The JC / The Jewish Chronicle
March 22, 2019
Jeremy Hunt's selective announcement on Israel voting may have been about more than just foreign policy
We now know the UK will not oppose every anti-Israel resolution at the Human Rights Council, so why did the Foreign Secretary imply it would?
There was a lot of excitement at first. After all, it is not every day the British Foreign Secretary uses the world’s oldest Jewish newspaper to announce a seemingly landmark change to UK policy on Israel.
From now on, Jeremy Hunt wrote in our pages this week, Britain will oppose all resolutions under Item 7, the slot used in meetings of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to discuss alleged abuses committed by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
No other part of the world — not DR Congo, not Myanmar, not even Syria — makes a fixed, regular appearance in the HRC’s agenda like this.
“By any standard of fairness or proportion, elevating [the Israeli-Palestinian] dispute above all others cannot be sensible,” Mr Hunt said.
His stance was applauded by Jewish and pro-Israeli groups around the world. Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, hailed the UK’s “new and principled stance”. The education group StandWithUs praised the Foreign Secretary’s “principled stance”.
But our own analysis of Mr Hunt’s speech spotted a catch: Britain will oppose anything tabled at the HRC under agenda item 7, but will not every resolution that criticises Israel.
It was a detail reinforced by the lawyer and United Nations observer Hillel Neuer, who pointed out a vote on the HRC’s report into last year’s violence on the Israel-Gaza border had been submitted under a separate agenda item this week.
There may have been coordination with the Palestinians in doing this, he added.
That very vote took place on Friday morning and the United Kingdom did not vote to oppose it. It abstained, reflecting Britain’s long-held position of seeking to avoid offence by not taking sides.
Perhaps this was why the Jewish Leadership Council in the UK added a caveat to its earlier statement welcoming Mr Hunt’s announcement.
“Additional biased resolutions against Israel which fall under other items on the UNHRC agenda should also have been treated the same way,” chief executive Simon Johnson said.
So given this is not a dramatic shift in UK foreign policy towards Israel, what exactly is it?
Sure, it is palpably unfair for the UN Human Rights Council to regularly single out abuses in one part of the world and not anywhere else. Britain can make a reasonable claim to standing up to that injustice by uniformly opposing article 7.
But Mr Hunt chose to make the announcement himself and not delegate it to a deputy like Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East.
What’s more, he chose the British Jewish community’s newspaper of record — not an international news organ — to carry his column first.
Given British Jews’ present aversion to the opposition Labour Party and persistent rumours that Mr Hunt has ambitions to lead his own party, perhaps this declaration was not just about paperwork at the United Nations.
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