The U.N.'s Human Rights Council (HRC) voted overwhelmingly on Friday to endorse the recommendations of the lopsidedly anti-Israel Goldstone Report. The report, named for former South African judge Richard Goldstone, who chaired the underlying investigation, concluded that Israel's 2008-2009 military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas was actually aimed against Gaza's residents as a whole. Thus it was an illegitimate exercise of "collective punishment," an extraordinarily amorphous legal concept.
The report alleges numerous specific human rights violations by both Israel and Hamas. But by attempting to criminalize Israel's strategy of crippling Hamas, the report in effect declared the entire antiterrorism campaign to be a war crime. Mr. Goldstone recommended that Israel and the Palestinians should each conduct their own investigations, failing which the Security Council should refer the entire matter to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution.
In the month since the report's release, it has roiled the Middle East peace process. An Israeli spokesman said "it will make it impossible for us to take any risks for the sake of peace," perhaps foreshadowing Israeli withdrawal from negotiations while the report remains under active U.N. consideration.
The HRC resolution endorsing the report's recommendations repeatedly lacerated Israel, leading Mr. Goldstone himself to cringe, saying he was "saddened" the resolution contained "not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report." A U.S. State Department spokesman conceded that the adopted text "went beyond even the scope of the Goldstone Report itself."
The U.N. General Assembly created the HRC on March 15, 2006, to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, which had spent much of its final years concentrating on Israel and the U.S. rather than the world's real human rights violators. The Bush administration voted against establishing this body and declined to join it, believing, correctly, that it would not be an improvement over its predecessor. President Barack Obama changed course, and the U.S. won election to the HRC in May. Mr. Obama argued that engagement would be more effective than shunning the HRC and attempting to delegitimize it.
The Goldstone Report thus provides a stark test of Mr. Obama's analysis. Predictably, the administration blamed the report's underlying mandate and its stridently anti-Israel tilt on America's earlier absence from the HRC when the investigation was authorized and launched. Yet the new administration's diplomacy had no discernible impact on the HRC's disgraceful resolution.
Twenty-five of the HRC's 47 members voted for the resolution (including Russia and China), six voted against (Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia, Ukraine and the U.S.), and 11 abstained (Japan, South Korea and several European governments among them).
Five didn't vote at all, including Great Britain and France. Press reports indicated that London saw its inaction as a "favor" to Israel, a position simultaneously inexplicable and gutless. It is hard to know just how much real politicking the Obama administration did before this vote, but the loss of key allies is telling.
The Goldstone Report has important implications for America. In the U.N., Israel frequently serves as a surrogate target in lieu of the U.S., particularly concerning the use of military force pre-emptively or in self-defense. Accordingly, U.N. decisions on ostensibly Israel-specific issues can lay a predicate for subsequent action against, or efforts to constrain, the U.S. Mr. Goldstone's recommendation to convoke the International Criminal Court is like putting a loaded pistol to Israel's head--or, in the future, to America's.
Mr. Obama has now met the new HRC, same as the old HRC, thus producing a "teachable moment," a phrase he often uses. Quasi-religious faith in "engagement" and the U.N. has run into empirical reality. When the administration picks itself up off the ground, it should become more cognizant of that organization's moral and political limitations.
Although it will be hard for Mr. Obama to swallow, the logical response to Friday's debacle is to withdraw from and defund the HRC. Otherwise the Goldstone Report will merely be the beginning, next time perhaps with Washington as its unmistakable target.
John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at AEI.