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A colleague of mine recently attended a demonstration in Trafalgar Square in London against the war in Iraq. He is opposed to the war and wanted to lend his support to the anti-war movement. After a few minutes he left in disgust, because the main thrust of the demonstration appeared to be against Israel and its alleged violation of Palestinian human rights, rather than against the war in Iraq.
The hard left's compulsive need to single out Israel for what is often undeserved condemnation is damaging the human rights movement, weakening the anti-war movement and wounding other progressive causes, such as feminism. By heaping disproportionate blame for the evils of the world on the Jewish state, these anti-Israel zealots are not only ignoring the real problems faced by many, they are also providing excuses to the perpetrators of real evils.
Consider, for example, a recent report by Amnesty International on violence perpetrated against Palestinian women by Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The report purported to be â€œpart of the global AI campaign to stop violence against women.â€ Such violence is a serious problem, especially in the Arab and Muslim world, because so few leaders within these groups are prepared to condemn it and so many even justify it as a necessary means of maintaining family honor and male dominance.
The report documents honor killings of women who had been raped. In one such case a 17 year old was murdered by her own mother after she was â€œrepeatedly raped by two of her brothers.â€ In another case, a 21 year old â€œwas forced to drink poison by her fatherâ€ when she was found to be pregnant.
The report places substantial blame for these and other killings on you guessed it Israel. Here is AI's conclusion, listing the causes of the violence directed against Palestinian women, presumably in the order of their importance: â€œPalestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are victims of multiple violations as a result of the escalation of the conflict, Israel's policies and a system of norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal members of society.â€
The â€œescalation of the conflictâ€ (which AI blames primarily on Israel) and â€œIsrael's policiesâ€ rank higher than the â€œnorms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal.â€ The report asserts that violence against women has â€œincreasedâ€ dramatically during the Israeli occupation and has reached â€œan unprecedented levelâ€ as a result of the â€œincreased militarization of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.â€ It is as if the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been violence free for Palestinian women until the Israeli occupation.
ON AUGUST 23, I spoke with Donatella Rovera, AI's researcher on Israel and the occupied territories, and asked her to provide the data on which she had based her conclusion that violence against women had escalated to an â€œunprecedented levelâ€ during the occupation, and especially during its most militarized phase. I also asked her whether AI had compared violence against women in the occupied West Bank and Gaza with violence against women in unoccupied Arab-Muslim areas that have comparable populations, such as Jordan.
Rovera acknowledged that AI could provide no such comparative data and confirmed that the report was based on anecdotal information, primarily from Palestinian NGOs. â€œWe talked to anyone who would talk to us,â€ she said. When I asked her for a list of the NGOs that were the sources of the information, she refused to provide it because â€œthere are things we can simply not provide to outsiders.â€
I assured her that I was not interested in names or identifying features, but only in statistical data regarding the alleged trends cited in the report, but she still refused to provide anything more than a recommendation that we Google â€œpretty much all the NGOsâ€ in the region. It is impossible under these circumstances for any outside researcher to replicate AI's study and to confirm or disconfirm its conclusions.
The NGO Monitor, an organization based in Jerusalem which analyzes reports made by other NGOs, blasted the AI report on the ground that â€œPalestinian men are condescendingly excused from taking responsibility for their actions.â€ This is true, as a careful reading of the AI report shows.
Listen to the excuses AI provides: â€œRestrictions on movement and curfews which confine people to their homes for prolonged periods, and increased unemployment, poverty and insecurity, which have forced men to spend more time at home, as well as the increase in crowded conditions in the home, have contributed to the increase in violence against women, including sexual abuse, within the family.â€
By providing these â€œabuse excuses,â€ AI places its own political biases ahead of the interests of the female victims.
The NGO Monitor correctly characterized the report as based on â€œbiased sourcesâ€ and lacking in â€œcredibility.â€ When I criticized AI for its sloppy research and political bias, it responded by repeating that â€œIsrael is implicated in this violence [by Palestinian men against Palestinian women]â€ and that â€œIsrael must take action to prevent it.â€
If it did, AI would, of course, accuse it of interfering in Palestinian domestic concerns. For AI, and many other so-called human rights groups, Israel can do no right.
THE AI report was brought to my attention by one of the pioneers of the human rights movement, a founder of Human Rights Watch, who is now somewhat alienated from his own movement. As a result of â€œtheir obsessive focus on Israel,â€ he told me, â€œthese human rights organizations are becoming part of the problem.â€
Even Cindy Sheehan could not resist the temptation to blame terrorism on Israel. â€œYou get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you'll stop the terrorism.â€ The fact that 9/11 preceded Iraq and Palestinian terrorism began years before there was any occupation does not seem to matter to those determined to blame the Jewish state for the world's ills.
Nor could London Mayor Ken Livingstone (â€œRed Kenâ€) resist the temptation to compare the terrorists who attacked the London transportation system with Israeli soldiers who seek to prevent terrorism. And then there's Alexander Cockburn, a columnist for The Nation, who claims that he lacks sufficient â€œexterior evidence to determineâ€ whether the claims that Israel perpetrated both September 11 and the anthrax attacks â€œare true or not.â€
These are but the tips of a very large and ugly iceberg of bigotry. International conferences on feminism, apartheid, slavery and environmentalism have been unable to agree on anything other than condemnation of Israel. If real peace is to be achieved and if human rights movements are to retain credibility this obsessive focus by the hard left on Israel must end. But there is no indication that, even as the Jewish state takes painful steps toward peace, these unjustified attacks are diminishing.
The writer is a professor of law at Harvard University. His latest book is The Case For Peace.