+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Who cares about the UN?

Israel accepts or rejects the UN refugee agency’s positions as it sees fit. In addition to indicating a general disregard for the United Nations, its approach toward UNHCR, whose establishment Israel once enthusiastically supported, demonstrates a serious need for additional refugee law expertise.

By Dr. Yuval Livnat

R. told Interior Ministry representatives that he is an Eritrean citizen and eligible for protection from deportation to his country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which interviewed R., gave his lawyer from the Hotline for Migrant Workers a letter supporting his position. The Interior Ministry determined that R. is Ethiopian. A petition was subsequently submitted to the court, and the state recently responded to the petition, writing, “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a voluntary humanitarian body that can provide support and assistance to foreign nationals residing in Israel,” but nothing more, and therefore UNHCR’s opinion in support of R.’s asylum request should not be attributed significant importance.

Soon after Israel’s founding, David Ben Gurion coined the term “Um Shmum” (“Um” denoting the Hebrew acronym for the United Nations), which expresses contempt for the body’s institutional-political importance. This term also denotes a feeling, shared by segments of the Israeli public, that the UN adopts unfair policies towards Israel, particularly regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Whatever the moral and political stance towards the UN, while a derogatory position towards UN bodies is inherent in official documents that Israel submits to the court, the legal error expressed in a response letter drafted by the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s Office is surprising. UNHCR is not a “voluntary” body. It was established under Resolution 319 (IV) of the UN General Assembly in 1949, and its authorities were determined in the Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, adopted under decision 428 (V) of the UN General Assembly in 1950. Furthermore, Article 35 of the Refugee Convention – a document enthusiastically supported by the State of Israel during its drafting and passage – determines that, “The Contracting States undertake to co-operate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or any other agency of the United Nations which may succeed it, in the exercise of its functions, and shall in particular facilitate its duty of supervising the application of the provisions of this Convention.”

The article later determines that the contracting states undertake to provide the Office of the High Commissioner, or any other agency of the United Nations which may succeed it, information and statistical data requested regarding the condition of refugees, the implementation of the Refugee Convention, and laws, regulations and decrees that are or may be in force related to refugees. Article 2 of the 1967 Protocol to the convention reiterates these commitments. The State of Israel signed the convention and protocol, and ratified both. (More on the authority of the UN here.)

Interestingly, for years, Israel would refer to UNHCR’s expertise, primarily when UNHCR would recommend rejecting an individual’s refugee claim. For example, in one case, the State Prosecution claimed, “In light of UNHCR’s expertise in this field, and in light of the thorough determination process that it conducts, Israeli authorities accept UNHCR’s recommendations in most cases.”

UNHCR is not a “voluntary body,” and declaring it as such indicates the need for increased knowledge of refugee law within the State Prosecution. When it served the state’s interests, the Prosecution touted UNHCR’s expertise in courts. This does not mean that the State of Israel is legally obliged to accept all UNHCR recommendations, but it must cooperate with UNHCR and regard its recommendations very seriously.

Yuval Livnat is an academic instructor at the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic. This post was translated by Orna Dickman.

Read more here on seeking asylum in Israel.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. I suggest that Israel voluntarily withdraw from the UN and state formally that it does not subscribe to its important charter principle on the unacceptability of “threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” or for the acquisition of territory as stated in UNSC 242.

      Make it all that much clearer.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Yet another bit of proof that these so-called “progressives” are nothing buy lying antisemites.

        Not that I did not knew that before, it’s just nice to pinpoint yet another one.

        Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        And the message of article is what?

        That Israel is not bound by UNHCR decisions?

        Thanx, doc.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Mitchell Cohen

      Pablemont, using your logic who would be left in the UN? Switzerland….LOL

      Reply to Comment

The stories that matter.
The missing context.
All in one weekly email.

Subscribe to +972's newsletter