Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On the need for double standards on human rights

Robert Bernstein has a very silly Op-Ed in The New York Times this morning blasting Human Rights Watch, the organization he once headed for two decades, for the sin of “issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.” Now, one could argue that it is the Israeli government and its penchant for bombing densely populated urban centers that it is turning Israel into a pariah state, but Bernstein never gets around to actually examining the factual basis for Human Rights Watch's reports, instead arguing it improper to speak of the war crimes committed by the U.S. and its satellite Israel – nay, to even examine those crimes – in the same breath as those crimes committed by Official Enemies. We should “draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity on human rights,” Bernstein says, deploying the phrase “moral equivalence,” a favorite of neoconservatives and their liberal interventionist allies intended to demonstrate the absurdity of holding powerful Western countries to the same standards they seek to impose on others. Of course, at other times these very same folks bemoaning “moral equivalence” are busy bashing “moral relativism” – holding people to different standards because of their country or culture – so it's all very confusing.

Bernstein, meanwhile, rather than engage in the laborious process of actually fact-checking the credible claims of Israeli war crimes made by Human Rights Watch and others, or address the fact that hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza (about a dozen Israelis died, mostly soldiers), instead chooses to trot off a list of tired talking points about Israel as a shining beacon of liberal democracy – did you know that Israel has “probably more journalists per capita than any other country”? Bernstein doesn't present actual data, but it's “probably” true! – beset on all sides by brutal, despotic Arab regimes. And Iran, one mustn't forget about Iran, which according to Bernstein “has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

It's at this point one must conclude either Bernstein is either 1) an ignorant hack or 2) just plain stupid. For one, the Iranian regime – despite the often harsh rhetoric from its leadership and the ugly Holocaust denial of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – has never threatened to destroy Israel (intentional mistranslations aside), while the Israeli government and its allies like former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton publicly fantasize about obliterating Iran almost daily, ostensibly over its nuclear program.

But above all, Iran is home to the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel, with Tehran home to more than a dozen synagogues and roughly 25,000 Jews. “In fact I feel deep tolerance here toward Jews,” says Morris Motamed, a Jewish member of Iran's parliament. This suggests that if Iran's leadership really intends “to murder Jews everywhere”, as Bernstein asserts, they're not doing all that good of a job. Bernstein might have known this had he read the paper that published his essay.

It's a bit ironic that an essay implying Human Rights Watch's reports critical of Israeli actions in Gaza and Lebanon are inaccurate is itself based upon nothing but the author's own biases and pro-Israel talking points, but that's kind of the point. Nasty things said about those who refuse to accept U.S. hegemony need not be sourced, that they feel true is reason enough to repeat them. Claims of war crimes made against Israel or Western governments, on the other hand, most be proven beyond all doubt – every civilian casualty personally confirmed by a team of writers for The Weekly Standard – and, even if confirmed, are only allowed to be discussed in the context of Arab or Persian crimes. But covering up, downplaying or -- as is usually the case -- simply ignoring human rights abuses committed by Western democracies is the price of providing “clarity on human rights.”

1 comment:

  1. Maybe he's angling for a State Department job with Hillary. State even has a daily blog, now enhanced with weekly videos of Secretary Clinton lecturing other countries on human rights. How cool is that?