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Another Round on Israel’s Human Rights Obligations

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Another Round on Israel’s Human Rights Obligations"

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This is really maddening. I wrote here that irrespective of how bad Hamas or Hezbollah may be Israel has an obligation to abide by international humanitarian law and that Human Rights Watch is correct to highlight credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law. In response, Commentary’s Noah Pollak attributed to me a whole range of improbable-sounding and vile beliefs, so which I simply reiterated the point that irrespective of how bad Hamas or Hezbollah may be, Israel has an obligation to abide by international humanitarian law. I noted that many credible allegations had been raised of such violations and included a link to a B’Tselem report to that effect.

Pollack “responds” to my post with the observation that B’Tselem is critical of the UN Human Rights Council and also has some disagreements with the Goldstone report. But so what? I never mentioned the UNHRC. I’ll add that Richard Goldstone himself has criticized the UN Human Rights Council’s handling of his report. We can all agree—me, Pollack, Goldstone, B’Tselem, etc.—that the UNHRC’s record on Israel is not a good one*.

That said, I’ll circle back around to the point: Israel has obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights norms, obligations that it appears to have violated, and these obligations stand regardless of crimes on the part of Hamas. This observation has prompted a lot of ad hominem attacks, and a lot of smokescreens and huffy rhetoric, but basically nothing in the way of substantive defense.

I note that the argument has nothing in particular to do with Israel. When it comes to the United States of America, liberals generally think the US has human rights obligations and obligations under international humanitarian law. We think that part of being “the good guys” on the world stage is that we are obliged to do the right thing even if our adversaries don’t. Conservatives disagree with this—they think starting wars and brutalizing detainees, for example, are good ideas—and see human rights as basically a concept that should be opportunistically deployed for geopolitical advantage, and then cast aside the first time you want to start copying Chinese torture manuals. But American liberals who think the US should abide by human rights norms aren’t “anti-American.” Nor are American Jews who think Israel should abide by human rights norms “anti-Israel.”

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