ISTANBUL: The UN special rapporteur on occupied Palestinian territories, who faced criticism in Western media for drawing attention to Israeli war crimes, addressed accusations and emphasized the effects of her role in a period of perceived UN-level void.
Since taking office in 2022, Francesca Albanese has gained attention for her outspoken stance against Israeli occupation.
In an interview with Anadolu, she addressed accusations related to her Australia trip, including claims of funding by Palestinian lobby groups and a smear campaign attempting to oust her.
Albanese highlighted that criticizing Israel’s actions should not be equated with antisemitism. She emphasized that labeling any critique of Israel as “antisemitic prevents freedom of expression, freedom of critique and creates a sort of an area of impunity.”
Fellow Europeans, Italians, Germans: after the Holocaust, we should instinctively know that Genocide starts with dehumanizing the Other.
If Israel's current attack agst Palestinians doesnt prompt our strong reaction, the darkest page of our recent history has taught us nothing.
— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) December 4, 2023
She also accused Israel of violating international law. “It is fully documented, and asking Israel to respect international law and the human rights of the Palestinians, how can it be anti-Semitic?” she said.
“So the first problem is weaponization of anti-Semitism and conflation of critique of the state of Israel’s practices versus the Palestinians with anti-Semitism.”
Regarding the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, Albanese condemned it as a serious crime. She, however, criticized Israel for a disproportionate response.
“I mean, I am not saying that Israel did not have the right to protect itself or to carry out targeted operations against Hamas militants. But what Israel has done is punishing an entire population, civilian population in Gaza.”
Israel has been “destroying 50% of the civilian infrastructure, bombing residential neighborhoods, waging war against a population which is trapped in 360 square kilometers, carpet bombing that land and causing 16,000 deaths, 16,000 victims, 70% of whom are women and children,” she said.
As a significant voice on the international stage, Albanese remains at the center of debates and pressures, navigating a path through criticism while upholding her duty as the UN special rapporteur for Palestine.
About the accusations, she said she traveled to Australia in early November at the invitation of civil society volunteers. She said the trip, planned before Oct. 7, was to discuss two reports she wrote on Palestine.
Albanese said she was unjustly targeted with baseless accusations, despite clarifications, including allegations from Hillel C. Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, who accused her of receiving funds from Palestinian lobby groups and called UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to remove her from her post.
“They say a Palestinian lobby. What is the Palestinian lobby? There’s no such thing as Palestinian lobbyists. I wish they had the power to be a lobby, but they are not. So, the organizations who invited me are solidarity groups for Palestinian rights. So there is nothing wrong,” she said.
“I have been invited by others, universities, society organizations in Europe, but in this particular case, it’s not even true because it was. I used the budget that I have by the United Nations because I cannot go twice a year to the occupied Palestinian territory. I used the budget to go to Australia and that is it. So you see there is a lot of misinformation and what happens is that they contribute to make my voice, my persona, and my mandate controversial,” she said.
Albanese said not only herself but Jews in many countries, especially the US, reacted negatively to attacks targeting civilians in Gaza.
“I do not think that my voice is stronger than theirs. I have a mandate, I carry a different weight and this is why they target me. As they have target my predecessors professor Michael Link and professor Richard Folk, I think that there is such pressure on me because I am a strong voice in a moment where there has been a void at the UN level,” she added.
‘Jewish Israeli domination in occupied Palestinian territories’
Expressing concern about challenges in reporting on Israeli attacks on Gaza, Albanese criticized the media’s approach, finding it problematic and inconsistent with historical facts. She defended her use of the term, “Jewish Israeli domination in occupied Palestinian territories,” and said it was not antisemitic but rooted in documented evidence provided by Palestinian and Israeli organizations.
“In fact, the concept of domination is in the apartheid convention. And it is clear, it is fully documented by Palestinian organizations, Israeli organizations like B’tselem and Yashdeen, and international organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty international and even my predecessor Professor Michael Link wrote a report about that,” she said.
Drawing attention to the persistent violence in the region, Albanese called for a stronger political will within the UN to apply international law, expressing fear that the conflict will endure without a decisive commitment to justice and respect for fundamental human rights.