Cardin/Portman letter on UN Commission of Inquiry undermines international law, human rights

March 04, 2022
Cardin/Portman letter on UN Commission of Inquiry undermines international law, human rights

UN flag. Photo credit: Flickr/sanjitbakshi. Creative Commons license. 


A dangerous Dear Colleague letter is being circulated by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), which seeks to undermine international law and human rights by shielding Israel from accountability for its actions and policies at the UN. 

We urge Senators not to sign this letter for the following reasons:

  • By urging the United States to attempt to end the UN Commission of Inquiry, this letter seeks to shield Israel from accountability at the UN for its actions and policies toward the Palestinian people, thereby affording it a continued carte blanche to perpetuate practices without consequence that the world’s leading human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with Israel’s own leading human rights group, B’Tselem, and many others have found to be apartheid and persecution.
  • Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine has rightfully led to a resurgence in centering human rights and international law as the basis of our system of international relations. In 1956, President Eisenhower said: “We cannot—in the world, any more than in our own nation-subscribe to one law for the weak, another law for the strong; one law for those opposing us, another for those allied with us.” Just as we oppose Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, so too should we oppose Israel’s aggression against the Palestinian people, not undermine international attempts to hold Israel accountable.
  • The UN has a special responsibility to ensure freedom, justice, and equality for the Palestinian people because it was the UN General Assembly’s recommendation in 1947 to partition Palestine against the wishes of its majority indigenous population that allowed for the establishment of Israel and its massive ethnic cleansing of most of its indigenous population. As is widely recognized by historians and scholars of international law, Israel is the only country in the world that came into existence as the result of a UN recommendation in direct violation of the principle of self-determination of its indigenous inhabitants. In other words, the UN has a special obligation to make right what it got wrong nearly 75 years ago.
  • Special and standing UN commissions to hold Israel accountable are necessary precisely because the international community has failed to hold Israel accountable to date, resulting in its ongoing and systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel became a member of the UN on the condition of its acceptance of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which stipulates that Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed from their homes in what became Israel have the right of return (repatriation). However, nearly 75 years later, Israel remains a member of the UN despite its refusal to let Palestinian refugees return home.
  • More recently, US actions taken at the UN have inhibited Israel (and armed Palestinian groups) from being held accountable for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity recorded in impartial, meticulously well-documented UN reports. From the Goldstone Report (investigating human rights violations committed during Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on the Gaza Strip), to the 2010 report on Israel’s attack upon an international humanitarian flotilla attempting to deliver aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip, to the report on Israel’s most devastating attack on the Gaza Strip to date in 2014, the United States has acted systematically to undermine the reports’ conclusions and the ability of the Palestinian people to seek redress at the International Criminal Court. For example, in response to the Goldstone Report, US and Israeli diplomats colluded to “deflect and contain” it. (For more details, please see IMEU Policy Analysis #4: Why Israel Must Be Held Accountable for Policies toward the Gaza Strip.) Impunity breeds more impunity and this cycle must be broken by finally supporting accountability.
  • Antisemitism is an insidious form of racism and bigotry that has had genocidal repercussions in the past and unfortunately continues to have deadly consequences today. Antisemitism must continue to be unequivocally condemned. However, it is extremely dangerous and irresponsible to conflate calls to investigate and hold Israel accountable for its actions and policies with racism toward Jewish people. This stance wrongly implies that Jewish people worldwide are responsible for the actions and policies of the Israeli government. The UN would have an equally urgent responsibility to hold Israel accountable for its policies toward the Palestinian people if the majority of its citizens were Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. The religious identity of its citizens is not at play; Israel’s government must be held accountable for its rule over the Palestinian people, which includes a brutal military occupation that has been in place for more than half a century. (For more details, please see IMEU Policy Backgrounder: How Israel Practices Apartheid.)