The appointment of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador for Non-Communicable Diseases in Africa touched off a kind of ad hoc international tournament to see who could express the most outrage in the most colorful language.
Ireland’s health minister, Simon Harris, called the appointment “offensive, bizarre.”
“Mugabe corruption decimates Zimbabwe health care,” tweeted the head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth.
Two dozen organizations — including the World Heart Federation and Cancer Research UK — released a statement saying they were “shocked and deeply concerned” and citing his “long track record of human rights violations.”
“Can you be a ‘goodwill ambassador’ if the world widely regards you as a violent, tyrannical despot?” asked The Washington Post.
Some reactions were more restrained, not quite in the spirit of global outrage. The United States called it “disappointing.”
Director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University, Ashish K. Jha, who describes himself as “an advocate for the notion that an ounce of data is worth a thousand pounds of opinion,” opined that “the Mugabe appointment, coming at the end of (WHO head Tedros’s) first 100 days, was a misstep.” (What would he call it if Kim Jong-un shot a nuclear-armed missile at South Korea or California? An “indiscretion”?)
The villain in this story was Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the new head of the WHO, who not only nominated the African dictator but initially refused to rescind the nomination despite the tsunami of opprobrium. Finally, he gave in.
Tedros said he had “listened carefully” to those who condemned the decision and decided to reverse it “in the best interests of the World Health Organization.”
In diplomatic language, “listened carefully” is code for “either he goes or you go.”
Tedros was elected in May as the first African head of WHO under the slogan “Let’s prove the impossible is possible.” The “impossible,” it seems, was that an infamous miscreant like Mugabe could possibly be thought of as a fit candidate for goodwill.
It is hard to fathom Tedros’s thinking. Maybe he was just out of date, since during the first 20 years of his 37-year rule, Mugabe “widely expanded health care,” according to the BBC. Tedros may have been unaware that things have changed. Since 2000, when the Zimbabwean economy was laid horizontal by Mugabe’s populist policy of driving white farmers off the land in favor of his squatter constituents, the health care system likewise went off the charts, downward.
Whatever else Mugabe is, he is no fool. The 93-year-old, who is rumored to be suffering from cancer, travels abroad for medical treatment. He celebrated his 90th birthday at a clinic in Singapore, and was officially pronounced “as fit as a fiddle.”
Certainly, the international community acted rightly. Even though the position of goodwill ambassador, as it implies, has no power, it should not go to the likes of Mugabe, a living explanation for why certain countries continue to struggle to emerge from what is euphemistically known as “underdevelopment.”
The outrage at his appointment was entirely proper and good. But it does raise a troubling question: Why is it that when comparably outrageous appointments are made to U.N. agencies there is no comparable outrage — or any at all?
Take the U.N. Human Rights Council, for example. In March, that agency passed five resolutions condemning alleged Israeli rights violations against Syrians in the Israeli Golan, and against the Palestinians.
Who sits on the UNHRC? Among its 47 members are China, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Cuba and Congo. Not exactly models of freedom and tolerance. Much the same can be said of UNESCO, the U.N. Security Council, and various other international agencies that regularly condemn Israel, an embattled democracy, while their own governments quash democracy and human rights with a heavy hand.
What explains this selective outrage, which rushes to denounce the Mugabe appointment and force its cancelation, while tolerating the blatant hypocrisy of Israel-bashing by despots and dictators everywhere else? Why is debate over Israel on the permanent agenda of the UNHRC, when Syria, despite butchering hundreds of thousands of its people, is not?
The question is, of course, rhetorical. There is no logic to the so-called “anti-Israel bias,” just as there is no logic to anti-Semitic hatred. They will be with us as long as the galus lasts, until Moshiach comes.