U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller
U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller speaks to reporters during a press briefing on March 25, 2024.
(Photo: Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu via Getty Images)

State Department Spokesman Urged to Resign Over 'Despicable' Attack on UN Expert

One critic described Matthew Miller's attack on United Nations special rapporteur Francesca Albanese as a "Trumpian smearing of a principled human rights expert."

U.S. State Department Matthew Miller faced calls to resign Thursday after he accused a United Nations special rapporteur of engaging in antisemitism—an attack that came days after the human rights expert presented a report concluding that Israel's assault on Gaza has met the threshold of genocide.

Asked about the report during a press briefing on Wednesday, Miller said the U.S. has "for a longstanding period of time opposed the mandate of this special rapporteur, which we believe is not productive."

"And when it comes to the individual who holds that position, I can't help but note a history of antisemitic comments that she has made that have been reported," Miller added, pointing to comments that Francesca Albanese—the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories—"made in December that appeared to justify the attacks of October 7."

It's not entirely clear which comments Miller was referencing.

In an interview with Jewish News Syndicate in December, Albanese was asked whether Palestinian militants' killing of Israeli soldiers on October 7 was a violation of international law. Albanese, an Italian attorney and academic, said that "killing a soldier is a tragedy under international law, but when there is an armed conflict, like in this case, killing a soldier is not illegal."

But Albanese stressed in the interview that the Hamas-led attacks on Israeli civilians—including the taking of hostages—were "not legitimate resistance."

"These are crimes and cannot be justified," she added.

Miller's attack on Albanese Wednesday—which echoed earlier attacks on the special rapporteur by U.S. officials and lawmakers—sparked immediate backlash and calls for his resignation.

"Matthew Miller should be forced to resign for trying to endanger the life of a U.N. official with falsehoods," Ashish Prashar, a spokesperson for Gaza Voices, said in a statement. Albanese said earlier this week that she has faced threats following the publication of her report accusing Israel of committing genocide in the Gaza Strip.

Rohan Talbot, director of advocacy and campaigns at Medical Aid for Palestinians, called the State Department spokesman's remarks a "truly despicable, Trumpian smearing of a principled human rights expert."

"Note the lack of substantive rebuttals of her careful analysis, and the resort to ad hominem attacks," Talbot wrote on social media. "Not the sign of a confident administration."

"Israel has a long history of weaponizing false charges of antisemitism to attack and undermine those fighting for human rights for Palestinians."

The Israeli government has similarly attempted to cast Albanese as an antisemite, drawing pushback from human rights organizations and academics who say the claim is a baseless attempt to discredit her work.

"Israel has a long history of weaponizing false charges of antisemitism to attack and undermine those fighting for human rights for Palestinians—and U.N. officials and experts have been among the most consistent victims of those attacks," Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams.

"Almost 15 years ago Richard Falk," Bennis added, "an internationally respected Princeton professor of international law who had just been appointed special rapporteur, was not only denied access to the occupied Palestinian territory to carry out the terms of his U.N. mandate, but was also arrested and jailed by Israeli authorities."

"Since then every special rapporteur has been similarly excluded, their mandate and their work undermined, and their commitment to international law and human rights attacked as antisemitic," she said. "Francesca Albanese has been among the bravest of these SRs, maintaining her commitment to calling out all violations of international law relevant to her mandate—including when Israel has violated international covenants against apartheid and now, against genocide."

Albanese's 25-page report, which she delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, argues that "the overwhelming nature and scale of Israel's assault on Gaza and the destructive conditions of life it has inflicted reveal an intent to physically destroy Palestinians as a group."

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating the commission of the following acts of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza has been met: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to groups' members; and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part," the report states. "Genocidal acts were approved and given effect following statements of genocidal intent issued by senior military and government officials."

Amnesty International praised the report as "a crucial body of work that must serve as a vital call to action."

The Biden State Department has publicly rejected genocide accusations against Israel as "meritless" and said it has not found Israel's military to be in violation of international law during its monthslong war on Gaza—an assessment that conflicts with the findings of leading human rights organizations and U.N. experts.

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