I have often argued (here and here, for instance) that the real price of the West’s Israel obsession is paid not by Israel but by victims of human rights abuses worldwide, whose cries for help go unheard amid the anti-Israel din. But now this obsession has begun to claim another victim: Western democracy itself.
The most stunning proof can be found in Britain (naturally), where a court two weeks ago acquitted seven people who vandalized a factory in January 2009. The vandals freely admitted to causing the $275,000 worth of damage, and their criminal intent was in no doubt: their plans to “smash up” the factory were detailed in videotaped interviews before the assault.
Nevertheless, the jury ruled that they were protected by the “lawful excuse” defense: they vandalized the factory to prevent more serious crimes. What crimes? The supposed “war crimes” Israel was then committing in Gaza, with the aid of military components allegedly supplied by the factory.
Moreover, Judge George Bathurst-Norman actively encouraged this conclusion. “You may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time,” he instructed the jury. He also rejected the factory’s claim that it did not in fact sell military components to Israel, asserting that the arms-export licenses it presented as evidence were “not worth the paper they are written on.”
As Robin Shepherd of the London-based Henry Jackson Society perceptively noted, this ruling shows that “the hysterical campaign against the State of Israel is not merely resulting in gross injustice against the Middle East’s only Western-style democracy, it is undermining Western-style democracy at home.”
For Western democracy depends on the rule of law — on citizens knowing that as long as they obey the law, they are entitled to its protections. Yet in one fell swoop, Bathurst-Norman has destroyed this confidence, replacing it with the legal principle that governs every dictatorship: it doesn’t matter whether your action was legal (which arms exports to Israel still are in Britain), or even whether you actually did it. If the judge doesn’t like what you’re doing — or wants to use you to make a political point whether you did it or not — he can strip you of the law’s protections and let your property be destroyed by any passing mob.
The ruling is also sure to encourage more vandalism in the name of other causes. Why shouldn’t PETA activists, for instance, use the same rationale of “preventing greater crimes” to justify vandalizing companies that experiment on animals? All they need are a judge and jury that share their loathing for such experiments, and they’re home-free. Thus any company or individual engaged in any activity widely unpopular in Britain must now go in fear and start taking expensive precautions.
Bathurst-Norman may believe his principle won’t be extended; it will apply only to Israel. But the rule of law is a fragile thing: strip its protections from one group, and others will soon follow. As Pastor Martin Niemoller famously put it, “First they came for the Jews …”