The Trump administration yesterday dealt another blow to America’s leadership on the global stage and to the US commitment to multilateralism by withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
One of the chief reasons given for the US decision to withdraw is the UNHRC’s treatment of Israel. This is the second time the Trump Administration has announced it will pull the US out of a UN body over alleged anti-Israel bias. The first was the US withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), announced last year. The pullout fits a broader Trump administration pattern of abandoning multilateralism for an America First approach, evident also in its exit from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.
The UNHRC is not without significant flaws. Its membership includes gross violators of human rights like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Its focus on Israeli human rights abuses is clearly out of proportion, given the overall picture of human rights violations worldwide.
Yet, it is wrong to dismiss the body as “a cesspool of political bias,” as our UN Ambassador Nikki Haley did. It is currently investigating human rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan. Appropriately, its chief has called out the Trump administration for its “unconscionable” policy of separating migrant children from their parents and urged the US to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. And investigating companies whose activities in the Occupied Territories enable the existence and growth of settlements – the greatest threat to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – is worthy of our support.
The United States must have a seat at the table to push for fixes when the UNHRC falls short. That means avoiding the temptation to pick up its marbles and go home when others choose not to play by its rules. Further curtailing the US commitment to multilateralism is not in Israel’s interest, nor is it in the interest of America’s national security or the post-World War II liberal world order of which the US is chief architect.
When the White House at last reclaims the historic role of the United States in bringing together Israelis and Palestinians to make peace, enlisting the support of the international community will be crucial. All those with an interest in bringing about the conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should push for an America Engaged, not Trump’s move to an America Alone.