Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Campaign in Israel Against Human Rights Organizations

It has been fascinating to witness over the last few years Israel's loss of moral stature by going after international human rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Doctors without Borders.

Why isn't it enough that Israel merely violates human rights? Why does it have to oppose the human rights agenda? The answer is simple enough. Because Israel views itself, without much justification, as a moral and civilized country, it has to confront the overwhelming amount of counter-evidence gathered by the human rights groups, be they Israeli, Palestinian, or international. So it uses the same techniques that any of use when arrested for criminal activity: claiming unfair application of the law, crying double-standard, etc., etc.

When Alan Dershowitz wrote the Case for Israel, a self-serving book that praised Israel's record on human rights, he could not cite a single mainstream human rights organization that agreed with him. Norm Finkelstein's book, Beyond Chutzpah, cited case after case of human rights violations according to Israeli and non-Israeli human rights organizations -- all of which were dismissed as biased by Dershowitz, in the best tradition of defense attorneys who try to divert a jury by crying foul.

It's not enough that we Israelis commit crimes; we whine about being punished unfairly.

Of course, this technique doesn't really work effectively with the human rights organizations whose agenda is, uh, human rights. Because they go after everybody who violates human rights -- Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Chinese, African, etc. Just look at the websites of HRW and Amnesty International. The vast majority of their activities don't concern Israel. They are much more critical of Israel's enemies in the Arab world then they are of Israel.

If you want to spend an entertaining hour, you can either stare at the ceiling, or visit Gerald Steinberg's NGO Monitor. Steinberg is a right-wing poli sci professor at Bar Ilan, whose academic specialty is arms control. But he appears a lot in the media as a defender of Israel. During the second intifada and the second Lebanese war, when Israel was universally condemned -- I mean UNIVERSALLY condemned for human rights violations -- his website went after Ken Roth's Human Rights Watch.

Now, if NGO Monitor were serious in showing NGO bias, it would not just look at the human rights organizations' reports on Israel. It would examine all of the human rights organizations reports, in all parts of the world, for signs of bias.

For example, it is argued by right-wingers that most human rights organizations are anti-statist, post-national, yada, yada, yada. And there may be truth to some of these claims, just as there may be truth to the claim that putting human rights at the forefront is inevitably going to clash with the rights of states, or at least, their interests. I suppose that one could be a right-wing libertarian and agree, but there are few of those out there; it is mostly the left that backs the human rights groups (although traditionally, doctrinaire left-wing organizations have not exactly been champions of human rights.) Of course, states that violate human rights always chafe at any criticism. Some may claim that in the long term, human rights are best protected by a system of responsible states, that the value of protecting human rights must be balanced against other values connected with states and their responsibilities to their citizens, etc.

Steinberg could also get more credit if he were willing to agree with some of the serious criticisms of the groups. After all, even according to its supporters, Israel violates the human rights of Palestinians, but only in order to protect the human rights of their own citizens.

But let's face it -- if you are on record as criticizing as biased Amnesty International,Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, the Ford Foundation, Be-Tzelem, etc., nobody, except the loonies on the far right, is going to take you seriously. Of course, you could be right and all the groups could be wrong. But unless you are the sort of Jew who believes that the world is against us, and that these organizations are populated by antisemites and self-hating Jews -- AND that organizations that spend most of their energy slamming even more serious human rights violators than Israel are doing so either because they are bored, or in order to cover up their antisemitism...well, if you believe that, please don't leave a comment on this blog, but get treatment for acute paranoia.

I am willing to allow that all these groups make mistakes, but if that's the case, I don't see why they are more likely to make more mistakes in their reports on Israel than in their reports on Saudia Arabia or Hamas or Pakistan or China.

I wouldn't have even brought the NGO monitor up if I hadn't wanted to use it as an example of how Israel, which once thought it had the moral high ground, has lost it in the eyes of the world. When you are going after the human rights organizations, you are going after human rights. Pure and simple.

What happened? Well, World War II happened. The Holocaust Happened. Hiroshima happened. Dresden happened. The Twentieth Century happened. A whole system of International Humanitarian Law came into place to deal with crimes against humanity. That's right -- in a sense, both the State of Israel and International Humanitarian Law are legacies of the madness that happened in the middle of the twentieth century. And that has taken the Jewish state by surprise. Because it turns out that not everything you do to protect your own people is legal, much less moral. Humans have rights that are inalienable, or at least so it is claimed. And according to the the human rights organizations, those rights take precedent over your manifest, national destiny.

I want to make it clear that this approach is not self-evidently correct. Human rights may not be worth defending at all costs.

But you can't credibly go after the human rights organizations when your motives are so transparently self-serving. You will be about as convincing as the criminal who complains that the police are always picking on him and on nobody else. The argument will sound reasonable to the criminal and to the criminal's family -- but to nobody else.


Jonathan Mark said...

"""During the second intifada and the second Lebanese war, when Israel was universally condemned -- I mean UNIVERSALLY condemned for human rights violations --"""

Not in America. Most people here identified with Israel and identified Hezbollah with America's enemies.

Polls in America and Europe indicated that most people who had an opinion blamed Hezbollah for the fighting. That is reasonable, since Hezbollah on 7/6/06 shelled Israel, invaded it, and abducted two soldiers from inside Israel.

Since your statement isn't true in America it therefore isn't universally true at all.

"""But unless you are the sort of Jew who believes that the world is against us,"""

Half the world. They other half is on the side of the mostly good guys, Israel.

"""how Israel, which once thought it had the moral high ground, has lost it in the eyes of the world."""

Since 9-11 Israel has gotten more popular in Europe. According to a poll I saw, Germany now has a two to one plurality of folks who are more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians. It used to be even.

France is now even. It used to be two to one in favor of the Palestinians. Not just 9-11 but rioting by local Muslims may have shifted French attitudes in many cases.

In the UK four percent of the population is more sympathetic to the Palestinians than to Israel. It used to be two to one in favor of the Palestinians. Local Muslim terrorists may be harming UK perceptions of the Palestinian cause.

At least that is my theory.

In the US support for Israel as opposed to the Arabs or Palestinians has been constant for a generation. Depending upon the poll between ten and twenty percent of Americans are more sympathetic to the Palestinians than to Israel.

Between forty and sixty percent of Americans are more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians.

""When you are going after the human rights organizations, you are going after human rights. Pure and simple."""

Not at all. That is like saying that when you go after Jewish organizations you are going after the Jews. Pure and simple.

It depends on what "going after" means. Criticism of a human rights organization is not necessarily opposition to human rights.

"""That's right -- in a sense, both the State of Israel and International Humanitarian Law are legacies of the madness that happened in the middle of the twentieth century."""

If the Holocaust had not happened then there would be a lot more Jews in Israel than there are today. Those who immigrated to Israel, many from Russia in this generation, are the remnant of the Holocaust.

I feel that the Holocaust was nearly the death of the Jewish people, and may yet turn out to have been. I am of the opinion that the Holocaust harmed Israel, harmed the Jews of America, harmed everything Jewish.

Israel exists in spite of the Holocaust, not because of it.

"""Humans have rights that are inalienable, or at least so it is claimed."""

True. But that includes Israelis' rights. People in Sderot getting shelled are having their rights violated.

And the nominally elected/coup d'etat government of Gaza is the one violating the people of Sderot's rights.

"""And according to the the human rights organizations, those rights take precedent over your manifest, national destiny."""

The right not to be shelled or blown up in a restaurant is not a manifestation of national destiny. Even if the Jewish state of Israel had no right to exist it would not follow that suicide bombings and shellings of Israeli civilian populations are moral.

"""But you can't credibly go after the human rights organizations when your motives are so transparently self-serving."""

Attack on the messenger. Not a logical argument.

"""You will be about as convincing as the criminal who complains that the police are always picking on him and on nobody else."""

Some people are harassed by police. It happens in the USA and elsewhere.

"""The argument will sound reasonable to the criminal and to the criminal's family -- but to nobody else."""

Bill Clinton claimed that he was being harassed by Starr, and most people, including me, bought it. I still buy it.

Anonymous said...

Talmud Torah c'neged culam

Teach the theory that everyone is against us.

This has become most of the Jewish and Israeli world's reading of the above phrase.

To which the only reply the is the cri de coeur

Gevalt Yidn

ּּBut beyond the blogosphere what can be done?

Jerry Haber said...

Last time I do this for two weeks.

A list of Jonathan Mark's non sequiturs.

1. I write about universal condemnation for humans rights violations.

Mark responds with evidence of support for Israel.

I grant him that "near-universal" would have been better than universal. There were apologists for Israeli human rights violations. Unlike the human rights groups, that criticized Hezbollah and Palestinian human rights violations.

2. I write about Jewish attitudes towards the world, i.s., the goyim.

Mark responds with (no evidence) of support for Israel.

3. I write about Israel's losing the moral high ground.

Mark responds with evidence of supporti for Israel over the Palestinians and popularity.

4. I say that in going after human rights organizations you go after human rights.

Mark, not wishing to quote me when I say that such organizations are the proper subject to criticism, says that I implied that they are not. He wonders what I mean by "going after."

Here I would distinguish between CAMERA's criticizing the New York Sun for faulty reporting, and CAMERA's going after NPR, which they think are terminally biased.

So, Jonathan, if David Duke would go after Jewish organizations because they are inherently biased and rotten, I think that would be illegitimate. Of course, NGO Monitor has a right to go after Amnesty International on Israel. Just as David Duke has the right to go after the ADL.

According to Mark, if there had been no Holocaust, there would be a lot more Jews in Israel than there are today. Perhaps. But not likely. Because in the 1920s there was no Holocaust. And how many Jews were there in Israel? There was no Holocaust in America. How may American Jews are in Israel today?

Without a Holocaust it is unlikely that there would have been a state of Israel. A Jewish state had little support among the non-Jews, and even among the Jews. Partition passed by a narrow margin, and that was partly because of hundreds of thousands of refugees who needed to be received, and the only people eager to receive them were the Zionists. Emergent Arab nationalism would have kept the Jewish communities in Israel small, as it had since the White Paper. Moreover, there was little immigration from Europe to Palestine before the thirties. And many people who immigrated to Palestine during that period left when they had a chance.

I don't know the statistics, but I think it is right to assume that in the last sixty years, more Jews have moved from Israel to the US than vice-versa.

Finally -- I write about human rights, and Mark writes about Sderot.

Well, Jonathan, get this straight -- Human rights organizations care about the human rights of the people of Sderot as much as they do about the Palestinians. But you don't. You simply don't give a damn because they aren't part of your tribe, and they are at war with your tribe. And that is what drives people like you and the Gerald Steinberg's of the world crazy.

If Amnesty International only went after Israel and not after Hamas, they that would make Steinberg and you happy. Why? Because a tribalist understands a tribalist. That is the way people are supposed to act -- to support their family.

The fact that human rights organizations criticize the Palestinians and Hezbollah drives the nationalists crazy on both sides.

Look, the reason why Israel violates the Palestinian rights more than the other way around is simple -- it has more power and more control. It may be that if the shoe were on the other foot, then the human rights abuses against the Israelis would be worse than those against the Palestinians. Point granted.

The human rights organizations condemn all indiscriminate bombing of civilians. But you don't. You don't mind if the US is bombing Dresden, or Iraq, or if Israel bombs Beirut -- since you are part of the US tribe and the Israel tribe, you assume that they are acting morally. It is part of your self-image and is ingrained within your -- our -- biological survival systems.

That is the point of my post. And you simply cannot get it. And I ask myself why...why can't a person who seems somewhat intelligent, can't get the point that the fight is not between Palestinians and Israelis, for God sake, but between people who compromise human rights on both sides, and people who are uncompromising about them.

Whether it is Bush, Arafat, Clinton, Nasrallah, or whatever political leader -- they will always have a justification to violate human rights -- of their own people and of other people. The human rights organizations don't give a damn about what country is right -- by the way, I don't say I agree entirely with that position -- what they care is the human rights of all people.

Well, that's enough...the rest of your post is just balderdash. I understand from it that you believe Clinton was a criminal who was harrased by Starr, since you used him as an example of what I said about criminals.

Anyway, you have flunked myu basic reading comprehension test, and so am not responding to your comments for the next month. I am also limiting your comments to 150 words per post. I am sure you will thank me for it.

I can take criticism -- gbachrach gives me it all the time. But as an author there is a limit to how much I can allow myself to be twisted.

Anonymous said...

You certainly have a perverse view of reality. You keep pushing the view that the State of Israel is some sort of abberation and were it not for a small clique of malevolent Zionists who somehow managed to pull the wool over everybody's eyes (Balfour and the British gov't in addition to two millions or so Jews who made aliyah) no one, in truth, wanted a Jewish state.
You claimed that prior to the modern era, no Jews wanted a Jewish state in Eretz Israel....then how do you explain the fact that thousands of people all over the Jewish world packed up and were ready to go to Eretz Israel with Shabtai Zvi. I read stories about how all over Eastern Europe there were celebrations when the Balfour Declaration was announced. Everyone knows how KKL (JNF) blue boxes were in thousands of Jewish homes around the world. For heaven's sake, almost half the world's Jews live in Israel, up from 5% in 1948.
The number of Jews from well-off countries like France, UK and North America is slowly but steadily increasing.

Regarding the State of Israel holding the "high moral ground",
IT NEVER DID. In the period before the Six-Day War, there were annual resolutions for Israel to take back the Palestinian refugees. Even a relatively friendly President like JFK twisted Ben-Gurion's arm during a visit to accept a "token" 100,000 refugess.
During the "waiting period" before the Six-Day War, the New York Times said it was time to face teh fact that it was a "mistake" to set up such a vulnerable state.

Israel is FAR more popular in the US than it was 40-50 years ago, particularly in Congress.
You seem to judge everything from the viewpoint of "radical 'progressive' third-world people", but they are a small minority in the world, and their opinion doesn't really interest me because they tend to be anti-American and anti-Democracy.

Jonathan Mark said...

This will be my last post. I accidentally wrote that four percent of Brits supported the Palestinians over the Israelis.

What I meant was that the percentage of Brits who supported the Palestinians over the Israelis was four percent more than the percent who supported the Israelis over the Palestinians. It was something like 31% to 27%.

It was nice reading MZ. His blog is better than most. But it is time to move on.

You go to a favorite restaurant a lot, and then something happens or you just get bored with its menu, and then you go to a another restaurant.


Jerry Haber said...

Jonathan, I would be surprised if you don't come back to the restaurant...anyway, while you are in DC, check out Eli's, the kosher deli. My favorite sandwich is the Freundel, named for Kesher Israel's rabbin Rabbi Freundel. He's a gadol and so is the sandwich.

Jerry Haber said...


most of your comment is answered by Satmar literature. You can try their website. Jewish messianism, whether the false messianism of the political Zionists, or the false messianism of Shabbetai Tzvi, has always captured the imagination of people. See under Christianity.

But modern Zionism is not just false messianism. It is a bona fide 19th century ethno-nationalist movement. Since you decided to ignore all my remarks about the failure of Zionism to attract Jews to come to Israel before the Holocaust. You also failed to recognize the context of my claims -- Jonathan's bizarre idea that were there no Holocaust more Jews would be in the State of Israel.

Anyway, there is a difference about feeling pride that there is Jewish state, and living there, as you well know, don't you.

As for Israel's popularity in the world, it waxes and wanes, depending upon what it is doing, and what other things are going on. Maybe I spend too much time on campus, but I can tell you that the Occupation is the single thing that has damaged Israel's reputation among intellectuals; you will find very few non-Jewish intellectuals who support it, and very few Jewish intellectuals who are happy with it, even on the right. Dershowitz and his crowd are against the Occupation. Liberal hawks like the New Republic are against it. The only people are the neocons, who have fallen out of power and who have now been exiled to think tank Hell, barukh ha-Shem. When the Republicans get trounced in the next election, they will have more opportunities to have influence. As it is, the neocons are in the unenviable position of being betrayed by their own man.
You are right about one thing. Israel never had the moral high ground. But the question is how low can it sink. It is one thing to expel people and take their land. It is another thing to hold them without citizen rights for all perpetuity and take their land and control their lives.
Having said all that -- does this mean that the Zionist regime is in peril. Not a chance. Bad regimes can last for a long time. And who knows, the Zionist regime may still become a liberal democracy. When I look at the Israeli activists who are fighting for justice, I have hope.

Jerry Haber said...

I would like to point out that none of the comments below have anything -- even my responses -- have nothing to do with the subject of my post. Why are my readers so intellectually challenged. If you want to stand up for NGO Monitor, here is the place to do it. Maybe it is my fault. Maybe I put too much rant into the post. But it seems to me that people just zero in on things they don't like and don't criticize the big argument.

Oh, well....

Jerry Haber said...

Oops, I should have said, "None of the comments above."

Anonymous said...

Not in America. Most people here identified with Israel and identified Hezbollah with America's enemies.

Jonathan, most people in the U.S. paid no attention to the Lebanese war and Hezbollah's role in it. Those who did, seriously, also condemned Israel for violating the sovereignty of the Lebanese people. But we have our own war to think about, don't we?

Meanwhile, it's difficult for Jews to affiliate, as Jews, with human rights groups. Can we criticize Israeli policy and not be seen by our Jewish neighbors as anti-Semitic? Should we only comment on human rights when it doesn't involve Israel and should we leave the discussion when it turns to Israel?

Would you believe that, on a Jewish website recently, the claim was made that Israel's proposed denial of electricity and water resources in Gaza represented a generous response on the part of Israel to give the Gaza residents exactly what they have been demanding... complete independence from Israel?

If that is the choice I must make as a Jewish person who lives in the U.S., then the choice is clear. Sorry if it's not what you would have wished.

Anonymous said...

I should clarify--when I stated that "Israel never had the 'high moral ground'", I was, of course, referring to the perception of the "politically correct" or "progressive" cliques, whose opinions don't really interest me.

Anonymous said...

This dosnt have much to do with your post but:

"I think that the Hezbollah represents the hope. They are fighting to defend their homeland"

If their is any self-hating Jew, its Finkelstein.

This dosnt have anything to do with your post:

^The Jewish nakba

the property the Jews left behind in Arab countries was much more valuable than the property of the Palestinians: The amount of Jewish-owned land alone is estimated at 100,000 square kilometers - four times the size of Israel.

Palestinians attack Israel-they are expelled.

Israel is created-Jews that had nothing to do with it are expelled.

Back to your post,Hamas is to blame when a Palestinian dies from an air strike. If they mabe stopped the rockets from being fired into Sderot and accepted the 2 state solution...

Stop thinking like Chomsky!

Anonymous said...

"Stop thinking like Chomsky"
"If their (sic) is any self-hating Jew, its (sic)Finkelstein."

It is this type of gratutitous reductionism that is the product of "Talmud Torah c'neged culam" -- Teach the theory that everyone is against us carried to the point of including any critic, especially Jewish ones, as those referred to in Birkat Haminim.
Perhaps some think this blog should be retitled

The Minim Zionists

Jerry Haber said...

A. Hart Zoot -- if I put your suggested title for the blog in the singular it would be

The Min Zionist...

Then I would be considered one min/mean Zionist.

I would like to tell my readers that every time you respond to some of the critics, you save me time. So if you really like the blog, please come up to the bat.

But, Mr. Zoot, you seem to thing "mi-neged" 'facing' is the same as "neged" 'against'. It isn't. 'Talmud Torah ke-neged kulam' means that Talmud Torah has the same weight as all of the other mitzvot. ke-neged means 'vis-a-vis' or 'facing' or 'opposite'.

I think a better "complex" not to have would be the "kol ha-Torah kulah" complex (I think 'child of Abraham' mentioned it.) That's the idea that all the Torah/truth is on your side.



Anonymous said...

Of course I was purposely misreading the text. I think it's a good shorthand for what's going on.
Now is a Mean Zionist
a) an average Zionist
b) a disagreable Zionist
c) a species of Zionist
d) a heretical Zionist
e) all of the above

This a question of great Magnestude.

Richard said...

"This will be my last post."

Jerry: I have several right-wingers who haunt my blog who regularly write stupid things like that & invariably they come back like swallows to Capistrano; or like pyromaniacs to the scene of the crime. You're right, he'll be back.

It's good to see that I'm not the only one haunted by 2nd rate right-wingers. My "friend" Bar Kochba also hangs out bei mir.

Thank God for Har Zoot and a Jew with a sense of humor.

Can I say something on topic??? I'm so glad to read someone having the same take as me on Steinberg. When he took on both the Ford Foundation AND New Israel Fund I thought it was something akin to saying Mother Teresa was a hag. I mean how can you fault the work of NIF unless you're truly an anti-mensch, the worst a Jew can be? Well, maybe not the worst--but pretty damn close.

Richard said...

By the way, Jerry, I think yr culinary recommendations to Mr. Mark are wasted. Definitely a fast food kinda guy. Good deli would be wasted on him. Besides, he's confused yr blog with a McDonald's. Maybe he came here expecting a kosher Big Mac and was disappointed when he actually found logic & sense.