The Jerusalem Post (Link) - Amos Schupak (March 1, 2009)
After Canada and Israel, the US equally announced, last Friday, its intention not to attend the upcoming "Durban II" Conference on Racism. Although this is an important decision, in the past mere boycotts have not been sufficient to effectively discredit UN biased anti-Israeli decisions and summits. To have a greater impact, the strategy of delegitimization should be taken a step further. Jerusalem should announce that it will apply for a membership to the Council of Europe - an international organization whose human rights protection system is much more credible than the UN mechanisms.
The UN disproportionately condemns Israel for human rights violations since the majority of its members are non-Western countries hostile to the Jewish state. This is especially true within its recently-created Human Rights Council, which is in charge of preparing the upcoming conference.
With Libya chairing the preparatory committee for the event and countries like Iran, Pakistan and Cuba serving on its bureau, the conference should not be much different from the precedent one held in Durban in 2001, which was clearly dominated by an anti-Israeli agenda. In fact, current draft resolutions for the next summit assert that Israel leads racist policies and even implicitly question Israel's right to exist.
AN ISRAELI candidature for admission to the Council of Europe would send the clear message to the world that the Jewish state does not fear criticism from international bodies as long as they are not dominated by anti-Zionist dictatorships. This idea would be difficult to challenge as the Council of Europe generally sets higher standards of human rights protection than the UN. Israel would be less criticized within the Council of Europe as the majority of its 47 member states are democracies that have good relations with Jerusalem.
Israel could then use the work of the Council of Europe to discredit the UN. For instance, the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance, a well-respected institution of the European organization which has done much to fight anti-Semitism would never label Zionism as a racist ideology. If Israel joins the organization, the conclusions of the commission could be opposed to any UN attempt to do so in the future.
SOME COULD still claim that there is no need to join yet another organization which could consider Israel as an occupier. Yet one has to keep in mind that there are many territorial disputes within the Council of Europe. Azerbaijan considers that Armenia occupies Nagorno Karabakh, Georgia that Russia occupies Abkhazia, Cyprus that Turkey occupies its northern region, and while some countries have recognized the independence of Kosovo, many still oppose it. Therefore Israel's situation will be only one out of many such issues.
The decision-making body of the Council of Europe - the Committee of Ministers - is a traditional intergovernmental institution in which there is a culture of consensus. Most of its resolutions in recent years have de facto been passed by unanimity. Unlike in the UN, Israel would therefore have a real chance to defend its positions within the organ and oppose possible attempts to label the situation in the Middle-East in terms with which it does not agree.
Israel could still be condemned by less senior bodies or, more problematically, by the European Court for Human Rights, which is part of the organization. Yet looking at the overall picture, this would cause only limited harm to Israel, which at the end of the day would improve its international image by joining the Council of Europe.
This would not be the only advantage for Israel. Joining the Council of Europe would strengthen its democracy and judicial system. It would also improve Israel's relations with the different member states as the broader goal of the organization is to create a greater unity in Europe. This enhanced cooperation could even be a first step towards an Israeli admission into the European Union, a move supported by many Israelis. In fact, compliance with the Human Rights standards of the Council of Europe is a prerequisite for joining the EU.
A membership in the Council is possible to obtain. Israel already has an observer status in some of its main bodies. Most importantly, considering the context of the anti-Israeli UN Conference, no member state should oppose Israel's admission. Let's hope it will grab the chance.