U.S. has lost its moral right to preach

Look who’s preaching to Israel: Last Wednesday, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on the state of human rights around the world. The chapter devoted to Israel makes the usual detailed and gloomy reading. Washington is critical of all the ills of the occupation, about which the human rights organizations and Israel have long since raised a hue and cry. On the one hand, it will now be hard to claim here that criticism of Israel emanates only from those who hate the country; now even its great friend is pointing a finger of accusation at the administrative detentions (arrest without trial), the mass demolition of houses, the light finger on the trigger, the targeted assassinations, the torture by the Shin Bet security service (which hasn’t stopped, according to the report), the deprivation of freedom of movement, the uprooting of trees, and the discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens. From this partial point of view, the report is important.

America vs. Human Rights: A History of Double Standards

The record shows that the United States of America is among the world’s worst human rights abusers. Though its abuses are addressed by nations, individuals and human rights organizations around the world – and, indeed, within the US as well – Washington continues applying its double standards: it’s one rule for them, another for us.

“The United States has long regarded itself as a beacon of human rights, as evidenced by an enlightened constitution, judicial independence, and a civil society grounded in strong traditions of free speech and press freedom. But the reality is more complex; for decades, civil rights and civil liberties groups have exposed constitutional violations and challenged abusive policies and practices. In recent years, as well, international human rights monitors have documented serious gaps in U.S. protections of the human rights of vulnerable groups. Both federal and state governments have nonetheless resisted applying to the U.S. the standards that, rightly, the U.S. applies elsewhere.”
Human Rights Watch

The other side, however, is that the United States has by its own hand lost its moral right to preach to any country in connection with human rights. To begin with, since 1976, no fewer than 820 people – 35 percent of them blacks – have been executed in the United States. About 43.6 million Americans don’t have medical insurance, among them about 8.5 million children. That in itself should stop the U.S. from speaking in the name of justice.

Second, the State Department, which authored the report, represents a state that tramples human rights more than most others. The policeman of the world is naked, especially after Sept. 11, 2001, when security in the United States became – as it is in Israel – a supreme value above all others. In the United States, exactly as in Israel, human rights have become a nuisance, an obstacle to security. According to the organization Human Rights Watch, the United States arrested about 1,000 people after the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, crassly violating their legal rights.

A country that is holding 660 Afghan detainees at Guantanamo without trial and depriving them of basic rights is in no position to criticize administrative detentions carried out by other countries. A country that is holding members of the Iraqi political leadership in detention without trial, far from view, is in no position to complain about the conditions of detention in the prisons of other countries. And a country that is maintaining a tough military occupation regime in Iraq doesn’t have the right to fulminate against a different occupation regime, however cruel it may be, in the Palestinian territories.

Before drawing up the report on the state of human rights around the world, those responsible for the document should have taken action to bring about the immediate dismantlement of the prison at Guantanamo and the release or bringing to trial of the detainees who have been held there for well over two years in disgraceful conditions. Where did the authors of the report find the brazenness to declare that conditions in the detention camps of the Israel Defense Forces don’t meet international standards? Do they meet such standards at Guantanamo? The conditions in our detention camps are, indeed, disgraceful, but the United States is not the one to say so. If Israel were to publish a report on the state of human rights in the world, the document would generate bitter scorn. The only thing separating Israel’s moral right to issue such a report from the right of the United States to do so is the power of the latter – it has no moral primacy.

As for the situation in Israel: The United States bears direct responsibility for the violations of human rights in this country. If Washington truly wanted to, it could put an end to them, just as it could have long since brought the entire Israeli occupation to an end. Just as it was able to get the separation fence moved, the United States could have, if it wished, forced Israel to stop the targeted assassinations and the demolition of homes and the use of the method of administrative detention. A nod from the president of the United States and Jerusalem would immediately change its unrestrained rules of engagement. A signal from the White House, and the IDF would dismantle the checkpoints that are intended to harass the population and the Palestinians would be able to move freely on their roads.

The Israeli prime minister, we should remember, is extremely anxious to please the United States. However, the Americans take no advantage of this fact when it comes to upholding human rights. So its preaching not only lacks moral authority, it is also void of content. Instead, it provides the defenders of the Israeli occupation with justification. Every criticism of the situation in Israel is met with the reaction: What do you want from us? Look at the Americans. And, indeed, when the United States runs roughshod over human rights, many around the world, including Israel, allow themselves to behave similarly.

The leader of the free world is today imposing a dark regime in a number of spheres, both domestically and internationally, behavior that is deeply at odds with its enlightened image and its world role as a preacher. This is bad news for the world, maybe even worse than the immoral portrait of Israel that emerges from the report.

A country that launched pernicious wars of occupation, such as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot be a beacon of justice. A country that is making use, in Iraq, of veterans of the most brutal assassination units of the apartheid regime in South Africa – as the Jewish-American weekly Forward reported this week – has no moral right to talk about human rights.

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Ha'aretz, Israel
Feb. 29, 2004 Opinion
Gideon Levy

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday February 29, 2004.
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