Hillel Neuer is the executive director of UN Watch, which last month celebrated its 20th anniversary as a human rights NGO (non-governmental organization) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
Since 2000 it has been affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, whose executive director, David Harris, is its co-chair. However, it operates independently and raises its own funds. Neuer, who formerly practiced commercial and civil rights litigation at an international law firm in Manhattan, joined UN Watch in March 2004. Since 2009, he has represented 25 human rights groups as chair of the annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. The Jewish Week caught up with him as the UN General Assembly was getting underway. This is an edited transcript.
Q.: What is UN Watch’s mission?
A.: To monitor the UN by the yardstick of its own charter and to promote human rights for all. We pay special attention to fighting anti-Israel bias, which detracts from the UN’s ability to focus on truly urgent human rights situations.
Are you able to quantify what you see as anti-Israel bias at the UN?
Each year there are about 22 one-sided resolutions against Israel at the General Assembly in New York and four against the rest of the world combined. The number of one-sided resolutions against Israel has been fairly constant at 20 odd for the past couple of decades.
Many of the speeches by heads of state at the General Assembly this year contained a condemnation of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. Yet, these countries have few Jewish or Palestinian residents and have little to do with that area of the world.
There are rational and irrational factors for this. First, we have vote trading. There are 56 Islamic countries and they are very blatant about vote trading. They would say to Brazil, for example, you vote for our anti-Israel resolutions and make anti-Israel statements and we will give you political support and vote for your resolutions. That is happening across the board. You could be a country with no dog in this fight but from a realpolitik standpoint, they have 56 votes and they very cynically trade their vote.
The second reason is oil. Despite exciting finds of gas reserves off of Israel’s coast, it remains the case that the Arab world still dominates the oil market and — as they have since 1973 — they use oil as a weapon. They say, you vote for us and we’ll continue giving you oil. You don’t, and the gas pumps are closed.
Number three is sovereign wealth funds. Gulf states have billions of dollars to invest — depending on how your country votes in the UN.
What are the irrational factors?
When I hear European diplomats justify excluding Israel from any regional group and saying that Israel cannot join the Western Regional Group because it is not like-minded, I sense the old prejudice that we hoped had disappeared from Europe after 1945.
But now that the Israelis and Palestinians are negotiating a peace agreement, do you think the anti-Israel bashing will stop?
No, and history has shown that this kind of scenario is paradoxical.
For instance, Egypt for the past couple of decades has been a significant partner with Israel on security cooperation. Yet, the Mubarak regime was often the leader of the most virulent anti-Israel resolutions at the UN — pushing the most bigoted anti-Israel resolutions to demonstrate what sadly counts for “leadership” in the Arab world.
How do other UN delegates personally treat you?
I am the most hated man at the Human Rights Council. When I walk in, I feel the hate from the most radical Arab dictatorships on the right to the radical left-wing NGOs. But at the same time we do a lot of work with human rights victims and work with smaller NGOs that work with victims from Cuba, Iran, Burma and China.
Would reforms of the UN help Israel?
There are various reforms one could make, but at the end of the day about half of the UN is not democratic. To get change at the UN, you have to change the world. And as long as children are taught to hate Israel and Jews, it will manifest itself in the world and at the UN.