An embattled UN rights expert who probes Israel’s conduct towards Palestinians on Tuesday rejected calls to step down, saying his opponents were trying to silence his criticism of the Jewish state by labelling him anti-Semitic.
“I don’t intend to resign, and there doesn’t seem to be any formal initiative that is seeking my dismissal,” Richard Falk told reporters, a day after calling for an international investigation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners.
Falk, an 82-year-old American who is an emeritus law professor at Princeton University, has been the UN Human Rights Council’s monitor for the Palestinian territories since 2008.
He rejected claims of anti-Semitism, saying they were “hurtful” and “completely malicious”, given that he is Jewish himself.
“It makes it appear as if criticising Israel is tantamount to what everybody agrees to be objectionable, which is anti-Semitism. I’m not willing to be intimidated in this way,” he said.
“The attack on the messenger is a way of diverting attention from the message.”
Falk has repeatedly locked horns with Israel, the United States, Canada and some human rights groups for positions including labelling Israel’s 2008 offensive against Gaza a war crime and urging a boycott of companies helping Israel’s settlement drive in the Palestinian territories.
Washington has said he should quit his UN role, which like other rights monitors at the world body he holds on an unpaid, voluntary basis.
Falk has also come under fire for alleged anti-Israel bias from UN Watch, a lobby group affiliated with the American Jewish Committee.
In April, Canada asked the rights council for Falk’s departure after UN Watch highlighted comments he had made that could be interpreted as linking the Boston marathon bombing to Washington’s support of Israel.
Falk said his remarks were “spun” by opponents, that he had condemned the Boston attack as “terrorist criminality”, and that his goal was to examine the roots of antipathy towards US policies.
“I’ve criticised the US frequently, and I don’t feel I’m anti-American,” he said.
“Why do I keep getting into trouble? It’s because of my role in trying to speak honestly about the situation that Palestinians are facing under this condition of prolonged occupation,” he added.