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As Israel’s myriad human rights abuses and contraventions of international law have become impossible to deny, one argument that apologists for Israel routinely fall back on is: While Israel has engaged in human rights and other abuses, other countries commit far worse abuses. Therefore, it is wrong – and possibly indicative of anti-Semitism – to focus excessively on Israel’s wrongs.

As someone who has worked at information tables dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the following is my systematic response to this fallback argument.

  1. It is true that Israel is not, and has never been, the worst human rights abuser in the world.

  2. It is not true, however, that the main human rights groups focus primarily on Israel. “Human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International focus their attention and campaigns on abuses in many different countries, and only a small percentage of their work focuses on the Middle East and Israel.” In fact, “Most human rights organizations and international bodies, including the UN, do routinely condemn Palestinian acts of terror.” http://www.supportisraelfreepalestine.org/documentary_site/Israel_singled_out.html

  3. While many states’ “domestic” human rights record is far worse than Israel’s, there are not many states whose human rights record in “occupied territories” is far worse than Israel’s. And, needless to say, “violations of human rights should be opposed regardless if they take place within a country’s internationally-recognized borders or in an illegally occupied territory.”

“[T]here are only three countries that are engaged in what the United Nations and the international community recognize as a foreign belligerent occupation: Israel [which occupies the Golan Heights, West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and the Gaza Strip], Morocco [which occupies the Western Sahara], and Armenia [which occupies a small portion of Azerbaijan].” http://fpif.org/divesting_from_all_occupations/

“Sixty-four countries currently recognize the ‘right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people [of Western Sahara],’ but absent from this list are the United States and Israel [both of which are on good terms with Morocco]. Thus, the two governments that most vociferously complain that Israel has been singled out for criticism have been rather muted in their condemnation of other occupations.” http://www.wpunj.edu/cohss/departments/pol_sci/faculty/shalom/anti-semitism-and-the-israel-palestine-conflict.dot

  1. “[W]hile some anti-Semites do choose to single out Israel for criticism, that doesn’t mean that the majority of criticism of Israel is therefore motivated by anti-Semitism.” Likewise, that some criticism directed at Saudi Arabia is motivated by Islamophobia, is no reason to stop criticizing the many human rights abuses committed by Saudi Arabia.

“When international human rights activists pursued a boycott campaign against South Africa for its apartheid policies, they were accused of unfairly singling out South Africa by the white South African apartheid regime and [its] closest supporters. Few people argued, however, that supporting a boycott of South Africa indicated a special or unique hatred of white South Africans [or of white Protestants].” http://www.supportisraelfreepalestine.org/documentary_site/Israel_singled_out.html

The simple fact that many Jews – including Israeli security professionals – criticize Israel’s illegal behavior makes it absurd to automatically label critics of Israel as anti-Semites. For example, in 2016, “A group of more than 200 [former Israeli] military and intelligence officials criticized [their] government for a lack of action in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…and issued a detailed plan they say can end the impasse.” “The group’s chairman, [former IDF general] Amnon Reshef,…warned ‘the current status quo is an illusion’ that endangers a two-state solution…‘In our experience we know that you cannot defeat terror only by military means, you have to improve the Palestinians quality of life,’ he said.”
https://detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com/israel-palestine-quiz/

  1. It is a fundamental moral principle that we are responsible for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of our actions. Therefore, while it may be satisfying for an American to criticize China for its poor human rights record, Americans are not responsible for those abuses. However, Americans, due to their country’s extensive financial, diplomatic and military support of Israel, are responsible for Israel’s human rights abuses. Accordingly, Americans should be more concerned with Israel’s abuses than with China’s. While every abused person is a tragedy, Americans have the responsibility and power to prevent or correct some of those tragedies.

“[T]here were two horrible atrocities in 1982 in the Middle East: Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and Syria’s massacre in the city of Hama. But Israel was significantly armed by the United States. It was given diplomatic backing by the United States. So it’s appropriate for Americans to be critical of crimes for which they bear some significant responsibility and which they could stop. Syria, on the other hand, was not armed by Washington. The artillery shells that fell on Hama, unlike the cluster bombs that fell on Lebanon, were not made in the United States. The United States did not run interference for Syria in the UN. Americans bore little responsibility for the destruction of Hama and could do little to stop it.” http://www.wpunj.edu/cohss/departments/pol_sci/faculty/shalom/anti-semitism-and-the-israel-palestine-conflict.dot

“In the wake of Israel’s massive assault on heavily populated civilian areas of the Gaza Strip [in 2008/9], Amnesty International called for the United States to suspend military aid to Israel on human rights grounds. Amnesty has also called for the United Nations to impose a mandatory arms embargo on both Hamas and the Israeli government….[A]mnesty documented Israeli forces engaging in ‘direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, and attacks which were disproportionate or indiscriminate.’ ‘Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the US to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.’ [And] fragments of US-made munitions [were found on] ‘school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.’” http://truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/92786:new-arms-deal-to-israel-stokes-militarism

Despite Israel’s ongoing US-enabled abuses and increasing dominance in the region, US military aid to Israel only keeps rising. In 2016, the US and Israel “signed a new 10-year military-assistance deal [totaling $38 billion which represents] the single largest pledge of its kind in American history.” https://detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com/hezbollah-quiz/

  1. Israel does attract disproportionate attention from the United Nations for its many contraventions of international law. In fact, Israel has been condemned and censured by the Security Council more than any other country for its occupation, annexations, military actions, etc. However, Israel has not received disproportionate sanction, because “every time Israel has been singled out for censure by the UN,…Israel has also been singled out by the protection of US vetoes in the UN Security Council.” Therefore, while countries such as Portugal, South Africa, Iraq, Serbia and Iran have had UN sanctions imposed on them for breaching international law, Israel has benefited from a double standard. Indeed, the international community has permitted Israel to conduct aggressive military actions, ignore UN resolutions, and continue policies that wouldn’t be tolerated for other countries.

“When Saddam Hussein flouted UN resolutions and international laws [by invading and occupying Kuwait in 1990/1, US-led coalition forces responded militarily] with full UN support.” When Iran was suspected of breaking the NPT, it suffered harsh international sanctions. http://www.supportisraelfreepalestine.org/documentary_site/Israel_singled_out.html

Furthermore, the West has bypassed the UN to punish offending countries. Economic sanctions were imposed on Russia because of its 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea. (And while the majority of Crimeans welcomed Russia’s illegal action, virtually no Palestinians support Israel’s illegal occupation.) When Slobodan Milosevic and Serbia carried out ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Muslims in the late 1990s, the US and NATO bombed Serbia and sent troops to the region.

There are currently many countries under various types of sanctions imposed by the US, EU, individual European countries and the UN Security Council. One country, however, is conspicuously absent from those sanctioned–Israel. (US Treasury Department Sanctions Programs and Country Information:
https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx;
EU Sanctions, Countries List:
http://www.bscn.nl/sanctions-consulting/sanctions-list-countries;
UN Security Council Sanctions Committees:
https://www.un.org/sc/suborg/en/sanctions/un-sc-consolidated-list)

  1. “Government sanctions are far more effective than individual or institutional actions to change the behavior of governments. For example, in 1986 Congress overturned President Reagan’s veto to adopt the Comprehensive anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. It resulted in the US government imposing dozens of tough sanctions on South Africa that soon played a major role in ending legal apartheid in that country.” (US government sanctions also played an important part in persuading Iran to agree to the July 2015 nuclear deal.)

Accordingly, “US government sanctions directed at Israel would dramatically change the political dynamic of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Once implemented, the United States would scale back the diplomatic, financial, military, and intelligence support that has enabled [nearly five decades] of Israeli military occupation…It would also end the US government’s resupplying of Israel with arms used against civilians in the midst of war and shielding Israel from political and humanitarian accountability at international forums.” http://mondoweiss.net/2015/07/government-sanctions-israel/

It is worth remembering that it was President Eisenhower’s serious diplomatic pressure and threats of economic sanctions that finally forced Israel to withdraw from Gaza in 1957, following the Suez War. https://detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com/hamas-quiz/

  1. “[A] legitimate basis for criticism of Israel is the contradiction between its stated values as a democratic society and its oppressive policies, much in the same way that the United States was rightly criticized for racist and hypocritical policies against its African American population in the past. [As Israel benefits in many ways by being considered part of the “democratic West,”] international critics are holding Israel accountable for not abiding by the very values it claims to stand for. Even Israel’s own High Court has rejected many of its government’s policies as illegal.” http://www.supportisraelfreepalestine.org/documentary_site/Israel_singled_out.html

9. “Everybody involved in US foreign policy and security knows that aggressive Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank and siege of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip is a major cause of terrorism against the United States, since Washington is blamed for it, and is a major security problem because it makes the US a pariah in the Muslim world. One of the reasons Usama Bin Laden gave for attacking the US was the Israeli mistreatment of stateless Palestinians…” http://www.juancole.com/2016/12/occupation-apartheid-blackballing.html

The following are the 2013 words of General James Mattis, former head of US Central Command and President-elect Donald Trump’s pick as Secretary of Defense: “We have got to find a way to make the two-state-solution [a reality]. And the chances for it…are starting to ebb because the settlements and where they’re at are going to make it impossible…And I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and…all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us…can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the…Palestinians.” https://detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com/terrorism-quiz/

  1. “Anti-Semitism is one of the world’s foulest ideologies. But if we want to minimize it, then instead of attacking those who criticize Israel’s abuses, it would be far more effective to join those critics in urging Israel — which calls itself the state of the Jewish people — to end its abusive policies.”http://www.wpunj.edu/cohss/departments/pol_sci/faculty/shalom/anti-semitism-and-the-israel-palestine-conflict.dot

As painful as it is for “Jews to admit that race hatred can take root among a people that has suffered so profoundly from it, the ground truth is this: occupying another people requires racism, and breeds it. It is very difficult to work day after day at a checkpoint, making miserable people bake in the sun, or to blow up a family’s house as they watch, or to cut off water to a village in the Jordan Valley because Palestinians are barred from living in most of that section of the West Bank, and still see the people you are dominating as fully human.” Jews and others should not hesitate to denounce such racist behavior as people should “distinguish between supporting the State of Israel and supporting whoever happens to be in the current, transitory government of Israel.” https://detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com/israel-palestine-quiz/

Jeffrey Rudolph was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University’s faculty of law; has worked at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms; and, has taught at McGill University. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, US Inequality, the US Christian Right, Hezbollah, the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox, Qatar, and China. These quizzes are available at: https://detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com/

Comments can be sent to: Israel-Palestine-Quiz@live.com

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2 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Israel has been criticized for its occupying Palestine by many organisations and countries including UN. The proportion of pointing out Israel might be exaggerated by US media because it is financially and militarily backing Israel and Israel feels that it is being unduly pointed out when many other countries are occupying foreign lands. The human rights are many and Palestinians as being put to severe sufferings.
    While condemning Israel, the international human rights organisations should also condemn other nations including India and Pakistan for their brutalities in the occupied regions of Kashmir.
    Every nation violating human rights must be condemned and the severity must depend on the number of casualties, degree of torture and brutality and harm to the native people

  2. Thanks Prof. Rudolph for another useful article. For the identical article with correct (i.e., coherent)numbering: http://www.juancole.com/2016/12/point-response-propaganda.html