The choice of Canadian law professor William Schabas, 63, as chairman of a U.N. human rights panel to investigate violations in the Gaza war does not inspire confidence that the group’s processes or findings will be fair. Quite simply, Schabas’ anti-Israel politics and his intemperate remarks about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — which asserted that Netanyahu should be “in the dock of an international court” — raise questions about Schabas’ impartiality and his ability to act as an honest judge in the investigation.
But you don’t have to be a fan of Netanyahu, or even a supporter of Israel’s right to self -defense, to be concerned about the process that is unfolding. Last month, the U.N. Human Rights Council, which has a long history of hostility toward Israel, approved the creation of the Gaza commission of inquiry to investigate the recent hostilities. And it did so in a lopsided vote: 29 states in favor, 17 abstaining and one — the United States — voting against.
Given the panel’s history of antagonism toward Israel, critics have good reason to be concerned. Indeed, shortly after the Council vote, 34 U.S. senators wrote to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, criticizing the Council for focusing its investigation on Israel’s actions in the conflict while turning “a blind eye to Hamas’ brazen and depraved use of civilians as human shields.” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to remove Schabas from his chairmanship, and the Canadian foreign minister greeted Schabas’ appointment by calling the Council a “sham.”
It is tempting to dismiss any cooperation by Israel with the Schabas-led investigation since it is intended to be an anti-Israel witch hunt. But is it really a good idea to ignore the inquiry and to make no effort to influence its findings? We think not. Israel made that mistake in connection with the U.N. investigation of the 2008-09 offensive in Gaza, and the Council’s resulting Goldstone Report became the gold standard of anti-Israel bias. This is so, even though the report accused Hamas as well as Israel of potential war crimes and even though Richard Goldstone himself later retracted a section of his findings once Israel provided him with information.
For these reasons we believe that Israel is better off telling its side of the story and by providing details about Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket fire; about its use of women and children as shields for its rockets; about its storing of weapons caches in U.N. buildings, schools and among the civilian population; and about the complex of terror tunnels Hamas built for the sole purpose of kidnapping and killing Israelis.
Given its bias and the predisposition of its membership on anything relating to Israel, it is unlikely that the Human Rights Council would pick anyone more dispassionate than Schabas to lead this politically motivated investigation. But given his record and his offensive public comments regarding Israel and its leadership, Schabas should step aside and let the Council try to find a more appropriate leader.