Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, will be the keynote speaker, September 17, at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Annual Campaign Kickoff. Neuer spoke with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin from his office in Geneva.
UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, has been an important voice for human rights at the United Nations (UN) and in the international media since its founding in 1993. UN Watch has also stood strong against the demonization of Israel at the UN and its various bodies.
Canadian lawyer and human rights activist Hillel Neuer has been executive director of UN Watch since 2004 and will discuss his work with the NGO when he speaks in Ottawa next month.
The UN has been “plagued with bias against Israel, repeatedly singling it out,” Neuer told the Bulletin. This bias, he said, was recognized by UN Watch founder Morris Abram when he served as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.
The UN Human Rights Council, says Neuer, has been particularly problematic in its approach to Israel. In a speech last year in Chicago, Neuer pointed out that in the past decade there were more resolutions targeting Israel than the rest of the world combined.
“More than 50 per cent of the resolutions made by the UN Human Rights Council are against one country – Israel. In 10 years, there have been 62 resolutions on the entire world combined; about 14 countries or so were criticized once, twice, a few more times… On Israel: 68. More resolutions on Israel than the rest of the world combined.”
Asked about the nature of this bias against Israel, Neuer said the UN reflects the world in which we live where the large number of Arab and Muslim countries, most of them dictatorships, are always opposed to Israel. Other countries, he said, “are afraid to lose [access to] Arab oil or Saudi money.”
Another factor, explained, is the realpolitik nature of vote trading, “meaning ‘you vote for me, I’ll vote for you.’”
Anti-Semitism, Neuer said, also plays an important role in the demonization of Israel at UN bodies.
Singling out Israel, the Jewish state,” he said, “is anti-Semitism in a new form.”
The work of UN Watch, Neuer stressed, is not focused solely on Israel.
“UN Watch brings to Geneva victims of human rights violations from all over the world, and gets them heard. Dictatorships worldwide hate us,” Neuer said.
A recent example of UN Watch’s influence was the outcry over the election of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. UN Watch exposed European Union countries that voted to elect Saudi Arabia to the commission which led to Charles Michel, prime minister of Belgium, issuing a “statement of regret” for his country’s role in that election.
Neuer grew up in Montreal and earned his BA in political science there at Concordia University before going on to receive law degrees from McGill University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Israel before going on to practice law in New York City prior to joining UN Watch in Geneva. He credits his Canadian upbringing for shaping his worldview.
“How I grew up is what I am – a Canadian Jew,” he said. “I was privileged to grow up in one of the greatest countries in the world, where decency, multiculturalism, solidarity, justice and rule of law are values of the Canadian culture and society.
“The community around me was traditional and my family is very Zionist. My grandmother was among the founders of the Zionist organization, Emunah Women, and made aliyah to Israel in her late-70s,” said Neuer.
Neuer said that as a movement for self-determination, Zionism is also a human rights struggle.
“It’s not accidental that many human rights advocates are also Zionists. Morris Abram, the founder of UN Watch, is an example of that.”
Therefore, Israel’s purpose, Neuer said, “should not only be to survive, but to value justice and human rights as well.”
The Jewish Federation Annual Campaign Kickoff will encompass two events at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre: a concert with Sharon and Bram for children and parents at 3 pm; and the main event featuring Hillel Neuer at 7 pm. Tickets for each event are $10 (individual) and $20 (household) and are available online at https://goo.gl/BKkYfx. For more information, contact Samantha Sharkey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-798-4696, ext. 272.