Getting International Law Right When It Comes to Israel—and America

March 6 2017

Israel’s 2014 conflict in Gaza left many with the media-generated impression that the IDF ignored international law and conducted itself with unusual brutality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Noting the skewed reports, based on fundamental misunderstandings both of the facts and of the laws of war, Jamie Palmer looks at the role played by non-governmental organizations (NGOs):

Relative to their size, human-rights NGOs make a disproportionate contribution to public perceptions of international conflicts. These charities’ ostensible purpose is the dispassionate defense of universal human rights, and this lends moral authority to their claims and value judgments. Consequently, they enjoy a reputation for impartiality upon which news organizations rely to enhance the credibility of their reporting. . . . But reputations for impartiality should be earned, not presumed. . . .

Since [many of these] organizations consider [ending the Israeli presence in the West Bank] a moral imperative, they are incentivized to promote a strict narrative of Israeli criminality and Palestinian suffering in which Palestinian corruption and violence can play no useful role (unless they can be blamed on Israel). In 2015, the Israeli organization NGO Monitor reported that [the prominent Israeli anti-IDF group] Breaking the Silence’s donors were making funding dependent on publication of a minimum quota of negative testimonies from serving and former IDF soldiers. . . .

Larger international NGOs like Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Human Rights Watch have also increasingly taken political positions on contentious matters of international law. They too believe that [the situation in the West Bank and Gaza] is a human-rights emergency for which Israel bears full responsibility. So when Israel goes to war in Gaza, the legality of this or that airstrike is seen in the context of a worldview that holds Israel ultimately responsible for the fact that there’s a war being fought at all. If these three organizations believe there are any legitimate means by which Israel can successfully fight and win wars against terrorist groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizballah, we have yet to hear from them. . . .

Similar reporting on American military efforts in Iraq—likewise skewed by a presumption that the U.S. presence there was de-facto illegitimate—have encouraged apologists for Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin to argue that the brutal tactics used by these dictators are no worse than those used by Western democracies, as Palmer concludes:

Liberal democracies are not just valuable for the freedoms they afford their own citizens, but for the way in which they behave. The reckless practice of holding them to higher standards than those demanded of totalitarian actors, and the misrepresentations of international law this requires, has produced a morally disfigured view of the world and of the ethics of military conflict. It has made it harder for democracies to defend themselves or sell potentially costly humanitarian interventions to their own war-weary publics. It has helped to undermine the post-cold-war liberal order and empowered its most brutal and cynical enemies. Arresting this slide requires us to recover moral clarity and self-confidence. . . . The costs of continued confusion are already steep, and they are still rising.

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Read more at Tower

More about: IDF, International Law, Israel & Zionism, Laws of war, NGO, Protective Edge

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter