Biden yanks human rights candidate for criticizing Israel

AP , Wednesday 15 Feb 2023

The Biden administration has withdrawn its pick of a human rights activist for a post at the Organization of American States for calling Israel an ``apartheid state''.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks at the National Association of Counties 2023 Legislative Conference in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. AP


The U.S. announced Friday the candidacy of James Cavallaro to serve as an independent member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a watchdog monitoring the Americas, praising him as "leading scholar and practitioner of international law'' with deep expertise in the region.

But on Tuesday the State Department said that his candidacy was pulled in the wake of an article by a New York-based Jewish publication, the Algemeiner, which revealed Cavallaro's history of posts critical of Israel and U.S. support for the Jewish state.

In one Dec. 2022 tweet, deleted as the Algemeiner article was being readied for publication, Cavallaro used language viewed by many Jews as layered with anti-Semitic tropes to accuse House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, of being in the pocket of pro-Israel lobbyists.

"Bought. Purchased. Controlled,'' Cavallaro wrote alongside a link to an article about Jeffries' donations from AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that the Biden administration was unaware of Cavallaro's past comments on Israel prior to announcing his candidacy.

"They are not a reflection of what we believe and they are inappropriate to say the least,'' Price said.

Cavallaro, who served previously on the commission from 2014 to 2017, pushed back at the notion he was being insensitive. He said that his views on Israel are entirely consistent with international human rights organizations and international bodies and in no way would impact his work advancing human rights in the Americas.

"It's clear I hit a raw nerve,'' he said in an interview Tuesday following a meeting with the State Department.

He also pointed out that elected commissioners serve in a personal capacity and are not supposed to represent the foreign policy views of the governments backing their candidacy. He said that he discussed with the State Department his active social media presence prior to his candidacy being announced, if not specific tweets, and committed to cleaning up his timeline and rigorously refraining from speaking out if elected to serve on the commission.

“I then declined to sign a joint statement announcing the withdrawal of my nomination, as I played no part in making this decision and was ready to commit to another term as a Commissioner,” wrote Cavallaro in a tweet.

Cavallaro's shortlived candidacy recalls the blow-up over Harvard University's decision to rescind a fellowship that it had offered another human rights activist for similar criticisms of Israel.

Kenneth Roth, who was the executive director of Human Rights Watch until last year, was recruited by the Harvard Kennedy School to become a fellow. But the offer was rescinded a few weeks later over what Roth said was HRW's longstanding record of criticizing Israel for possible war crimes against Palestinians. Amid a public outcry over infringement on academic freedom, Harvard reversed course, the offer was reinstated and Roth started the fellowship this month.

Cavallaro, a co-founder and Executive Director of the University Network for Human Rights who previously taught at Harvard, Stanford and Yale law schools, has also accused Israel of committing ``atrocities,'' according to the Algemeiner's scan of Cavallaro's now deleted social media activity.

His candidacy to serve on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was to be voted on by the OAS' 34 member states at a meeting this summer.

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