Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the U.S. Congress Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) censured the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for its continued and persistent bias against Israel in a hearing on Tuesday to examine the Council’s status on the ten-year anniversary of its establishment. Pitts expressed his frustration with the Council’s anti-Israel bias, asserting: “One of, if not the greatest impediments [sic] to a credible council remains its insistence on keeping Israel as a permanent stand alone item on the Council’s agenda. While every country deserves scrutiny, no other single country in the world has ever been subjected to this level of attention by the Council or made a standing agenda item.” He also publicly called on the Council to remove Israel from its standing agenda.
Hillel Neuer, Executive Director at UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO, testified before the Commission, telling members of Congress: “Nowhere is the chasm between promise and performance more pronounced than in the Council’s pathological obsession with demonizing Israelis and denying their human rights.” He stated that the UNHRC’s “persecution of Israelis has never been worse. Measuring by numbers, the Council since its creation in June 2006 has adopted 128 resolutions criticizing countries, of which no less than 67—more than half— have targeted Israel.” He goes on to explain that one aspect that makes the criticism of Israel so unique is that the resolutions on Israel are “suffused with political hyperbole, selective reporting, and the systematic suppression of any countervailing facts that might provide balance in background information or context.” He explained that the approach to Israel stands in contrast to, for instance, the Council’s resolutions on Sudan, a country whose president is wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The resolutions on Sudan “regularly included language praising, commending and urging international aid funds for its government.”
Representatives from the U.S. State Department were also present at the hearing. Pitts asked if there were any indications that Israel would be removed as a standing agenda item soon and if the U.S. or any ally could be expected “to initiate a motion to this effect” in the upcoming session this fall. Ambassador Keith Harper, the U.S. representative to the UNHRC, explained that Agenda Item 7 is the standing item on Israel, and it “is in the founding resolution that was first adopted by the Council then accepted at the General Assembly.” Harper said it will not be reviewed until 2021.
The U.S. contributes more than one-fifth of the UN’s funding. Pitts said that out of those funds, contributions could be made to the Council “when the secretary of state considers our participation to be in the national interest.” He concluded: “Those funds appropriated by Congress must only be used to support a council whose work can truly be considered ‘balanced, credible, and effective.’”
The aid provided by Israeli humanitarian groups to displaced Syrians can serve as a lesson for how people from different countries, religions, and political perspectives can work together to ease their plight, a Syrian refugee said at a congressional briefing Tuesday.
Shadi Martini, a native of Aleppo who today serves as a senior advisor to the nonprofit Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA), became involved in relief work in March 2011, shortly after the regime of Bashar al-Assad began violently clamping down on unarmed protesters calling for democratic reforms. Martini and his colleagues organized assistance to injured civilians through an underground network, even as the regime targeted anyone suspected of assisting the Syrian opposition.
“I became a refugee for a simple reason,” Martini said during a briefing hosted by MFA. “I saw that at that point in history, it was not right for me to ignore the cries of people who are suffering injuries, and who are deprived of their ability to seek medical attention, a simple thing. But apparently, as one Syrian government official told us, ‘look, we’re not shooting them so you guys can save their lives.’ So it was obvious to us that what we were doing was very dangerous.”
Martini was forced to flee Syria when his covert aid operation was exposed in mid-2012. The Syrian civil war, now in its fifth year, has since devolved into one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes since the Second World War.
Martini recalled that his network was assisted by relief workers from across the region. But one thing that was “amazing” and “astonishing” to them was when they “saw NGOs from Israel coming to aid Syrians.”
“That was a shock for us,” Martini said. “You know, there’s no love lost between Syrians and Israelis. I can tell you that. But all of a sudden, we looked at each other and said, ‘why are you doing this?’ And the simple [answer] was, ‘because you need our help.’ Somehow we managed to bypass all our political differences, all our anger, and work together with other groups, through faith lines, and it just didn’t matter.”
Martini said the experience helped change his perception of Israelis. In Syria, “Israel was [viewed] as a bloc, as like all Israelis have the same ideas and same attitude towards Arabs, and especially the Palestinian issue is very vital to Syrians and to all Arabs. So it just gave me a different perspective,” he explained. While he met people who had diverging opinions on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “what was interesting is we were able put our political differences aside. Somehow we managed to understand that we can be different, we don’t have to agree on the same issue, but at the same time we can work together on a more important matter, which is saving lives.”
“I think that’s a lesson that can be applied across the Middle East,” Martini continued. “You know, it’s the situation here in the U.S. At the end of the day, everyone has disagreements with the other, see the elections now. But at the same time, there are issues that we can all work together, and I think the refugee issue is one of them.”
Tuesday’s event was headlined by the Oscar-winning actor F. Murray Abraham, whose father was a Syrian Christian refugee who settled in the United States. “Can you imagine being driven out of America with your family, with no place to go?” Abraham asked. “Can you then imagine how grateful you would be to the people who took you in? I would offer myself and my children to defend any people who opened their doors to me, and so would you.”
Other speakers included MFA founder Dr. Georgette Bennett, a Hungarian refugee born to Holocaust survivors; Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.); and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).
Tower senior editor Ben Cohen profiled MFA’s efforts to aid refugees while building bridges between Syrians and Israelis in the January 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine.
For the most part, the world seems to have no idea what to do about this devastating humanitarian crisis. But a small and dedicated group of activists, led by Georgette Bennett, president of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and a New York-based interfaith activist who founded the Multi-Faith Alliance for Syrian Refugees in Jordan (MFA), is trying to change that.
She and her colleagues are fighting an uphill battle. The type of attention, funds, and supplies that refugees from other humanitarian crises tend to receive simply haven’t been forthcoming when it comes to the Syrian crisis. “I don’t think it’s donor fatigue,” Bennett told me, referring to the phenomenon in which disasters seem so prevalent and unsolvable that people simply give up on trying to help the victims. Rather, it’s because of the nature of the Syrian war itself. “We’ve seen so much brutality from the regime,” she says, “as well as from the extremists in the opposition,” that potential donors to Syria can’t tell “who the good guys are, who it is that we need to help.” In other words, the very forces that created the crisis and claimed the lives of over 200,000 Syrians have colluded to make the struggle of the survivors to exist as miserable as possible. …
Her new endeavor, the MFA, is characterized by a dual mission. The first mission is to raise both awareness of and funding for aid organizations assisting Syrian refugees in Jordan. The second—in essence, an unintended consequence of the first—concerns what Bennett describes as a “small glimmer of hope”: Syrian activists who work with Israeli aid agencies in order to provide relief for Syrian refugees.
“Israelis and Syrians engaging in a positive way is a very exciting aspect of our humanitarian work,” Bennett says. At a recent meeting in London with a senior official of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Bennett went so far as to describe Israel as a potential “staging area” for aid delivery. Obviously, she acknowledged, there are myriad political obstacles to this. At the same time, however, the plight of the refugees demands the kind of creative thinking that circumvents the long-established political and diplomatic disputes between Middle Eastern states. As Miliband argued, “Successive UN resolutions have failed to deliver for the innocent inside and outside Syria. We need to pick up the call for political action that can stop the killing as NGOs staunch the dying.” (via TheTower.org)
Gili Navon didn’t intend to start a nonprofit organization when she traveled to Majuli, a remote island of about 200,000 in Assam, northeast India. It was 2007, and she came with a photographer friend to explore arural culture she’d heard about from a yoga teacher during her yearlong backpacking trek through India after her army discharge in 2005. Something about the place attracted her intensely. Though she did not speak Assamese or any local dialects, Navon bonded with the families – and particularly the women — of Majuli’s peaceful Mising tribe. She accompanied them to the jungle to pick herbs and helped with household chores. She watched them spin raw silk and cotton into colorful garments. She saw the struggle for sustenance in this low-caste subsistence-farming society where tourists rarely venture and river erosion has caused mass relocation. “We came to have a real relationship. Slowly I learned the language and visited many times. They knew I cared about them,” Navon tells ISRAEL21c. That caring led her to do a four-month internship in Majuli during her studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Glocal (“global” and “local”) Community Development Studies master’s degree program. Navon organized 24 tribal women into a weaving cooperative in 2011 to help them turn their cultural tradition into a more viable source of income from marketable items such as table runners, scarves, wallets and yoga bags. One project led to another, one trip to another. In 2013, Navon and fellow Glocal student Shaked Avizedek partnered with local youth and women to establish Amar Majuli (“Our Majuli”), a grassroots not-for-profit organization. In Israel, Amar Majuli now functions within Tevel b’Tzedek, a nonprofit that runs long-term volunteer projects to enhance the livelihood and wellbeing of communities in developing countries. The heart of Amar Majuli’s community work is the Rengam (United) Women Weavers Cooperative, whose goal is to provide members and their families with independent sustainable livelihoods from handloom work and eco-tourism while gaining leadership skills. The weaving cooperative today includes about 100 women, ages 18 to 60, from 20 villages. The project’s headquarters doubles as a meeting place for educational lectures on topics such as women’s health, and has also become an informal hostel for unmarried women who otherwise have no place in society. (via Israel21c)