Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Human Rights Council and Israel

The United Nations Human Rights Council has come under some attack recently. The extent of the hysteria on this topic was recently revealed to me when, on a David Peterson blog post about Iran ( , the debate heats up on the bottom of the first and the whole of the second page of comments), a commenter accused the HRC and the Left of demonizing Israel (whether it was because of anti-Semitism or other motives was never quite clear). The argument is that the HRC's resolutions against nations overwhelmingly focus on Israel. I will contend this is wholly justified.

(Let's dispense immediately with any Nazi/David Duke/conspiracy theorist garbage about the tail wagging the dog, Israeli interest groups controlling everything, Jew-run media, etc. American white supremacist imperial power controls Israeli “Jewish” power, not the other way around. Period).

It is utterly absurd, by the way, to argue that this focus by the HRC suggests anything about the Left, or the mainstream European culture, or the UN. Indeed, the UNC is the exception that proves the rule. Israel has long been out of compliance with a host of international laws, ranging from the UN Charter to the Geneva Conventions. It flouts nuclear non-proliferation norms (it unfortunately can't be accused of violating the NPT because it didn't sign it). It receives unprecedented aid and support from not only the US but other Western countries. Even countries that used to be in support of an authentic peace have changed their stance in the last two decades (see the Oslo Accords). Its military occupation of the Palestinians is almost entirely dependent on Western, primarily US, arms. For all this, it has gotten slaps on the wrist, largely due to the protection the US affords it thanks to its Security Council membership. (Even Israel's entry into the UN was contingent on it doing things it never did). The one deviation from this overwhelming international silence and/or inaction has been met with a storm of condemnation, including by both Kofi Annan and Ban ki-Moon.

But what are the core arguments against this demonization position?

Firstly: The evidence for this claim is extraordinarily weak. The HRC has also launched condemnations against Sudan, Myanmar, Belarus and Cuba, among others. Yes, condemnations of Israel have been more frequent and possibly with more strident language. But the argument that people who put forward this hypothesis comes down to, “Israel gets specified more often.” That may be true. But the majority of the HRC's resolutions do not mention particular states. They have authored resolutions on issues such as the right to food, the right to access to drugs for HIV/AIDs and other diseases, torture, the use of mercenaries, etc. And while the US is guilty of either directly engaging in or funding such behavior, a number of the nations that people lambasting the HRC say deserve more criticism (such as many African nations) are guilty of these crimes as well. If one notes the nations that would be criticized by these recommendations, the anti-Israel bias becomes a non-issue.

Further, many of the nations and groups that people say deserve the HRC's criticism (Sudan, Russia, China, etc.) already get criticism. They get resolutions and efforts to send peacekeepers (which the US usually blocks or at least fails to assist). They get condemnation from human rights observers, mainstream media outlets, etc. Many are at least in principle willing to negotiate on the outstanding issues. Israel, as I will go into later, is truly unique in terms of its ability to continue to prosecute genocide (not just in the sake of extermination but in the sense that Jews after the Holocaust insisted upon: the organized destruction of people as a people)

Second: The scale of Israel's crimes deserves condemnation. It's not just the 3-to-1 death rate between Palestinians and Israelis, or the crimes of aggression Israel is guilty of against many states in the region (Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, etc.). It also includes the curfews that have wrecked 100,000 families in Gaza; the 8000 citizens deprived of water in Urabdiya and the Palestinians drinking sewage while Israelis have lawns and golf coursesl the 40% of Palestinian children born anemic, blind or deaf; the 80% of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip living below the poverty line; B'Tselem's estimate that 400 Palestinians a month in 1991 were interrogated and tortured; etc. There is extensive documentation for all of these statistics and a long list more. It is truly soul-crushing.

Third: It's not simply the scale of Israeli atrocities. It is that these crimes against humanity have continued for decades without interruption. That this dispossession of the Palestinian people has been codified by laws. That the Israelis are able to unilaterally control Palestinian tax funds if they don't like who's been elected. That the legal apparatus defending the occupation is further enhanced by Security Council members. South Africa received similar international condemnation, with the same responses from apologists: Why not focus on Russia? Or even apartheid in America? Yes, all those are relevant, but to have a member of the supposedly civilized club able to institute racist apartheid while being called a democracy and receiving extensive Western aid is a uniquely destructive crime against humanity.

So I propose a test. Let's not dismantle the HRC until their issues with Israel have been resolved to the satisfaction of Palestinians and of external observers. Let's continue to hold Israel to task until such issues as the treatment of Lebanese detainees in Israel, or the occupation of Palestine, or the statistics above have been changed and reparations made. Then, if the demonization of Israel continues by anybody, we can fairly allege that anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head and consign such organizations to the dustbin of history.