The Washington Post

A photo that shows the complicated global divide over Gaza

The picture above shows the outcome for the United Nation's Human Rights Council (UNHRC) vote held Wednesday on a proposed investigation into alleged human rights violations by Israel.

The resolution, put forward by Palestinians, passed, with only one "no" vote, from the United States. Seventeen countries, including much of Europe, abstained from the vote, and the rest voted in favor of the inquiry. The vote came just hours after the U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said that Israel could be committing "war crimes" in the Gaza Strip.

If you wanted one photo that showed how divided the world was over Israel, this might be it. Human rights advocates, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Right Watch, have already jumped on the picture, arguing that it shows not only the worldwide condemnation of Israel, but the isolation of the United States in its support. International public opinion polls tend to back up this idea.

However, what the photo shows is not quite that simple. The United States and Israel have long been cynical about the nature of the UNHRC, with both countries boycotting the organization for significant periods of time. Since it was formed in 2006, the UNHRC has been frequently criticized for focusing on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians far too much. Even when the United States joined the body in 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton argued that the UNHRC had a "structural bias" against Israel that " undermines the important work we are trying to do together."

Critics say that the focus on Israel allows the body to ignore violations by other members. It's a fair point. Look at the list above: Many of the countries that voted "yes" are hardly bastions of human rights.

The last time alleged Israeli war crimes were investigated by the UNHRC, it resulted in the controversial Goldstone Committee, which ended up severely criticizing Israel's conduct during the 2008 Gaza War. The man who led that report, South African judge Richard Goldstone, later walked back some of that investigation's harshest conclusions against Israel. Other authors of the report have stuck by the report and criticized Goldstone's comments.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office immediately released a statement criticizing the UNHRC's decision and accused it of ignoring war crimes being committed by Hamas. "The decision today by the HRC is a travesty and should be rejected by decent people everywhere," the statement read.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.

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