Devotees of the Liberal Order—Unlike Its Founders—Underestimated the Importance of Nationalism and Religion

The year 1948, writes Yehudah Mirsky, saw the birth of the basic elements of what came to be known—perhaps misleadingly—as the “liberal international order.” These included the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Genocide Convention, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the creation of Israel with the imprimatur of the United Nations. Mirsky argues that some of the failures of this order stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of those committed to defending it:

[Many] thought human rights and nationalism were antithetical, and that promoting the former meant pushing back on the latter. The architects of the world of 1948 understood better. As the historian James Loeffler has shown in his remarkable new book, Rooted Cosmopolitans, so many key figures in the human-rights revolution of mid-century were not only Jews but Zionists. For them, an international regime of protecting individual human rights as well as nation-states for persecuted minorities were necessary to overcome the Holocaust’s ghastly trauma of statelessness. The deep structural suspicion of the idea of state sovereignty woven into the human-rights framework, it seems, has unwittingly fostered the legalistic abstraction and airy disregard for political realities that has made that framework such a supple tool in the hands of dictators who couldn’t care less. . . .

[Moreover, many] underestimated the role of religion not only in people’s lives but in human rights and liberalism’s own foundations. Religion is about the search for the absolute and how that ultimate truth shapes what it means fully to be human. Liberalism and human rights are understood by many people in different ways, but there is no denying they make serious claims about the ultimacy of human dignity, so ultimate that there are certain things that no state, or collective body of any kind, can do to harm human dignity.

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More about: History & Ideas, Human Rights, Nationalism, Religion and politics, United Nations, Zionism

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat