Israel defended its record before the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday, marking an end to its 18-month boycott of the body over scrutiny of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“Our record is before you. It is not a perfect record,” Israeli ambassador Eviator Manor told the council, which is the United Nations’ top human rights forum.
Israel’s deputy attorney general Shai Nitzan also addressed the council, which the Jewish state repeatedly has accused of bias.
“Israel has been regularly subject to significant, and often politically motivated, scrutiny over the years, disproportional to the worldwide human rights situation,” Nitzan said.
“The promotion of human rights is a just, yet complex task, in every society — especially in a democratic, multicultural society that constantly confronts terrorism — and is one which we are committed too,” he added.
All 193 UN member states are meant to undergo a four-yearly review of their rights record.
Israel has faced widespread criticism for ramping up its construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank, including in annexed east Jerusalem.
Arab members of the council, along with Cuba, Venezuela and Russia, hit out over its treatment of Palestinians, while Turkey criticised the “shameful situation” and the “impunity of settlers”.
A string of European countries also took Israel to task, with Britain saying it was “deeply concerned” about the situation in the territories.
Peter Mulrean, deputy ambassador of staunch Israeli ally the United States, praised a “strong commitment and track record in upholding human rights, political freedom and civil liberties”.
But he also sounded a critical note on domestic policy, urging Israel to boost resources for Israeli Arab and Bedouin communities, and guard against the clout of Orthodox rabbis in determining policies that could discriminate against non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews.
The review process offers other UN members a chance to quiz a country about its rights record and the steps taken to redress failings, but does not set out sanctions for those found at fault.
On January 29, Israel became the first country to boycott its turn in the spotlight.
It cut ties with the council in March 2012 after the body said it would probe the human rights impact of Israeli settlements.
Palestinian ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi said Tuesday that Israel’s presence showed it wanted to pick and choose when to accept scrutiny.
“I think that Israel only understands the language of pressure. So its presence today has no value,” he said.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said Israel’s decision to attend was “a positive step” but that more was needed.
“Israel should now recognise that its human rights obligations apply to occupied Palestinian territory, start working with the UN’s human rights team in the West Bank and stop blocking visits from UN rights experts,” she added.
Israel’s decision to attend reportedly came after Germany warned of a diplomatic backlash if it again stayed away. Council chair Poland, which like Germany has close ties with Israel, also pushed for an end to the boycott.
Manor told reporters that “many friends of Israel, including European countries” had shown support for his country’s concerns.
But he said that attending the review did not imply total re-engagement with the council.
“There are no specific conditions, but there is a principle. And the principle is the unfair treatment of Israel must come to an end,” he said.