Geneva, March 9, 2017 – In his annual update to the Human Rights Council yesterday, UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, called out the Trump administration for its insufficient response to recent anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish institutions in the United States and for other Trump policies including the widely criticized immigration ban.
But it appears that High Commissioner Hussein, who in the past has been silent in response to deadly anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, is exploiting the anti-Semitism issue to slam Trump.
High Commissioner Hussein said: “I am concerned by the new Administration’s handling of a number of human rights issues. Greater and more consistent leadership is needed to address the recent surge in discrimination, anti-Semitism, and violence against ethnic and religious minorities. . . I am dismayed at attempts by the President to intimidate or undermine journalists and judges. I am also concerned about new immigration policies . . .”
This criticism comes in the wake of threats by the Trump administration to withdraw from the Human Rights Council and Ambassador Nikki Haley’s highly publicized press conference excoriating the Human Rights Council for its obsession with Israel while serious human rights abuses in other countries are ignored.
While we applaud High Commissioner Hussein’s recognition that the problematic rise in anti-Semitism is a human rights issue worthy of the attention of world leaders (including those at the UN), we note that he has been strikingly silent on the issue in the past.
High Commissioner Hussein “utterly condemned the appalling and ruthless attack” on the Charlie Hebdo offices on January 7, 2015, and publicly mourned the victims of that attack at a special ceremony held by the UN at the Palais de Nations in Geneva, but he was silent about the January 9, 2015 hours long siege on a Kosher supermarket in Paris that left four Jews dead.
Likewise, High Commissioner Hussein was silent in response to the February 15, 2015 shooting attack on the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen in which a Jewish security guard was killed while a Bat-Mitzvah celebration was taking place inside.
Neither in his opening speech to the Human Rights Council, nor in his speech presenting the High Commissioner’s annual report that year, did he mention these two horrific and deadly anti-Semitic attacks. In the latter speech, he referenced anti-Semitism only once, in passing, along with Islamophobia and Christianophobia, as manifestations of “poisonous intolerance.”
In light of his deafening silence on the issue of anti-Semitism in the past, High Commissioner Hussein’s criticism of Trump for his tepid response to the current spate of attacks in the U.S. rings hollow.