US/Israeli Hypocrisy on Human Rights

After World War II, the U.S. government was the champion of international law and human rights, but a selective application of those rules – shielding U.S. actions and those of allies like Israel – has made a mockery of these universal principles, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

By the end of the 19th Century, it was recognized by those concerned with human rights that the nation-state was a destructive anachronism. It was an entity that seemed addicted to periodic spasms of mass violence, particularly in the form of war carried out with little or no regard for non-combatants or other restraining factors.

As a consequence, efforts began aimed at creating instruments of international law – treaties, conventions and other agreements – to modify state behavior in such areas as the treatment of prisoners and the victimization of civilian populations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 1, 2013. (UN Photo by Evan Schneider)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 1, 2013. (UN Photo by Evan Schneider)

Progress was spotty until the very end of World War II, when various human rights charters came into existence as a part of the United Nations. Through that institution, provision was made — albeit in very narrowly defined circumstances — for the fielding of UN military forces (the famous Blue Helmets) to try to enforce peace and protect civilian populations. Other institutions, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), were also eventually brought into existence.

The post-war move to expand international law to cover human rights and provide enforcement measures was all for the good, and in the future it will hopefully prove a powerful precedent that can be built upon. But this period of progress did not last long. It soon gave way to a hypocritical selective application of humanitarian law.

The truth is that today only those nations which are relatively weak and have no great power patronage are in any danger of being called to task for gross violations of human rights. If you are the leader of some small African or Balkan state and you go on some ethnically or religiously inspired rampage, you run a real risk of being charged with crimes against humanity and hauled before the ICC, while the UN Security Council votes to send military forces into your country.

On the other hand, if you are a great power or the close ally of one, you can pretty much do what you want, where you want. Great powers hold the concept of their own sovereignty sacrosanct and the us-versus-them mindset that goes along with hubristic nationalism remains unchallenged. That goes for their allies as well who, under the protection of their patron, often commit with impunity the same crimes that land smaller, unprotected powers in deep trouble.

Israel and the U.S. Undermine the Law

The most blatant contemporary example of this disregard for international law as it pertains to human rights can be seen in the actions of Israel. The Zionist state’s present blitzkrieg in Gaza may be the worst of that nation’s ongoing series of violations of International humanitarian law. I would refer the reader to the Center for Constitutional Rights fact sheet outlining Israel’s violation of humanitarian-law statutes.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Israel’s acclaimed “Defense Forces” have become expert in violating human rights: murder and ethnic cleansing, illegal confiscation of occupied land, destruction of civilian housing, destruction of civilian infrastructure (water, electricity, sanitation, etc.), attacking of medical facilities, torture both of adults and children, the use of banned weaponry, the mistreatment of prisoners and more. And they have done it all quite openly.

Official complaints about Israeli behavior come before the UN several times a year but to no avail. Each time Israel is called to task in the UN Security Council for violating international law, the U.S. vetoes the resolution and therefore Israel suffers no consequences. Obviously this only emboldens Israeli leaders to continue acting in a criminal manner.

But the impact goes beyond Israel and its victims, because each time the U.S. casts its veto, international law designed to protect human rights suffers degradation.

The reason for this U.S. behavior has to do with the inflated role of special interests, or lobbies (in this case the infamous Zionist lobby) in the governing structure of democratic societies. For a more detailed discussion of this phenomenon the reader can go to my essay on lobbies (Lobby, Lobbification, Lobbified, April 16, 2011) and how they operate in Washington.

Under the present circumstances in most democratic states, if a special interest has sufficient resources and organization it can, quite legally, manipulate policy so that the very definition of national interest is warped into an expression of the interest of the lobby. This is what the Zionist lobby in Washington has done in the case of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

This regrettable state of affairs has effectively brought to a halt any progress to expand enforcement of international human rights laws. Indeed, international law in general has fallen so far out of favor that, in the case of the United States, many citizens think that this form of law as well as organizations such as the UN are elements of shadowy conspiracies attempting to take over their nation.

Resurgent Tribalism 

What does this tell us about ourselves and our politics? It suggests that at some deep level we are still tribal. The concept of us-versus-them appears deeply ingrained in our psyches and thus influences our actions. If the “us” could get bigger and bigger to the point where it encompasses all of humanity, that would be real progress. But short of an alien invasion that seems unlikely.

In fact, the theory of natural localism — the notion that we all live our lives in localized spatial and temporal environments — suggests that tribalism in its various forms is the social organization most compatible with human nature. Those interested in the notion of natural localism should see the first part of my book Foreign Policy Inc.

The promotion of international humanitarian law, which undermines tribalism by universalizing the application of law, may be felt as a threat by those whose self-concept is tied to the nation-state (or worse, an ethnically or religiously exclusive state) and therefore wrapped up with an us-versus-them worldview. This is certainly the case when it comes to the Israelis and their Zionist supporters.

So, Israeli behavior and U.S. protection of that behavior is a somber message that we have a way to go to overcome our propensity for murder and mayhem.

We have managed to establish standards of humanitarian behavior and even embody them in international humanitarian law. We have managed to create an albeit imperfect prototype for enforcement through the UN. But we have yet to overcome the problem of selective application of that law. This may be a fatal roadblock. If anyone can figure out how to overcome it, he or she will be a truly deserving candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

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11 comments on “US/Israeli Hypocrisy on Human Rights

  1. Best not to imply that Israel is an US ally (first paragraph: “allies”). There is no formal alliance between Israel and the US. Unlike between the US and Turkey.

    In fact the US wasn’t really an arms supplier to Israel until the late 1960s.

    Not news exactly that the US turns a blind eye to abuses by states friendly to the US, Guatemala in the 1980s, South Vietnam, South Korea through out the 1960s and 70s.
    There are plenty of other examples.

  2. sorry guys, but the US never was “the champion of international law and human rights”, in particular not after WW2: Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki in 1945, German Rhine Meadow Camps and Nuremberg Show Trial in 1945ff, Backing of Zionist terrorism to found Israel in 1948, and the list go on. Already after WW2, the US had one of the worst human rights abuse records, second only to Stalin. Hitler was a true Saint in comparison, even if all of the Allied atrocity propaganda about him were true (which it is not).

  3. Нариман on said:

    Кеннеди далеко, до этой речи https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Dm09hjHkh8

  4. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Once upon a time an anthropologist did a study of the Sicilian mafia. He came up with a concept he called, ‘amoral familism’. This was a value system in which high moral standards were adhered to among members, but outside the clan, anything was acceptable if it served the interests of the “family”. Family identity and tribal identity can get pretty weird. Victims of child abuse rarely “snitch”. So, there’s the ‘in-house’ morality which may be troubled, and then there’s our variety: “outhouse” morality. Our Foreign Policy gurus seem to embrace that one. The chief exponents among these would seem to be Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Valerie Jarrett, but their claims to legitimacy seem valid only at some sinister subterranean level. Despite accolades of Constitutional Law “expertise”, I am becoming more and more suspicious that classmates who “don’t remember ever meeting him” are not necessarily making that up. Who in this culture with any semblance of an education could fail to recognize that in Ukraine, we have aligned ourselves with a neo-Nazi regime? Or that Cass Sunstein’s “Cognitive Infiltration” is a metaphor for Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth”? Who can study American History and not understand that conspiracy to commit war of aggression, the “Supreme International Crime”, is not the very Nuremberg principle we violated in Iraq and Libya, and tried like hell to violate in Syria? Who can pretend that ANY of our diplomats have legitimate credentials, from Kerry on down, to conduct “foreign policy”? There is not a single international law scholar or historian among them. Our intelligence agencies shamelessly lie to Congress, but we expect them to provide reliable information? Military chiefs promulgate foreign policy from a pedestal at NATO in violation of the Constitutional subordination of military to civilian authority, and nobody notices? There is a solution, but an individual cannot achieve it. The UN Security Council currently functions as the Capo di Famiglia, and the US, with its veto, serves as Capo di Tutti Capi. Sooner or later, the General Assembly may have to change that, or risk piecemeal annihilation. But I have little hope. I understand that the Congressional Black Caucus, a group who should know better, has validated Israel’s right to “self-defense”. That old joke about the Lone Ranger comes to mind. Surrounded by hostile Indians, he turns to Tonto and says, “Looks like we are in trouble, Tonto”. Tonto says, “What you mean ‘we’, white man?” Sooner or later, the ‘demographic time-bomb’ may create such a scenario. It is becoming more difficult for educated people to believe that our government is not a criminal enterprise. The laughable invocation of the “international community” disregards the moral indignation of the Non-Aligned Nations, who are definitely the majority. Our “outhouse” morality prove’s we’re no longer a democracy. We’re a crime family run by two parties: the Bonannos and the Gambinos…or maybe the Lanskys and the Shapiros. Republicans and Democrats? I see no evidence for that. I’d be happy just to know who the “Godfather” is, because he sure as hell doesn’t live at the White House.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      F.G. I am sure that AIPAC made an offer to the Black Caucus they could not refuse. America needs right now to reign in the kind of money contributions that goes on in our halls of congress. In fact, you may know more detail than I, but isn’t there an espionage act that AIPAC and our congress maybe violating…or I am wrong? If not there should be a law against this kind of foreign government interference.

      ps I’m Italian…bada bing!

      • I like you guys. Alas, even two sane and conscientious americans can do nothing with millions of layman fascists and a bundle of international criminals. That’s only a small talk… Let peace be with you.

    • Daniel on said:

      My sentiments exactly. Thank you for such a well worded summary.

  5. F. G. Sanford on said:

    @ Joe T. – you mean, “Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938″ defined by uslegal.definitions.com as “one of the first attempts in the U.S. at comprehensive lobbying reform. FARA’s primary purpose was to limit the influence of foreign agents and propaganda on American public policy.” It says the act “requires every agent of a foreign principal to file a registration statement with the Attorney General of the United States, that copies of informational materials for or in the interests of such principal disseminated by such agent through the U.S. mails, or by any means of interstate or foreign commerce, be filed with the Attorney General, and that books of account and other records be kept as to all activities as to which disclosure is required under the provisions of the Act. Violations of the Act are punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. Conspiracy to violate the Act is also made an offense.” AIPAC has successfully lobbied its way around all this. In my opinion, membership in AIPAC or any number of neocon think-tanks constitutes guilt by association. Possession of “dual citizenship” while serving as a member of government or obtaining a security clearance, or serving in a foreign military while in possession of a US Passport all constitute guilt ‘in flagrante delicto’. If the spirit of this law were enforced, it would solve a lot of problems. The “dual citizen” scam is basically a way to be able to flee USA to a country without an extradition treaty. Since Israel has absolutely no treaties or international obligations to the USA whatsoever, it routinely refuses to extradite criminals wanted in the USA. Bernie Madoff and Jonathan Pollack both got snatched before they could catch a plane. Contrary to popular misconception, Israel is not an “ally” of the US and cannot legally become one because it lacks a constitution, lacks defined borders, and stands in violation of dozens of international laws, judgements, and UN resolutions. The United States, under US Public Law, the US Constitution, various treaty obligations and customary interpretation of international statutes, CANNOT engage in treaty agreements with Israel. Most of the aid we give them is illegal under the Symington Amendment, which precludes military aid to countries with undeclared nuclear arsenals. So, our government is engaged in criminal activity with our tax money, and Israel is engaged in criminal activity as a subversive “fifth column” to influence our elections. It’s a situation only Joe Pesci could solve. Like George Carlin said, “It’s amazing what you can do with a simple baseball bat”. I don’t think DoJ is likely to tackle the problem any time soon. They all count on jobs at Goldman Sachs when they leave government.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      that’s the act ..thanks.
      Don’t you think it is long overdue for the media to tell us who the real godfather is? And, why is always a guy with a small business? Next time this happens I’m going to look around and see which one of my friends just bought a boat.

      Also, growing up Italian I recall all those WW2 guys saying it was LBJ who did JFK… & that was that weekend they were saying that…some of those guys where just great that way…they knew how the world worked.
      have fun J.T.