27 March 2007

27 March 2007 – Back to human rights

I have spent a great deal of effort over the past few posts responding to anti-Israel critics. It is quite a tedious business, and once you get involved, you give a veto over your state of mind to everyone with a laptop. The latest example is that of New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, who calls on Americans to “stop biting our tongues” and start criticizing Israel—as if this weren’t happening already.

I’m not sure where Kristof is taking his cue from. Perhaps Jimmy Carter, with whom he has fairly close connections. Other bloggers have pointed out that Kristof shares Carter’s desire to see a Democratic presidential candidate emerge who is openly critical of Israel. That isn’t likely to occur—not just because of the Jewish constituency, but because siding with Israel’s enemies is against U.S. interests.

Don’t they get it? Most Americans do, but the lefty Democrats are reviving the old right-wing position that U.S. interests lie in closer relations with Arab oil-producing nations. Say what you will about President Bush—there’s a lot to criticize, and I’ve never voted for him—at least he recognizes that the threat of terror means that America’s interests are aligned with America’s values, and thus with Israel.

I think that much of the complaining that goes on about the supposed lack of debate about Israel and the alleged power of the “Jewish lobby” is just opportunistic posturing. People can see what the eventual solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will look like, and they can see that Israel is probably capable of imposing it unilaterally. At any rate, it is emerging as a point of consensus in the Middle East.

So it has now become safe to attack Israel, because doing so is like writing a check that will never be cashed. Many of those who bash Israel, like Soros, Kristof, and Carter, recommend the same two-state solution that is prescribed by those who defend Israel. This is not a disagreement about ends; it is not even a disagreement about means. It is really just about “competitive prestige,” to borrow Orwell’s phrase.

The goal of Israel’s critics is to be seen as having been on the “right” side of history, before it is too late for moral grandstanding. But the anti-Israel check actually could be cashed one of these days, if Iran and Hamas and Hizbollah have their way. So this kind of empty criticism is really just a parlor game, born of the illusion that terrorism is just a distant threat, which is in turn an illusion born of comfort.

I’m sick of it, and many other people are, too. There’s a blog out there called Muzzlewatch, which is a forum for a group calling itself Jewish Voices for Peace, and which is devoted to: ‘shining a light on incidents that involve pressure, intimidation, and outright censorship of critics of US-Israeli policy.” To this end, JVP has apparently joined a defamation lawsuit against certain pro-Israel groups.

What's more interesting than the blog are the responses in the blog’s comment section, some of which are quite well-written. One poster writes: “JVP seems awfully hypocritical. Most of the alleged ‘muzzling’ is actually counterspeech. In contrast, it appears to be supporting an effort to actually silence an advocacy group through the threats of a lawsuit.” “Counterspeech” is a great term and I think it should be used more often to defend legitimate opposition.

So—enough of that. What I’d actually like to do is comment briefly on an in this week’s edition of the Economist. The weekly may be spotty on the Middle East (and Africa, too, but that’s another story). However, its core principles are rock-solid. The article in question, “Stand up for your rights,” takes Amnesty International to task for its self-defeating support of social and economic rights.

These rights, the Economist argues, are noble policy goals, but cannot be achieved within the rights framework. Including these “positive freedoms” (as Berlin and Hayek would describe them) among the “negative freedoms” of civil and political rights simply dilutes the latter and destroys the former. The article notes that countries like China and Cuba that tout positive rights often deny negative rights.

By going along with “intellectual fashion,” the Economist argues, Amnesty International has undercut its ability to speak out about negative rights at the very moment when they are being encroached upon in western democracies. This is a brave argument; one only wishes that the Economist would take its own advice and think twice before following “intellectual fashion” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


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