Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Human Rights in Israel

In an Op-Ed piece today, Robert Bernstein, the former head of Human Rights Watch, speaks out against HRW’s treatment of Israel. He says, very clearly, what others have already said: Israel is treated incredibly unfairly by the international community, especially in terms of its Human Rights.

[The Middle East] is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.

There can be no doubt that, over the years, Israel has done immoral things. Very often, probably most often, they are perpetrated by individuals (as opposed to being official policy) and, with shocking frequency, they are policed by their own system – the military, the Supreme Court, the press and the public all have admirable records of speaking out when Israel steps over the line. That, not perfection of conduct, is the reasonable hallmark of a just society – how they respond to wrongs committed by their own.

I’ll admit to being very disturbed by some recent reports that, more recently, misconduct may have been more openly condoned, and even encouraged, by higher-ups. But, I’ll also admit that, given how many times Israel has been accused of atrocities, only to have those accusations turn out to be made up out of whole cloth, I’m a bit dubious about the accusations. I’m at least willing to give Israel the benefit of the doubt, until I’m convinced otherwise.

I am not, and never will be, part of the “Israel can do no wrong” camp (actually, I’ve only heard about those people; I’ve never actually met one). But, the next time some group accuses Israel of Human Rights violations, ask yourself if this same group has spoken out, with even close to the same frequency, against the oppressive regimes of Israel’s neighbors, or against the ongoing Human Rights violations in China, or against the ongoing Genocide in Darfur, or against…you get the idea.

Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

Israel is not perfect, not by a long shot. But, by just about any reasonable standard, they have behaved incredibly morally in the most difficult of situations. Groups like Human Rights Watch do themselves a huge disservice when they single Israel out for such harsh criticism. They deserve better. They’ve earned it.

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