Israel-bashers hold a double standard on rights abuses


OPINION:ONE OF the simplest ways to influence public opinion is to present a common enemy. Today, the favourite bogeyman in international affairs is the state of Israel, writes RONALD S LAUDER

Israel-bashing is growing in popularity in many areas. At international sporting events, Israeli athletes are sometimes avoided, sometimes prevented from taking part by immigration officials, and sometimes not even invited. British, Canadian and South African trade unions have been calling for boycotts of Israeli goods. Universities and trade unions campaign for a boycott of Israeli scholars and businesses, and for international sanctions.

The founder of Human Rights Watch, Robert Bernstein, recently exposed this hypocrisy when he criticised his own organisation for treating Israel like a pariah state.

The height of cynicism is the attempt by many Islamic countries to delegitimise Israel, to deny it the right to exist. Such propaganda has been ongoing for years and is characterised by both expediency and hatred. This battle is increasingly fought by the governments of these countries in international forums, in particular the United Nations. By levelling false, sometimes slanderous, accusations against Israel and its democratically elected government, they try to undermine its legitimacy.

The UN, it seems, reserves most of its ire for the most liberal, free and progressive country in the Middle East. A country that guarantees and upholds religious freedom and offers all of its citizens, including its Arab minority, the same civil rights, is pilloried by those who blatantly disregard the values of the UN Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights.

In an interview with this newspaper last week, UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay from South Africa referred to “propaganda which portrayed the [UN Human Rights] council as biased and a venue for bashing Israel”. Propaganda? Not really. The human rights council in Geneva, dominated by vanguards in human rights such as Libya, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, is almost obsessed with Israel’s alleged misconduct. Yet it overlooks, or downplays, crimes committed by Hamas and other terrorist groups. The council’s one-sided resolution on the Goldstone report speaks volumes.

In 2006, then UN secretary general Kofi Annan criticised the human rights council for “disproportionate focus on violations by Israel”, while neglecting other areas with “graver” crises. Things haven’t exactly improved since then – quite the contrary. In fact, at the general assembly in New York, no other Middle Eastern country is denounced in speeches and resolutions as often as Israel.

On most UN bodies, an inbuilt majority of non-democratic countries gives the Israel-bashers a free rein. Sometimes they are even backed by democratic countries. It was sad to see that Ireland was one of five European governments that supported the Goldstone report recently.

Israel-bashing enjoys widespread support in western media, as well as in universities, NGOs, trade unions and international organisations. Yet these critics often turn a blind eye to the realities in the Middle East.

It is ignored that the Iranian regime, which crushed protests this summer and has not been censured for this in the human rights council, has for years not only ideologically opposed Israel, but supported the training of Hamas and Hizbullah fighters, supplied them with weapons and thus sponsored attacks on Israel. Years of rocket fire and suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians are mentioned only in passing. Sometimes, they are even justified by leading western politicians and newspaper commentators.

These people fail to condemn the Palestinian leadership for not having managed, despite billions of dollars in aid, to build in the autonomous territories structures that can guarantee the economic well-being of the Palestinians and Israel’s security and integrity. Western moralists blame the Israeli occupation – despite the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza more than four years ago, from the main centres in the West Bank prior to that, and from south Lebanon in 2000. The land-for-peace formula worked with Egypt and Jordan; but not with Gaza, at least not yet.

Israel’s staunchest critics often say little about the real human disasters of this world, eg the government-sponsored genocide in Sudan. On the contrary, the Sudanese dictator, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity; yet to Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan, who loudly denounced the Israeli offensive in Gaza, al-Bashir would have been welcome at a recent Islamic summit in Istanbul. A few days earlier, Erdogan paid a visit to Tehran to show solidarity with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Whether such double standards can simply be put down to populism, or to prejudice against Jews or the state of Israel, is difficult to establish. The sad result is a large majority of UN states now seem to agree Israel is enemy number one in the world.

Who would have thought that it could ever come to that?

Ronald S Lauder is president of the World Jewish Congress, which represents Jewish communities in 92 countries