Whenever one finds oneself belonging to a group or system that has become — for whatever reason — morally repugnant, there is a question of whether to go or stay. Whether protest or reform from within is viable, or a clean break is necessary.
The United States was faced with that type of dilemma: Whether to stay in the U.N. Human Rights Council, where it hoped to mitigate the anti-Israel bias and rid the body of chronic rights offenders like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Venezuela, or to give up on it as a hopeless case.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced the decision. In the words of the ambassador, who has been an eloquent ally of Israel since her first day in office:
“We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights,” she said at a press conference with Pompeo.
The step was not taken peremptorily. Although the Trump administration made known its antipathy to the UNHRC from the outset, the president did not order an immediate withdrawal.
In recognition of the useful work that the body at times does, time was given to see if UNHRC members would be willing to take meaningful steps to rein in their animus toward Israel and to fix their membership aberrations.
Ambassador Haley put the UNHRC on notice a year ago that Washington was reviewing its membership and would pull out if things didn’t change.
They didn’t. Notably, its infamous Agenda Item 7 remained in force. This is the by-law that requires the council to regularly fulminate over the perceived or imagined abuses of supposedly peaceful Palestinians at the hands of Israeli soldiers who allegedly shoot to kill without any provocation whatsoever.
Agenda 7 guarantees a periodic festival of accusations, recriminations and condemnations, the likes of which no other country is subjected to.
As Pompeo said, “The council’s continued and well-documented bias against Israel is unconscionable. Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined.”
So the dilemma of whether to stay or go solved itself through the UNHRC’s indifference to the call for reform.
Said Haley, “For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias. Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded.”
Still, there was a price to pay. China, Britain and the European Union lamented the American decision as “bad news.” And a dozen rights and aids groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, sent a letter to Pompeo warning that the withdrawal would “make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world.”
And then there were those who saw it as an opportunity for some high-minded Trump-bashing. Like Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, who said President Trump’s “misguided policy of isolationism only harms American interests and betrays our values as a nation.”
Really? Does it affirm our values as a nation to sit alongside Venezuela, China, Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo as they pose as agents of international morality? Does it protect American interests to help fund a body that engages in serial verbal attacks on a loyal ally? Is it isolationism to leave the U.N. Human Rights Council, shunned by President George W. Bush at the time of its creation in 2006, whom it alternately lauded and vilified for his policy of “regime change” in Iraq that same year?
The answer to all these questions is “no.”
While this was, to be sure, not an easy decision, it was the right decision, taken after more than a year of careful consideration. In the end, as an appreciative Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu put it on Tuesday night:
“The U.S. decision to leave this prejudiced body is an unequivocal statement that enough is enough.”