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity,’ (UNGA Resolution 60/251), Pillay cannot be a member, much less the Chair, of this Commission. 

According to UN guidelines for application to the Commission, Pillay was obliged to ‘disclose any information that may lead to questions being raised about [her] independence, impartiality and integrity, including, for example, any publication on the object of the inquiry’. The guidelines state that members of commissions of inquiry must have ‘a proven record of independence and impartiality’. Specifically, the guidelines cite ‘prior public statements’ as a relevant factor that could affect their ‘independence or impartiality’, or create a ‘perception of bias’.

What should be most outrageous is that Pillay accepted the position in the first place. That she did, speaks volumes about both her and the UN. 

Pillay and her fellow commissioners must be removed from the Commission. 

United Nations Watch, an NGO which monitors the behaviour of the UNHRC, has requested the President of the Council, Ambassador Federico Villegas, to remove Pillay; if necessary by requesting a legal opinion from UN Legal Counsel, Under-Secretary-General, Miguel de Serpa Soares.

The fact that the UNHRC President, Ambassador Federico Villegas, allowed the outrageous appointment of these three highly compromised people suggests that the UNHRC is motivated by antisemitism. Their appointment is beyond mere incompetence.

Pillay must go and South Africans must demand this unequivocally.

First published by the Daily Friend.

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Sara Gon is Head of Strategic Engagement at Institute of Race Relations.

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