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UN expert calls for investigation after being called 'antisemite' by Israeli ambassador

Navi Pillay writes letter to United Nations seeking an inquiry after she says Israeli diplomat accused her of 'Jew hatred'
Navi Pillay is a former South African judge who served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008-2014.
Navi Pillay is a former South African judge who served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008-2014 (AFP/File photo)

The head of a United Nations commission probing alleged Israeli war crimes committed against Palestinians has sent a letter to the UN calling for an investigation after accusing the Israeli mission of launching a "personal attack" against her in which she was labelled an "antisemite".

According to the letter, obtained by the independent news site PassBlue, Navi Pillay had an encounter in October with the Israeli ambassador during a General Assembly committee meeting, in which the diplomat "accused the Commissioners of being 'heartless'" to the suffering of Israelis killed by rocket fire from Gaza.

"The Permanent Representative of the State of Israel to the United Nations launched personal attacks directed at each of the Commissioners," Pillay wrote in the letter, adding that the ambassador used offensive language and insults including accusing them of "Jew hatred", labelling them "blatant antisemites", and referring to them as part of a "terror-supporting" commission.

Pillay wrote in the letter that the diplomat "held up posters of each Commissioner and brought into the room family members of a child victim of a rocket attack launched from Gaza, arranging for them to stand at the back of the meeting room holding up a photograph of their son".

This was a "clear use of victims as a means of pushing a political and distorted message - that the Commissioners have no intention of meeting with Israeli victims of human rights violations and abuses - despite numerous requests having been made to the State of Israel to allow the Commission to visit the country and meet with such victims", Pillay said.

The commissioner called on the UN to "inquire as to why such incidents were allowed to occur" and to ensure the organisation take steps to ensure the commissioners "are effectively protected from such personal attacks in the future".

UN spokesperson Farhan Haq referred Middle East Eye to remarks made about the incident on 1 November, in which he said: "We don’t have a statement on this, but obviously, you’re aware of the many different roles Navi Pillay has played in the UN system in terms of the international criminal tribunals, in terms of the work of the Human Rights Office.

"And so, her professionalism and her integrity are well known to all of you, and we would reaffirm that."

Haq, however, did not specifically comment on the letter. MEE also reached out to the Israeli mission to the UN, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

Apartheid conclusion

Last year, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) agreed to launch an investigation with a broad mandate to probe all alleged violations Israel had committed against Palestinians in its May offensive on Gaza, which killed 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to the UN. 

UN expert's Israel comments 'deliberately taken out of context', says Pillay
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The first of its findings, which came out this June, said Israel's occupation and discrimination against Palestinians were the main causes of cycles of violence in Israel and Israeli-occupied territory. 

Earlier this year, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories also submitted a report to the UNHRC concluding Israel's treatment of Palestinians amounted to apartheid.

The probe, named the Commission of Inquiry, had been heavily criticised by both the US and Israel, who say the investigation's findings represented "a one-sided, biased approach that does nothing to advance the prospects for peace".

Israel has refused to work or cooperate with the commission.

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