Saturday, September 02, 2006

The International Double Standard

I am continually frustrated by the international double standard that judges Israel more harshly than pretty much anybody else. This double standard rears its ugly head among national governments, world bodies such as the United Nations, as well as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), which are supposedly looking for human rights violations from whatever quarter they arise, but don't quite manage to see the ones against Israel as easily as violations by Israel. For some reason, it's easier to establish war crimes and human rights violations if Israel is the perpetrator than if they are committed by any other nation or group. Joshua Muravchik, at The Weekly Standard, examines this same inconsistency in the case of one such NGO, Human Rights Watch. The evidence of bias that Muravchik draws out is damning, in my opinion. He discusses how that bias leads Human Rights Watch into conflict with its own reason for being, as (from the HRW website) an organization "dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world." If HRW is dedicated to protecting human rights, the question that then begs an answer is whether Israel has the basic human right of self-defense.

Muravchik examines HRW's response to the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah/Lebanon. According to Muravchik, Human Rights Watch determined that Israel was in the wrong in the conflict, by reason of having targeted civilians. He points out that, while it's true that civilians did die in Israeli attacks on Hezbollah, which locates its operations in civilian areas, HRW has little basis for this accusation that it was intentional on the part of the Israelis, especially since Israel dropped fliers to warn civilians of impending attacks. The Israeli Defense Force sacrificed tactical advantage to give Lebanese civilians the chance to leave targeted areas before bombing began, clearly indicating they did not desire to kill innocents, but that was HRW's conclusion all the same:

The decision by Human Rights Watch to treat Israel as the main culprit in this war also entailed a studied refusal to make basic moral and legal distinctions. The group did not differentiate between Hezbollah's action in initiating the conflict and Israel's reaction in self-defense, nor between Hezbollah's openly announced and quite deliberate targeting of civilians and Israel's alleged indiscriminate firing that caused civilian casualties despite Israel's appeals to Lebanese civilians to evacuate areas it intended to bombard.

Most remarkably, Human Rights Watch did not take note of the contrasting goals of the combatants. Hezbollah's declared aim, in the words of its "spiritual" leader, Sheikh Fadlallah, is to "obliterate" Israel, while Israel's goal boiled down to not being obliterated. Human Rights Watch justifies this self-imposed moral blindness on the grounds that its touchstone is law, not morality. But why, then, was it deafeningly silent on the overriding legal issue that the conflict presented--namely, genocide?

Muravchik then goes on to discuss the international legal standards for what constitutes genocide, and what the responsibilities for signatories to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are. By the conditions of this Convention, every country with their John Hancock on that treaty should be defending Israel, or any other nation, or people, for that matter, when they are threatened with genocide. Now, I realise that Hezbollah is not really in the position, at this point, where they can achieve the goal of "obliterating" Israel as they desire. However, I don't think there's a clause in the Convention that excuses signatories from the duty they signed up for, if the group planning the elimination of another is not really capable of carrying out the threat--yet. I add the word yet, because, as most of us know, the nuclear capabilities that Iran is pursuing "for peaceful purposes" could very likely find Hezbollah accessing bigger "toys" than that organization has previously been able to acquire, and then it would be an entirely different situation.

Muravchik clarifies Hezbollah's position:

And if such casuistic arguments needed further refutation, there is the eloquent testimony of Hezbollah's anti-personnel missiles fired at Israeli civilians. As Hezbollah's Sheikh Fadlallah puts it: "There are no innocent Jews in Palestine." Nor is that all. Hezbollah's strongman, Hassan Nasrallah, has affirmed that Hezbollah's target is not only the Jews of Palestine. "If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide," he declared in 2002, according to a report in Lebanon's Daily Star, the accuracy of which is not disputed.

He continues:

As it happened, nearly half of the civilians slaughtered by Hezbollah's missiles in the recent conflagration were not Jews, but Israeli Arabs. This prompted Nasrallah to issue a personal appeal to Arabs to evacuate Haifa so that only Jews would be killed. In sum, from whichever angle you examine it, whether to obliterate Israel or to kill Jews, Hezbollah is an operation whose purpose is genocide. For this reason, disarming Hezbollah should not fall to Israel alone. It is the legal obligation of every one of the 137 state parties to the Genocide Convention.

None of this, however, drew the attention of Human Rights Watch or diverted it from its main mission of attacking Israel. It is a mission that predates the recent crisis.

What follows in Muravchik's article is a very long look at the history of Human Rights Watch as an organization, and an examination of how it developed its particular slant on the world. It's worth your time, although it's quite lengthy and I will not try to summarize it here. From my perspective, it's fascinating to see where such biases as the pervading world opinion against Israel come from. There are a lot of different sources of prejudice in the world, but I find it especially interesting to see how a group whose entire focus is human rights and fairness comes to conclusions that seem so contrary to its general outlook.

I really don't want to cast aspersions on everything that Human Rights Watch does. The general work they have taken upon themselves is important. We do need watchdogs in this troubled world, but we need watchdogs that see clearly and bark at every threat, not just some of them. Usually, I try my darnedest to be fair-minded and not make assumptions about people's motives, but I have to admit that this is a situation that really frosts me. I see Israel condemned regularly, for acts of self-preservation, while those who attack her, Hezbollah in this specific case, are given as close to a pass as can be given, without ignoring altogether the thousands of missiles they have shot indiscriminately into Israel, for the clearly stated purpose that they want Israel to be no more, destroyed, eliminated. I grant you that it is perfectly reasonable to question whether all of Israel's actions are justifiable. By all means evaluate the legitimacy of her targets within the context of self-defense. I'm not suggesting the Israel be given a pass more than anyone else, but please at least distinguish between self-defense and attempted genocide--for both Israel and Hezbollah. Hezbollah has an openly declared policy of genocide against Jews and Israelis. Israel dropped leaflets before bombing runs in Lebanon to warn civilians to get out of harm's way. The two are not morally equivalent.