March 20 (UPI) -- The State Department announced Monday that it is boycotting a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council examining possible human rights violations committed by Israel.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has threatened to withdraw entirely from the council unless it makes reforms.
Past administrations also have been at odds with the council because they consider it anti-Israel. Also, the 47-member UNHRC includes countries with poor human rights records, such as China, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
The United States will vote against every resolution by the council regarding Israel, the department announced.
"As an expression of our deeply held conviction that this bias must be addressed in order for the council to realize its legitimate purpose, the United States decided not to attend the council's Item Seven General Debate session," Mark Toner, the State Department's acting spokesman, said.
"The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the existence of the U.N. Human Rights Council's Agenda Item Seven: 'Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,' "
Agenda Item Seven is a permanent fixture that requires the council to discuss three times each year any alleged abuses of human rights committed by Israel against Palestinians.
"Today's actions in the council are yet another reminder of that body's longstanding bias against Israel," he said. "No other nation has an entire agenda item dedicated to it at the council. The continued existence of this agenda item is among the largest threats to the credibility of the council. It does not serve the interests of the council to single out one country in an unbalanced matter."
Last month in a news conference, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley criticized the council for "breathtaking double standards" and "outrageously biased resolutions" against Israel during a press conference after her first meeting with the U.N. Security Council.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon also blasted the UNHRC.
"The U.N. Human Rights Council has turned harming Israel into its raison d'etre," he said. "The time has come to end to this shameful, and even embarrassing, chapter in the history of the U.N. Members of the council must put an end to the bias in this absurd body."
Tillerson, in a letter to human rights groups last week, said the council needs to change.
"While it may be the only such organization devoted to human rights, the Human Rights Council requires considerable reform in order for us to continue to participate," Tillerson said in the letter obtained by Foreign Policy.
President George W. Bush refused to join the council in 2006 when it was created out of the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission. Bush said the new council lacked credibility and would allow human rights violators to become members.
In 2009, President Barack Obama applied for membership, hoping it could help change the council.
Last Thursday, Under Secretary-General Rima Khalaf, a Jordanian, resigned after her agency, the Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, issued a report that accused Israel of apartheid in its treatment of Palestinians.