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entries tagged with: Ban Ki Moon


Israel’s cooperation on U.N. inquiry signals tactical shift

The decision by Israel to participate in the U.N. probe of the Turkish flotilla incident marks a stark departure from Jerusalem’s practice of opposing the world body’s investigations of Israeli actions.

A year and a half ago, faced with a similar decision when the U.N. Human Rights Council decided to appoint a fact-finding mission to investigate Israel and Hamas’ actions during the Gaza war, Israel boycotted the inquiry led by retired South African judge Richard Goldstone. Israel would pay a heavy diplomatic price: The Goldstone report was harshly critical of Israel and generated months of negative publicity for the Jewish state.

News Analysis

A year later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking the opposite course with the U.N. review panel looking into the May 31 flotilla confrontation. Nine Turks, including a Turkish-American, were killed in the mélée that ensued when Israeli commandos tried to board the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla of ships sailing for Gaza in a bid to break Israel’s blockade of the strip. The incident drew worldwide condemnation of Israel.

“Israel has nothing to hide. The opposite is true,” Netanyahu said in a statement Monday. “It is in the national interest of the State of Israel to ensure that the factual truth of the overall flotilla events comes to light throughout the world, and this is exactly the principle that we are advancing.”

The U.N. inquiry out of New York will be led by a former prime minister of New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer, and will include the outgoing president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, as well as a Turkish and an Israeli representative who have yet to be named. The panel is expected to begin its work Aug. 10 and submit a progress report in mid-September.

Footage taken from cameras aboard the Mavi Marmara on May 31 shows passengers apparently preparing for a confrontation with Israeli soldiers, May 31. IDF/Flash90/JTA

The decision to cooperate with the U.N. probe comes after two months of Israel resisting calls for an international inquiry and signals a tactical shift for Israel when it comes to dealing with U.N. investigations of its actions. It marks the first time that Israel will be part on a U.N. committee looking into Israeli actions.

“This could be viewed as a new approach,” confirmed a source at Israel’s embassy in Washington.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed it as an “unprecedented development.”

Israel’s decision to cooperate on the probe follows weeks of urging by the Obama administration, but it’s also a way for Israel to mollify Turkey, which had threatened to sever diplomatic ties with the Jewish state unless Israel acceded to an international probe or apologized for the flotilla deaths.

Israel had launched its own investigations of the incident. An Israel Defense Forces investigation found intelligence failures in the IDF’s preparations for stopping the flotilla but no fault with the soldiers’ actions, and a government committee probe is still ongoing. Turkey, however, was not satisfied.

Concerned about the rupture between Turkey and Israel over the incident and its long-term implications for the future of the Middle East, the Obama administration was keen on finding a way for a probe that would satisfy both Turkey’s demands for an international inquiry and Israel’s concerns about bias against it. The new probe was the result of negotiations with Israel and Turkey.

“For the past two months, I have engaged in intensive consultation with the leaders of Israel and Turkey on the setting up of a panel of inquiry on the flotilla incident of 31 May,” the U.N. secretary-general said in a statement Monday. Ban said he hoped the inquiry would “impact positively on the relationship between Turkey and Israel as well as the overall situation in the Middle East.”

After the Goldstone report was issued a year ago with findings that tarnished Israel’s international image, some in Israel argued that it had been a mistake to boycott the inquiry. Rather, they said, Israel should have cooperated in a bid to ensure the least damaging report possible. With Israel now choosing cooperation over rejection on the new flotilla probe, some in Israel are cautioning against comparisons between the two.

In the Goldstone case, they note, the original mandate for the inquiry prejudged Israel as guilty and came from the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which has a record of singling out Israel for opprobrium while ignoring human rights violators around the world. In the flotilla case, the probe will be conducted under the aegis of the U.N. secretary-general, who is seen as mindful of Israeli concerns.

“You have to make a distinction between the Human Rights Council, which is partisan and has an anti-Israel obsession, and between the secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, whom we hold in the highest esteem,” a senior Israeli official told JTA on condition of anonymity. “After ongoing discussion with the secretary-general, we are convinced that what he is proposing is credible and objective. I wouldn’t apply either of those two adjectives to the Human Rights Council, which is a travesty.”

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, implied that she hoped it would cancel out the Human Rights Council inquiry into the flotilla raid.

“The United States expects that the panel will operate in a transparent and credible manner, and that its work will be the primary method for the international community to review the incident, obviating the need for any overlapping international inquiries,” Rice said.

“That was an unmistakably derogatory reference to the U.N. Human Rights Council probe,” observed Hillel Neuer, the executive director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based pro-Israel watchdog organization. “A shadow has been cast on the U.N. Human Rights Council probe, and it was done so expressly.”

Neither the U.N. probe in New York nor the one being carried out in Geneva by the Human Rights Council will have legally binding consequences. JTA


American Jews respond to Pakistan floods

Pakistan has been devastated by massive floods. Peter Biro/International Rescue Committee

Nearly a month after pictures of Pakistanis wading through floodwaters began to appear on the front pages of newspapers worldwide, aid from Americans, including Jews, is beginning to arrive in the stricken country.

American Jews are now responding to the call to bring relief to the devastated area, where conditions have been growing steadily worse. The monsoon rains that flooded Pakistan’s northwest region about a month ago have killed more than 1,000 people, and millions more are estimated to have been left homeless. Roads and railways have been damaged, along with schools and other civic infrastructure. The impact on the country’s crops is still being calculated and could run into the billions of dollars.

The American Jewish World Service and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee each put out an appeal for donations last week.

The AJWS, which has been working with grassroots organizations in Pakistan for years and had raised $42,000 for the Pakistan effort by the end of last week, is delivering aid bags with food, water, pots, pans, and clothes to families in the region. JDC also has worked with Pakistan before — it responded to earthquakes that hit the region in 2005 and 2008 — and the organization has allocated $20,000 from its revolving disaster relief fund that it plans to use to distribute medicine and other supplies. It hasn’t yet raised enough to cover that amount, but officials hope to meet or exceed the goal as their campaign progresses.

“Checks take time to come in,” said Will Recant, assistant executive vice president in charge of international development at JDC. “Not everything is done electronically, and a lot of what we do is done through federations.”

The American Jewish Committee contributed an undisclosed amount from its humanitarian fund to the JDC effort, and a spokesman for the group said it is encouraging donors to give to JDC directly.

In light of the dire situation, Pakistanis likely wouldn’t object to receiving aid from the United States, wrote Aoun Sahi, a journalist in Lahore, Pakistan, via e-mail. “But there will be some problems with the word ‘Jewish’ if printed on clothing especially,” he wrote. “It will not be easy for them to accept aid from Jewish groups from Israel, but they will be OK with American Jewish groups’ aid.”

He added, “I think this is a good opportunity for different Jewish groups to establish links with some Pakistani groups.”

A spokeswoman for the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles said she knows of no aid that has gone from Israel to Pakistan during this crisis. Israel was widely applauded for its rapid response in providing aid and medical services in Haiti after the earthquake.

Though the Pakistani floods have been news for weeks, Jewish groups issued their call for donations only last week.

How much and how fast people donate can depend heavily on media coverage of a disaster.

“The biggest challenge right now is that this has been going on for two weeks, and the media is just now starting to pay attention,” AJWS spokesman Joshua Berkman said, adding that coverage of Pakistan’s floods has paled in comparison with the attention immediately given to the Haitian earthquake.

Larger, nonsectarian U.S. aid organizations are also reporting a slow response to the Pakistani flooding.

“Haiti is the obvious comparison. This response is far slower,” said Susan Kotcher, vice president for development at the International Rescue Committee. Kotcher said the IRC, which made its first calls to donors on July 29, is now getting hundreds of daily donations for Pakistan and has raised a total of $1.4 million from Americans. By contrast, in the first few days after the earthquake in Haiti, the group was getting thousands of donations each day, and raised more than $4 million in the first two weeks.

Some, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have attributed the slow response to the economic hardships facing Americans, as well as to a feeling of fatigue among donors who have contributed to other recent relief efforts. Others say the slow response may be caused by the fact that the devastation from floods, unlike that from earthquakes and tsunamis, develops over time.

“Its destructive power will accumulate and grow with time,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

But others suspect that political factors are at play. “I can’t help but have my suspicions,” said Edina Lekovic, communications director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “The first media coverage that I saw about the floods had more to do with whether the victims were going to rely on extremist groups for aid and relief,” she said, referring to news stories reporting that Islamic charities with connections to terrorist groups were distributing aid to people in flood-affected areas. “That their basic humanity and suffering comes second to questionable aid sources is insulting, and misses the point.”

The slowness of the global response is also being noticed in Pakistan. “Many right-wing organizations have been raising their voices over the slow response of Americans to the disaster,” Sahi said. “Many of them have been comparing the response of Americans to the Pakistani tragedy with the one faced by Haiti, and have been trying to make it a religious issue.”

Asked what might account for the slowness of the Jewish response, Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Temple Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif. said, “I don’t think that is an anti-Muslim deal. I think it’s a deeper question of overload” — too many issues to care about at once. American Jews are more concerned with existential threats being made against them by Iran, he suggested.

“If I’m scared that somebody is threatening me, I’m not going to listen to the cries of the neighbors,” Schulweis said. “That’s too bad,” he added, “because in the course of that parochialism, we lose one of the most uplifting values in Judaism itself, which is to be a light unto the nations.”

To help support the relief efforts in Pakistan, visit the websites of the JDC (, the AJWS ( or the IRC (

Los Angeles Jewish Journal


Week for mockeries at the United Nations

An effigy of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad occupies center stage at a protest outside the United Nations on Sept. 23. Courtesy Iran180

NEW YORK – During last week’s gathering of world leaders for the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly, some of the proceedings inside were nearly as farcical as the proceedings outside.

In one Jewish-organized protest on the street near the United Nations, activists wearing rainbow-colored wigs, mini-skirts, and pom-poms danced around a man wearing a massive effigy of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s head and clad in a nuclear suit and chains. Behind him stood an activist in a Hawaiian shirt wearing an Obama mask on his head, a rubber octopus on his hand, and carrying a sign that read, “No Nukes for Iran.”

It was all part of a mock trial of the Iranian leader organized by a group called Iran180.

Inside the U.N. plenum, Ahmadinejad by many accounts was making a mockery of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The United States arranged the 9/11 attacks “to save the Zionist regime,” Ahmadinejad declared in his Sept. 23 address. Suggesting that U.S. officials at the highest levels were complicit in the attacks, he called on the United Nations to establish “an independent fact-finding group” to investigate.

The U.S. delegation walked out of Ahmadinejad’s speech, as did all 27 European Union delegations, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Costa Rica.

As is his custom, the Iranian president also used his annual speech at the General Assembly to lash out against Israel.

“This regime,” he said of Israel, “which enjoys the absolute support of some Western countries, regularly threatens the countries in the region and continues publicly announced assassinations of Palestinian figures and others, while Palestinian defenders are labeled as terrorists and anti-Semites. All values, even the freedom of expression in Europe and the United States, are being sacrificed at the altar of Zionism.”

It wasn’t the only attack Israel faced last week at the United Nations.

A day earlier, the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council issued its report on the May 31 flotilla incident in which Israeli soldiers killed nine Turkish activists in a confrontation aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla.

The report called the actions by Israeli naval commandos “disproportionate and brutal,” saying they “demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence” and calling for “prosecution against Israel for willful killing and torture.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the report “biased and distorted.” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called it “extremely fair and based on solid evidence. We appreciate that. It meets our expectations.”

A separate inquiry by the United Nations commissioned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is ongoing.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, Israeli representatives did not respond to Ahmadinejad’s tirade because the speech took place on the Sukkot holiday and Israel’s U.N. delegation was absent.

President Obama made the case for Israel in his own speech to the U.N. General Assembly, which preceded Ahmadinejad’s.

“After 60 years in the community of nations, Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” Obama said. “Israel is a sovereign state and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakable opposition of the United States.”

The U.S. president also called on the world community to back Israeli-Palestinian peace with deeds and not just words.

“Those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down,” Obama said.

“Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians, but these pledges must now be supported by deeds,” he said.

“Those who have signed on to the Arab peace initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps toward the normalization that it promises Israel,” he said, referring to the 2003 Saudi-sponsored plan that offered Israel comprehensive peace in return for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders.

Following Ahmadinejad’s remarks several hours later, the U.S. mission to the United Nations issued a statement that “Rather than representing the aspirations and good will of the Iranian people, Mr. Ahmadinejad has yet again chosen to spout vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs that are as abhorrent and delusional as they are predictable.”



Israeli commission’s flotilla report: Preaching to the choir?

JERUSALEM – The response was predictable when Israel released the findings of its commission of inquiry into the May 2010 Turkish flotilla incident: Israel’s defenders heralded it as absolving Israel of wrongdoing, Turkish critics of Israel dismissed it as not credible.

Now the question is how the international community will view the report, which found that the Israeli Navy was not at fault in the May 31confrontation aboard one of a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships that left nine Turkish passengers dead.

“We think that this is an independent report, [the result of a] credible and impartial and transparent investigation that has been undertaken by Israel,” U.S. State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley said late Monday. “It will contribute to the broader process that continues through the secretary-general” of the United Nations.

It’s not clear that other countries will be as receptive to the Turkel Commission’s findings released Sunday.

“The Turkel committee was established mostly for external consumption, and even if the United Nations gives some weight to the panel’s findings, it’s hard to believe that the international community will accept them as is,” Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz.

Israel’s land and naval blockade of Gaza does not break international law, the report found, and Israeli soldiers acted in self-defense while intercepting and boarding the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship in the flotilla whose passengers attacked Israeli naval commandos when they tried to board the ship.

The report concluded that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, “in view of the security circumstances and Israel’s efforts to comply with its humanitarian obligations, was legal pursuant to the rules of international law.” But the report also suggested that Israel should find ways to focus its sanctions on Hamas while not harming the civilian population of Gaza.

The commission, which was chaired by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, also called on Israel to find ways to improve the delivery of medical care to Palestinians in Gaza.

It included four appointed members from Israel — one died during the proceedings — as well as two foreign observers: Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble from Ireland and Brig-Gen. (Ret.) Kenneth Watkin of Canada.

Twenty-seven witnesses over 15 days testified before the committee in open proceedings, while 12 witnesses offered their accounts behind closed doors.

Only the first part of the report was released Sunday. The second part will deal with whether Israel’s examination and investigation system regarding infringements of the laws of warfare comport with international law.

“I hope that all those who rushed to judgment against Israel and against its soldiers will read these reports and learn the truth about what happened,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “The truth is that our soldiers were defending our country and defending their very lives. This is not only their right; it is their duty.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Sunday that the Turkel Commission’s findings have “no value or credibility.”

A Turkish report on the incident submitted last September to a U.N. panel investigating the incident said that Israeli commandos used “totally unnecessary violence” and withheld medical care to passengers injured in the raid. It found Israel’s blockade of Gaza and subsequent interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla to be in violation of international law.

“We expected the Turkel report to say that mistakes were made and disproportionate force was used, but instead the report’s attitude almost renders the Israeli soldiers heroes,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told reporters Monday.

The Tel Aviv-based nonprofit Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which advocates for Palestinian rights, criticized Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza.

“No commission of inquiry can authorize the collective punishment of a civilian population by restricting its movement and access, as Israel did in its closure of Gaza,” the organization said in a statement.

The Turkel report will be turned over to a U.N. panel appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the incident.

On Monday, the Free Gaza movement and the Turkish pro-Palestinian organization IHH, which organized the May 2010 flotilla, said that two new Gaza-bound convoys — dubbed the Freedom Flotilla 2 — will sail for Gaza in the spring.

JTA Wire Service


U.N. human rights chief must be held accountable

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