Current Issue #488

The Strange Case of Palestine, Australia and WEOG

The Strange Case of Palestine, Australia and WEOG

The former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine, John Dugard, asks why Israel is given special treatment by the United Nations and the West.

WEOG is not some strange endangered animal, and it is not a terrorist group. It is the acronym for Western European and Others Group, one of the five unofficial regional groups that constitute voting blocs in the United Nations.

Historically the ‘Others’ comprise Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the former white dominions of the British Empire. The United States is de facto a member but prefers to see itself as an ‘observer’ in this Group. In 2000, WEOG admitted Israel as a member when it became clear that it was not acceptable to the Asian Group. Regional groups play a key role in the election of states to membership of UN bodies (such as the Security Council), of chairs to UN Committees, and of judges to the International Court of Justice.

This year WEOG, whose turn it was to nominate the chair of the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, nominated Israel as chair of this committee. It was duly elected, as UN practice is to accept the nominee of a regional group. This is the first time that Israel has been elected to chair such a prestigious UN committee. The Sixth Committee is the Legal Committee of the General Assembly which debates and drafts treaties on a wide range of topics, including (at present) a treaty on terrorism. The result is that the ambassador of Israel to the UN, Danny Danon, who opposes a Palestinian State and who supports the expansion of Israeli settlements, is chair of this committee. In the words of the prominent Palestinian, Hanan Ashrawi, the wolf has been appointed as guardian of the sheep.

Does Israel practise apartheid against Palestine? John Dugard says that yes, it does.

South Africa, also a former white-governed dominion of the British Empire, was not treated so well. In 1974, the South African government was prohibited from participating in the debates and work of the General Assembly on account of its policy of apartheid.

Although it is politically incorrect to compare South Africa and Israel, the different treatment of these states by the United Nations provides an interesting example of duplicity on the part of the UN in general and WEOG in particular.

South Africa was not a party to any human rights convention and in strict law was therefore not in breach of UN treaties outlawing racial discrimination and political repression. Israel, on the other hand, is a party to these conventions and is in clear breach of many conventions, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibiting the establishment of settlements in an occupied territory.

South Africa practised apartheid. But so does Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). There are two legal regimes in the OPT, one for settlers and another for Palestinians. Under these laws Palestinians are discriminated against in respect of housing, the allocation of water, criminal justice, freedom of movement and so on. There are even separate – and better – roads for settlers, a separation unknown in apartheid South Africa.

Small wonder that South Africans who lived and suffered under apartheid have a sense of déjà vu when they visit the OPT. Small wonder that lawyers who examine Israeli laws and practices in the OPT have no hesitation in declaring that they violate the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

Why is Israel given privileged treatment in the UN and the West when South Africa was subjected to UN sanctions and expelled from the General Assembly for similar conduct?

Why did Australia, a member of WEOG, support the nomination and election of Israel to chair the Sixth Committee when it refused to play cricket and rugby with South Africa on account of its racial policies?

This is one of the conundrums of modern international relations. The West – WEOG – preaches to the rest of the world on the need to respect human rights and to practise good race relations but it allows – even encourages – one of its members to practise apartheid, violate basic rights and establish a settlement enterprise constituting a colonial empire.

There are several reasons for this duplicity. The strength of Zionist lobbies, Holocaust guilt (in the case of countries such as France and the Netherlands) and the fear of being labelled as anti-Semitic are perhaps the most obvious ones.

The conduct of WEOG has serious consequences. It destroys the credibility of the West and undermines its appeal for respect for human rights. How can non- Western states be expected to take the West’s pleas for human rights seriously when it protects and promotes a serial international law violator?

John Dugard is the former UN Special
Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied
Palestine, and Judge ad hoc in the
International Court of Justice

John Dugard will deliver the 2016 Edward
Said Memorial Lecture at Elder Hall on
Saturday, October 15, 5pm.
Tickets available at

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