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Antisemitism scandal erupts around another UN Human Rights Council official

Dec 16, 2022 | Justin Amler

Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council (Image: Shutterstock)
Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council (Image: Shutterstock)

Francesca Albanese, the Special Rapporteur appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the human rights situation in the “occupied Palestinian territories” wants us to believe she is an unbiased, impartial observer of the situation. Unfortunately for her, past social media posts which appear to spread classical antisemitic tropes have inconveniently gotten in the way.

A review of her social media history has revealed comments she made in 2014 during a conflict between Israel and terror groups in Gaza in which she said the “Jewish lobby” controlled the United States, the “Israel lobby” controls the BBC and Israel started the conflict with the Palestinians out of “greed”. She has also compared Israel to Nazi Germany, a deeply offensive affront to all Jews around the world.

These are the sorts of comments that raise huge red flags under the widely-used International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The IHRA definition is supported by, among many other people, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Albanese’s nominal boss.

Yet she remains defiant.

After the revelation of the comments, she initially acknowledged the comments were a “mistake” and appeared to distance herself from them However, she has now released another statement saying her comments were “wrongly mischaracterized as antisemitic” and amounted to a “yet another malicious attack” against the mandate she holds.

Her stance is perhaps unsurprising. Albanese has previously made headlines by appearing to justify and support anti-Israel terrorism by Hamas, which she labelled “resistance.”

What’s more, we’ve seen this movie before.

Whenever a UN official is caught red-handed – or red-tongued in a bout of antisemitic rhetoric –  we almost inevitably hear the “mischaracterized” or “out of context” excuse.

When Miloon Kothari, one of the members in charge of the Human Rights Council’s unprecedented and obviously blatantly unfair Commission of Inquiry into Israel, was caught complaining that social media was controlled by the “Jewish lobby”, he issued an “apology”, expressing regret that his “words were perceived and experienced to be antisemitic.” This mealy-mouthed non-apology was rightly labelled by Israel’s Foreign Ministry as “pathetic”.

But rather than calling him out, the Commission of Inquiry Chair, Navi Pillay, supported him in a letter to UNHRC President Federico Villegas, in which she said Kothari’s comments “seem to have been taken out of context.”  She also maintained Kothari’s comments were “deliberately misquoted to imply that ‘social media’ was controlled by the Jewish lobby” in an effort to discredit the commission members.

The third Commission of Inquiry member, Australian Chris Sidoti, who has ties to anti-Israel organisations that support the antisemitic BDS movement, had also predictably tried to portray the commissioners as victims while simultaneously belittling legitimate Jewish concerns. He once said at a session of the Inquiry that “accusations of antisemitism are thrown around like rice at a wedding.”

But such accusations, when based in firm reality, are not a celebration, but a tragedy. Antisemitism is often called the world’s oldest hatred for a reason. We only need to witness both how antisemitic beliefs inspired the industrial mass slaughter of Jews last century, and the recent exponential explosion of renewed Jew-hatred across the globe to understand just how dangerous it is.

Words matter, as do the people who use them. UN officials who portray themselves as independent arbiters of truth and justice, should not be allowed to bury their blatant, ugly prejudices through either denial or the hypocrisy of playing the victim.

And the fact that the same prejudices keep popping up again and again in officials appointed by the UN Human Rights Council – probably the worst body at the UN in terms of its unhinged obsession with demonising Israel – should tell everyone something about the morality and credibility of that august body.

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