Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Israel Lobby’s New Butt Boy

It looks like the Israel Lobby has found itself a new butt boy in Robert Bernstein. And I know what you’re thinking. “Don, did you really just say butt boy?” And, yes, I did just say butt boy. Not sure why, but I’ve been trying to work that into a post for some time now.

Anyway, writing in the New York Times, Bernstein complains that Human Rights Watch, which he once headed, has lost its way. Specifically, he feels that HRW has been unfairly singling out Israel over the past few years. The Middle East, he writes, is “populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.”

Now I’m not sure if HRW does in fact spend more time criticizing Israel than its neighbors. As a regular reader of HRW’s news feed, I can tell you that it produces lots of reports on lots of different nations. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Bernstein is right in this accusation. In response, I can only say, so what? Really, so what?

As readers of this blog can testify, I myself spend much more time criticizing Israel than its neighbors. But this isn’t because I’m anti-Semitic. This isn’t because I hold a special place in my heart for ruthless Arab dictatorships. I don’t spend much time condemning the regimes in such places as Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia for the simple reason that there’s no need to. Everyone already knows how the governments in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc., etc., oppress and brutalize their people.

But Israel’s a different story. Most people don’t see through the establishment’s rhetoric. Most people don’t understand the full extent of Israel’s crimes, not just in the Occupied Territories, but also in Israel Proper. Most people don’t understand that Israel has become a terrorist state. Therefore, I tend to focus on Israel, not because it’s worse than its neighbors, but because, unlike its neighbors, its sins still need to be brought to light. So if it’s true that HRW spends a disproportionate amount of time chronicling Israeli human rights abuses, then I imagine its being guided by similar motives.

Butt Boy Bernstein doesn’t buy this, however. “At Human Rights Watch,” he continues, “we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them—through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform. That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights.”

He makes a point, of course. There certainly is a difference between democratic and nondemocratic societies. I just wonder what this has to do with the State of Israel. Israel, you might have heard, currently rules over 11 million people. And of those 11 million people, 4 million of them (that is, everyone living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip) cannot vote. Now I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t exactly sound like a democracy to me.

Bernstein continues in this vein, at one point all but justifying Israel’s January assault in the Gaza Strip, telling us that “there is a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense [Israel’s war crimes] and those perpetrated intentionally [Hamas’ war crimes].” Not surprisingly, he never explains exactly how killing defenseless Palestinians is a wrong “committed in self-defense.” Nor does he explain why dropping bombs in civilian population centers isn’t a wrong “perpetrated intentionally.” Call me crazy, but it seems pretty clear to me that if you know that civilians are living in a certain neighborhood but go ahead and bomb that neighborhood anyway, then you’re intentionally killing civilians.

Anyway, I’m not going to spend any more time dealing with Robert Bernstein and his non-arguments. He is, after all, just a butt boy.

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