Obama's Re-election Bid Fuels Flap over Hamas at UN Human Rights Council

Obama's Re-election Bid Fuels Flap over Hamas at UN Human Rights Council

An argument over whether an anti-Israel terrorist group had been scheduled to address the UN Human Rights Council this week may have been motivated by concerns about the political implications for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

On Monday, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported a still unconfirmed story that the United Nations had canceled a scheduled appearance by the Palestinian terror group Hamas at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.  Sources who saw the formal schedule of speakers on Monday have said that the name of the Hamas speaker was not on the official list.

What is actually known is that a Hamas representative spoke at a “side event” of the UN Human Rights Council but not as part of the Council’s proceedings.

That should have been troubling enough–as Anne Bayefsky noted in the Jerusalem Post:

UN facilities would only have been available to a non-governmental organization that had been awarded UN accreditation and then only after they had requested the services from the UN secretariat.  Though the UN bulletin carries a standard disclaimer for what may or may not be said during such events, the application to hold the meeting in the first place must have been vetted and approved by UN staff.

Moreover, locating meetings on the “side” of the Human Rights Council’s regular session – which is now in full swing – is a deliberate attempt to influence information flow to Council participants.  And while in theory any UN group can ask permission to hold a side event, it is no accident that approval is actually granted to a raft of Israel-bashing NGOs.

What is curious is that UN Watch, which is normally highly critical of the UN Human Rights Council, seemed determined to downplay the Hamas appearance. In a rapid series of tweets yesterday, UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer tried to dispel concerns about Hamas’s appearance in Geneva.

It was unclear why Neuer had responded so vehemently, but the following day, Obama administration’s UN ambassador, Susan Rice, appeared before Congress to justify the State Department’s budget requests, which include funds for the UN, renewal of U.S. funding for UNESCO despite its having granted statehood status to “Palestine”, and support for related organizations. 

Rice made UN funding a focus of her remarks:

Let me start by underscoring the importance of the United Nations to advancing U.S. interests and upholding the universal values we hold dear….

As both Democratic and Republican leaders have long attested, a strong and effective UN is one of the best tools we have to tackle many of the world’s problems. The UN plays an indispensable role in building international coalitions and promoting global burden sharing to meet 21st century challenges. The UN is not the sum of our strategy, but an essential piece of it.

UN Watch is “affiliated with the American Jewish Committee (AJC),” according to its website. The AJC, in turn, is led by David Harris, who has generally been supportive of the Obama administration–including its ill-fated participation in the talks before the “Durban II” racism conference in 2009.

Rumors emerged that the AJC, and UN Watch, did not want to see the Rice or the Obama administration embarrassed by the Hamas appearance at the UN Human Rights Council, which the Obama administration chose to join after the Bush administration had refused, citing the Council’s anti-Israel focus.

Though it has occasionally been critical of the Obama administration, the AJC has generally sought to minimize the stark differences between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a variety of issues. 

The Obama campaign is also eager to erase memories of confrontations that the White House deliberately sought with Israel, and is courting pro-Israel voters with a video that highlights positive aspects of Obama’s record, including military cooperation.

Neuer responded via e-mail as follows to the question of whether he had made “an attempt to downplay Hamas’s appearance in order to spare Susan Rice any embarrassment on Capitol Hill”:

The answer is no — the very question itself is equal parts insulting, paranoid and meshugeneh [crazy].