Commentary Magazine


Topic: humanitarian law

For Goldstone’s Defenders, Facts Never Matter

I clicked over from Jen’s link to Matthew Yglesias’s exoneration of Richard Goldstone from his apartheid past and I found, as expected, the confused thinking that is so typical of a leader of the Juicebox Mafia. People hate the Goldstone Report, he says, because it’s an evenhanded application of “international humanitarian law,” and the critics of Goldstone want nothing to do with evenhandedness:

Their point of view is that, in essence, you ought to look at a conflict, identify who the bad guys is (the Taliban rather than the U.S., Hamas rather than Israel), and focus your ire on the bad guy instead of nitpicking at the good guy’s conduct.

But then there are the pro-Israel liberals. They’re in a bind because they want to defend Israel, but Israel has become a serial human-rights offender. So they’ve created a conspiracy theory:

… a lot of these people have tried to work out a not-so-plausible alternative view in which international humanitarian law is a good thing, but Israel just so happens to continually be victimized by sundry biased and/or unsavory figures. The simple fact of the matter is that adhering to international humanitarian law makes it very difficult to wage war, which I think is a good thing but many people disagree with that.

It’s hard to overstate the grotesque distortion of the other side’s arguments here.

The problem with “international humanitarian law,” according to Goldstone critics, is not that Western armies are held accountable for their moral performance. It is that the Goldstones and Human Rights Watches of this world have built an industry dedicated to advancing the tendentious and implausible case that such armies are in constant violation of these standards, when a great deal of evidence suggests otherwise. This faction refuses to acknowledge the central problem in asymmetric conflicts: groups like Hamas have designed a military strategy that exploits the commitment of the other side to humanitarian principles. This is why Hamas embeds its military infrastructure in civilian areas and fights from civilian populations and why its combatants do not wear uniforms. The whole point is to place the Western military in a dilemma: fight and be forced to kill civilians (and reap the condemnations of the “human-rights” community), or don’t fight and lose. As Yglesias admits, he would rather that wars simply weren’t fought. This is a nice sentiment coming from someone whose major daily physical danger is crossing the street to go to a coffee shop.

And the “not so plausible” view that Israel is victimized by “biased and unsavory” activists is in fact highly plausible and thoroughly documented. Yglesias has been an aggressive defender of Human Rights Watch, but has said nothing about the blockbuster New Republic piece that came out a couple of weeks ago, documenting the prominence in the organization of anti-Israel radicals who wage a PR war on Israel under the guise of human-rights activism. And as far as the report itself is concerned, dozens of critiques of its legal reasoning and evidentiary bias have been produced, of which Yglesias is clearly ignorant. A list of them is here.

One thing that unites Goldstone’s defenders is their refusal to deal honestly with any of the careful and thorough critiques of the report. It’s easier to speak about conspiracy theories and indulge in self-delusion.

I clicked over from Jen’s link to Matthew Yglesias’s exoneration of Richard Goldstone from his apartheid past and I found, as expected, the confused thinking that is so typical of a leader of the Juicebox Mafia. People hate the Goldstone Report, he says, because it’s an evenhanded application of “international humanitarian law,” and the critics of Goldstone want nothing to do with evenhandedness:

Their point of view is that, in essence, you ought to look at a conflict, identify who the bad guys is (the Taliban rather than the U.S., Hamas rather than Israel), and focus your ire on the bad guy instead of nitpicking at the good guy’s conduct.

But then there are the pro-Israel liberals. They’re in a bind because they want to defend Israel, but Israel has become a serial human-rights offender. So they’ve created a conspiracy theory:

… a lot of these people have tried to work out a not-so-plausible alternative view in which international humanitarian law is a good thing, but Israel just so happens to continually be victimized by sundry biased and/or unsavory figures. The simple fact of the matter is that adhering to international humanitarian law makes it very difficult to wage war, which I think is a good thing but many people disagree with that.

It’s hard to overstate the grotesque distortion of the other side’s arguments here.

The problem with “international humanitarian law,” according to Goldstone critics, is not that Western armies are held accountable for their moral performance. It is that the Goldstones and Human Rights Watches of this world have built an industry dedicated to advancing the tendentious and implausible case that such armies are in constant violation of these standards, when a great deal of evidence suggests otherwise. This faction refuses to acknowledge the central problem in asymmetric conflicts: groups like Hamas have designed a military strategy that exploits the commitment of the other side to humanitarian principles. This is why Hamas embeds its military infrastructure in civilian areas and fights from civilian populations and why its combatants do not wear uniforms. The whole point is to place the Western military in a dilemma: fight and be forced to kill civilians (and reap the condemnations of the “human-rights” community), or don’t fight and lose. As Yglesias admits, he would rather that wars simply weren’t fought. This is a nice sentiment coming from someone whose major daily physical danger is crossing the street to go to a coffee shop.

And the “not so plausible” view that Israel is victimized by “biased and unsavory” activists is in fact highly plausible and thoroughly documented. Yglesias has been an aggressive defender of Human Rights Watch, but has said nothing about the blockbuster New Republic piece that came out a couple of weeks ago, documenting the prominence in the organization of anti-Israel radicals who wage a PR war on Israel under the guise of human-rights activism. And as far as the report itself is concerned, dozens of critiques of its legal reasoning and evidentiary bias have been produced, of which Yglesias is clearly ignorant. A list of them is here.

One thing that unites Goldstone’s defenders is their refusal to deal honestly with any of the careful and thorough critiques of the report. It’s easier to speak about conspiracy theories and indulge in self-delusion.

Read Less

When Dedicating a Synagogue Is a War Crime

Yes, really. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights — one of a myriad of NGOs waging a war of delegitimization against Israel — has issued a press release declaring that:

The inauguration of a Jewish synagogue in East Jerusalem [sic] is considered a form of settlement activity, and thus constitutes a war crime under international humanitarian law.

Of course, this was not the inauguration of a synagogue — it was the rededication of a synagogue that dates to the Ottoman empire and was destroyed by the Jordanians during their occupation of Jerusalem. The Hurva synagogue was built in the 1860’s (even then on the ruins of a synagogue that had been built during the previous century) and demolished intentionally by the Arab Legion in 1948, during the War of Independence. Oh, and I almost forgot: it’s not in “East Jerusalem” — it’s in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Just a stroll away from the Western Wall, whose existence by this logic is also a war crime.

But this is not just another anecdote in the larger story of the derangement of the human-rights world. It is an example of how American and European money is funding the delegitimization campaign against Israel and the spreading of false war-crimes charges. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is bankrolled in part by the Open Society Institute (George Soros) and the Ford Foundation. (Click here for the complete list, including the European donors.) It would be time well spent for U.S.-based Jewish organizations to apply pressure to OSI and the Ford Foundation on the question of why they’re funding an organization claiming that the revival of a centuries-old Jerusalem synagogue is a war crime.

Yes, really. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights — one of a myriad of NGOs waging a war of delegitimization against Israel — has issued a press release declaring that:

The inauguration of a Jewish synagogue in East Jerusalem [sic] is considered a form of settlement activity, and thus constitutes a war crime under international humanitarian law.

Of course, this was not the inauguration of a synagogue — it was the rededication of a synagogue that dates to the Ottoman empire and was destroyed by the Jordanians during their occupation of Jerusalem. The Hurva synagogue was built in the 1860’s (even then on the ruins of a synagogue that had been built during the previous century) and demolished intentionally by the Arab Legion in 1948, during the War of Independence. Oh, and I almost forgot: it’s not in “East Jerusalem” — it’s in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Just a stroll away from the Western Wall, whose existence by this logic is also a war crime.

But this is not just another anecdote in the larger story of the derangement of the human-rights world. It is an example of how American and European money is funding the delegitimization campaign against Israel and the spreading of false war-crimes charges. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is bankrolled in part by the Open Society Institute (George Soros) and the Ford Foundation. (Click here for the complete list, including the European donors.) It would be time well spent for U.S.-based Jewish organizations to apply pressure to OSI and the Ford Foundation on the question of why they’re funding an organization claiming that the revival of a centuries-old Jerusalem synagogue is a war crime.

Read Less

No, Goldstone Is Not a Threat to the Democracies

Peter Berkowitz, a commentator I admire greatly, has a piece at NRO that criticizes the “astonishing attempt to shift power from sovereign states to international institutions” being undertaken by the NGO/international-law community. It’s an excellent analysis, and Berkowitz has been doing important work on the subject, but I have one quibble:

It would be a mistake to think that Israel’s lawyerly self-defense is of purely legal interest. This battle reflects a continuation of war and politics by other means. Indeed, the battle is fraught with weighty implications for all liberal democracies struggling against transnational terrorists.

This point has been made by many people, including the Israeli government itself, and it is a form of the old adage that “first they came for Israel, and I did not speak out because I am not an Israeli.” But I don’t think it’s true in this case. If “lawfare,” as it’s known, were truly a danger to powerful democratic nations, there would be more done to push back against it. Instead, what we see today is democratic nations that pay lip service to its tenets, safe in the knowledge that, while carrying few downsides, endorsing the abstract concepts of international law wins approval from the self-appointed arbiters of international virtue.

This is a war that probably will never spread to the great powers or even to the medium powers. For lawfare to work, several conditions have to be met. The target of lawfare must be: 1) a small and diplomatically weak nation; 2) a democracy whose citizens desire international acceptance; 3) a country surrounded by enemies that force it to fight frequent and indecisive wars, providing a constant supply of fresh “evidence” of criminality.

There is really only one country that meets these conditions — Israel. The U.S. is far too powerful to allow a Richard Goldstone to even bite at its ankles. Indeed, the U.S. has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost a decade, and nothing close to a Goldstone Report has been produced. The Russians and Chinese could care less about “international humanitarian law” (Grozny, anyone?), and more important, the IHL fetishists have never been passionate about campaigning against non-Western nations. As Charles Jacobs pointed out several years ago, “To predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; look instead at the party seen as the oppressor.”

Lawfare, as I’ve been saying lately, is not about law or ethics. If it were, its proponents would be vastly more scrupulous and reputable than they are. Lawfare is about power, specifically the attempt by a group of political radicals who have very little power to gain it in the only way they can — by negating sovereignty and pursuing a Gulliver strategy that only has a chance of working against small, embattled countries. The United States probably won’t pay that much attention to this fight, because the United States doesn’t have much to fear from it.

Peter Berkowitz, a commentator I admire greatly, has a piece at NRO that criticizes the “astonishing attempt to shift power from sovereign states to international institutions” being undertaken by the NGO/international-law community. It’s an excellent analysis, and Berkowitz has been doing important work on the subject, but I have one quibble:

It would be a mistake to think that Israel’s lawyerly self-defense is of purely legal interest. This battle reflects a continuation of war and politics by other means. Indeed, the battle is fraught with weighty implications for all liberal democracies struggling against transnational terrorists.

This point has been made by many people, including the Israeli government itself, and it is a form of the old adage that “first they came for Israel, and I did not speak out because I am not an Israeli.” But I don’t think it’s true in this case. If “lawfare,” as it’s known, were truly a danger to powerful democratic nations, there would be more done to push back against it. Instead, what we see today is democratic nations that pay lip service to its tenets, safe in the knowledge that, while carrying few downsides, endorsing the abstract concepts of international law wins approval from the self-appointed arbiters of international virtue.

This is a war that probably will never spread to the great powers or even to the medium powers. For lawfare to work, several conditions have to be met. The target of lawfare must be: 1) a small and diplomatically weak nation; 2) a democracy whose citizens desire international acceptance; 3) a country surrounded by enemies that force it to fight frequent and indecisive wars, providing a constant supply of fresh “evidence” of criminality.

There is really only one country that meets these conditions — Israel. The U.S. is far too powerful to allow a Richard Goldstone to even bite at its ankles. Indeed, the U.S. has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost a decade, and nothing close to a Goldstone Report has been produced. The Russians and Chinese could care less about “international humanitarian law” (Grozny, anyone?), and more important, the IHL fetishists have never been passionate about campaigning against non-Western nations. As Charles Jacobs pointed out several years ago, “To predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; look instead at the party seen as the oppressor.”

Lawfare, as I’ve been saying lately, is not about law or ethics. If it were, its proponents would be vastly more scrupulous and reputable than they are. Lawfare is about power, specifically the attempt by a group of political radicals who have very little power to gain it in the only way they can — by negating sovereignty and pursuing a Gulliver strategy that only has a chance of working against small, embattled countries. The United States probably won’t pay that much attention to this fight, because the United States doesn’t have much to fear from it.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.