Dan Schueftan recently received a challenge from a fellow Israeli liberal. “Imagine,” his interlocutor said, “how Israel would behave if human-rights organizations did not exist, or if international groups turned a blind eye,” his implication being that whatever these organizations’ flaws and excesses, they provide an important check on the Jewish state. Nonsense, says Schueftan, and not only because of the moral bankruptcy of such groups as the once-noble Human Rights Watch or the always-corrupt UN Human Rights Council:
An unbiased examination of some of Israel’s most serious human-rights groups indicates that these organizations have not contributed in any major way to addressing human-rights issues. In 1956, after the Kafr Kassem massacre [of Arab villagers unwittingly violating a curfew, by Israeli police who assumed they were doing so intentionally], the shame felt by Israel and the condemnation issued by the government did not come about through local or foreign rights groups or international pressure.
Then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was ousted in 1983 regardless of external pressure after he failed to prevent the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which Christian Lebanese forces slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians. The Shin Bet dismissed its heads in 1984 after two Palestinian bus hijackers were executed by its members. This, too, was not the result of outside pressure.
In these and other crucial moments, Israel’s democracy operated through public opinion, the legislature, the media, and the Knesset, within the framework of checks and balances. None of these prevented—and based on human experience, could not prevent—serious deviations from the conduct demanded of a multicultural society. But they did prove that lessons can be learned, culprits punished, and wrongdoing condemned.
The U.S. general Norman Schwarzkopf was asked during the 1991 Gulf War how he would conduct the war without France. “Going to war without France is like going hunting without an accordion,” he said. The same is true of Israel and the human-rights organization we know today.