Watching Israel

There was an op-ed in the New York Times a week ago by Robert L. Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, highlighting some of the differences between Israel and its neighbors. Why do they pick on Israel? First, because Israel lets them. This post is meant to be purely informative. Please do not reply.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

HRW replied here:

Human Rights Watch does not believe that the human rights records of “closed” societies are the only ones deserving scrutiny. If that were the case, we would not work on US abuses in Guantanamo Bay, police abuse in Brazil, the “untouchables” in India, or migrants in South Africa. “Open” societies and democracies commit human rights abuses, too, and Human Rights Watch has an important role to play in documenting those abuses and pressing for their end.

Finally, Bernstein stuck up for himself:

I believe that Israel should be judged by the highest possible standard and I have never argued anything else. What is more important than what I believe, or what Human Rights Watch believes, is that Israelis themselves believe they should be held to the highest standard.

That is why they have 80 Human Rights organizations challenging their government daily. Does any other country in the Middle East have anything remotely near that? That is why they have a vibrant free press. Does any other country in the Middle East have anything remotely near that? That is why they have a democratically elected government. That is why they have a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political societies, etc etc etc.

Original Sinner

‘Owlminerva’ has some newly polished thoughts on Israel. Read on:

If I was the mother of the world, and countries were my children, Israel would be my problem child. The child that was born out of pain and persecution, its birth itself an act of sin as it had to kill in order to make room for its place in the world. The child that had lost its faith in people before it had a chance to grow up.

Other than the obscenely patronizing (matronizing?) “I only want what’s best for my delinquent child” rhetoric, this is a prime example of a certain brand of “accepted wisdom” about Israel. Let us call this the original sin doctrine. It might be pointed out that it has its antecedents in Christian theology, giving this highfalutin’ rhetoric the Carter-like flourish of a clarion call for peace in the Holy Land.

Let us suppose someone who knew nothing about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (and the rest of what we call the Arab Muslim world) were to read Owl’s reflection. They would have no idea that the Jews actually came from Israel in the first place, returning there after two millennia only because they were slaughtered wholesale in Europe and thrown out of the Middle East, where they had lived since before both Christianity and Islam were founded. That both religions claimed to outdo the Jews at their own game–purporting to have “understood” Judaism better than them–pitting themselves against the Jews in a cosmic battle that knows no end to this day should go without saying.

One Jewish state is still too much for some people. Still, how does one atone for “original sin?” One can’t help but read into this eschatological language that the real “sin” to be atoned for is that of being Jewish. Wasn’t America born of some analogous sinning, too? The land where Owl’s New York City apartment was built once belonged to a Native American of some tribe or other, but I doubt she atones for her well-being at the expense of another’s happiness. Yet Israelis–apparently the whole nation of them–were born in sin, out of a violent, cataclysmic womb that dirtied them forever with the mark of–let’s just say it–Cain. None of them are safe from this damning accusation: not even, apparently, her beloved Uri Avneri. Right, left, center, all are guilty of the overarching guilt of being Israeli.What is a sane person to make of this? This is no longer a cry for social justice in an imperfect democracy, a la Isaiah. This is a call for conversion, a la St. Augustine. Or, better yet, Golden-Mouthed John.

Cut to the chase:

How can I teach my child all these things when my child is raging in anger and won’t listen?  How can I teach my child before it is too late, and my child has destroyed himself in its attempts to destroy the other?

This is, in essence, the Gospel of Owlminerva. Even she has a right to her opinions.  Now go be good little citizens and do your homework.

But, if the brutality with which Israel is charged was indeed inherent to the project that led to its creation – as the notion of original sin suggests – how can it possibly be made good? That European Jews should wash their hands of the Jewish state goes without saying. But what is required of Israel itself? For this there is an answer as well. Both logically and, as it were, theologically, the only remedy lies in the political equivalent of conversion.