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.