U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt described statements by Indian human-rights expert Miloon Kothari as “outrageous,” adding that it was “unacceptable that such comments would come from an appointed member of a Commission of Inquiry.”
By Andrew Jose, JNS
A U.N. investigator examining the Israel-Palestinian conflict questioned Israel’s membership in the world body and accused the “Jewish Lobby” of controlling media in a podcast published on July 25.
“We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by the Jewish lobby or specific NGOs,” said Indian human-rights expert Miloon Kothari in an interview with Mondoweiss contributor David Kattenburg.
Kothari is part of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC)’s “Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel.”
He was discussing opposition to the commission’s mandate when he made claims regarding the existence of a “Jewish lobby” controlling social media.
Established in July 2021 in response to a UNHRC resolution adopted after the end of “Operation Guardian of the Walls” in May 2021, the commission had a mandate to investigate “alleged violations of international humanitarian law” and “alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law” in Israel and the Palestinian territories
Kothari was speaking to Kattenburg in the wake of the release of the commission’s first report in June, which called Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights a “belligerent occupation” and accused Israel of “forcible population transfers, failure to uphold laws of war, violation and abuses of individual, collective, social, cultural and economic rights, and attacking civic space.”
“Israel has no intention of ending the occupation,” said Kothari, claiming that Israel has not been cooperative with the commission’s investigations.
“I would go as far as to raise the question is why are they even a member of the United Nations,” he continued, accusing Israel of being in “systemic violation” of U.N. resolutions, international human rights law, humanitarian law and criminal law.”
“The Israeli government does not respect its own obligations as a U.N. member state,” he added, saying Israel “consistently either directly or through the United States” works to allegedly “undermine U.N. mechanisms.”
Aside from claiming Israel was unfit for U.N. membership and not cooperating with the commission’s investigation, Kothari also accused of Israel practicing “apartheid” and “settler colonialism” against the Palestinians.
The Anti-Defamation League described Kothari’s comments as “appalling,” calling his claims of a “Jewish lobby” in control of social media “anti-Semitic” and compounding “his known predisposition against Israel.”
“Labeling Israel as apartheid, settler colonialist and questioning its U.N. membership makes a sham of any claim of impartiality. Kothari’s comments are sadly emblematic of a broader bias within the UNHRC and exposes the deeply rotten core of the commission’s reports and [recommendations],” said the ADL.
B’nai Brith international director of United Nations and intercommunal affairs David Michaels told JNS that Kothari’s comments disqualified him from working in the commission. “If this outrageous and absurd claim wasn’t anti-Semitism,” said Michaels, “I don’t know what is.”
UNHRC spokesman Rolando Gomez told JNS that the Council’s President Ambassador Federico Villegas has “expressed concern about certain comments contained in the Mondoweiss interview” and has “raised the matter” with the chairperson of the Commission Navi Pillay.
“The Human Rights Council takes a firm stance against anti-Semitism, including any form of stigmatization against the Jewish people,” he said.
U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt described Kothari’s comments as “outrageous,” adding that it was “wholly unacceptable that such comments would come from an appointed member of a Commission of Inquiry.”
Speaking to JNS, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that “generally” members of such U.N. commissions “wrapped” their attacks against Israel as “against Zionism and against the Jewish state.”
‘Open-ended inquiry must be halted and disbanded’
The Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote to United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on July 27, urging the United States to denounce Kothari’s statements about Jews and Israel.
“Now you have this individual, someone who’s just a flat-out anti-Semite using anti-Semitic tropes about alleged Jewish control,” said Cooper. “Kothari’s use of such tropes and his claim that Israel should not be a member state of the U.N. were not an “accident,” he added.
Cooper described the Commission as a “witch hunt” part of the UNHRC’’s “hyperfocus” on Israel, which is intended to delegitimize the Jewish state while distracting the council from human rights abuses committed by other UNHRC members, such as China and Russia.
The commission that Kothari is part of differs from previous commissions in that it is open-ended: Investigators are not limited to specific periods of violence but are charged with examining the conflict from a broader historical context, noted Cooper.
The United States, on multiple occasions, has criticized the commission for its one-sided nature and open-ended mandate.
Kothari’s remarks to Mondoweiss “exacerbate our deep concerns about the open-ended nature & overly broad scope of the COI and the HRC’s disproportionate & biased treatment of Israel,” said U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council Michèle Taylor.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) joined Taylor in condemning Kothari’s remarks, describing them as “outrageous” and “deeply offensive.” She noted that “this is yet another example of the commission’s anti-Israel bias, and why this open-ended inquiry must be halted and disbanded.”
Rosen, alongside Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), introduced the Commission of Inquiry Elimination Act on June 14. If signed into law, the act would make eliminating the commission and combating the U.N.’s systematic anti-Israel bias U.S. policy.
Pillay deflected criticism over Kothari’s comments in a July 28 letter Gomez shared with JNS.
Kothari’s comments that a “Jewish lobby” controlled social media were “misquoted,” Pillay claimed, adding that the commissioner’s questioning of Israel’s UN membership ”reflect the Commission’s disappointment” with Israel’s supposed “lack of cooperation” and “address the issue that as a member of the United Nations, Israel is under an obligation to abide by the international legal framework, as well as independent bodies set up by the United Nations.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center responded to Pillay’s letter in a statement shared with JNS, saying that Pillay’s deflection and denial of Kothari’s remarks “reveal this is not an impartial investigation” into Israel.
The UNHRC declined to provide further comment on Pillay’s letter.