Kerry Vows to Defend Israel at UN Human Rights Council

Secretary of State John Kerry defended Israel on Monday at a United Nations group that’s often hostile toward the Jewish state.

In a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the UN’s top human rights group, Kerry showcased U.S. support for Israel just hours before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses pro-Israel activists in the U.S. about his alarm that the Obama administration is sacrificing Israel’s security in its effort to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.

“The HRC’s obsession with Israel actually risks undermining the credibility of the entire organization,” said Kerry. “We will oppose any effort by any group or participant in the UN system to arbitrarily and regularly delegitimize or isolate Israel, not just in the HRC but wherever it occurs.”

State Department officials said Kerry’s speech shows how the Obama administration looks out for Israel’s interests, even at a moment when high-level relations are at a two-decade low due to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and personal strains between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

The U.S. seeks to thwart anti-Israel actions in international bodies, such as the Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council, said the officials, who spoke anonymously under the department’s protocol before the speech.

Some Israeli officials and parts of the American Jewish community have expressed concern that the administration generally and Obama personally are anti-Israel or at least insufficiently supportive. That’s a narrative that might hurt Democrats with Jewish and other pro-Israel voters and might bolster Netanyahu in Israeli elections later this month.

Strong Relationship

Kerry, who speaks frequently with Netanyahu, said the U.S.- Israel security relationship remains strong and that the U.S. also backs Israel in other ways.

“We have intervened on Israel’s behalf the last few years more than several hundred, a couple of hundred times in over 75 different fora,” Kerry, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” program.

The Human Rights Council has been a forum for attacks on Israel from Arab and other nations, and a highly critical report is expected later this month from the council’s commission of inquiry on last summer’s Gaza war.

‘Wanton Destruction’

Authorization for the investigation was drafted by the Palestinians and supported in a July vote by 29 of the 46-member council. In doing so, the council condemned what it said were widespread violations of international human rights and “wanton destruction” by Israel, asserting that most of the more than 650 Palestinians killed were civilians. Israel has said that it exercised care in military actions provoked by militants’ rocket attacks and that the Palestinians have falsely claimed as civilian casualties many militants involved in those attacks against Israeli communities.

The U.S. voted against the resolution, while European countries abstained. Israel has been concerned that the report may echo the resolution and largely blame it for deaths and damage and minimize the provocations by Palestinian militants.

The U.S. is working now to try to block potential follow-on action against Israel by the council, which the U.S. rejoined in 2009 in a policy change by Obama. In recent years, the U.S. has sought to use its membership to counter what a State Department official called the council’s undue and biased focus on Israel, which is the only nation facing scrutiny each year under a standing item on the council’s agenda.

The timing of Kerry’s address was also notable because this is the last year the U.S. will be a member under rotation rules that allow only two consecutive three-year terms. After a gap in 2016, the U.S. plans to run for re-election to the council for the 2017-19 period, an official said.

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