Obama, Osama, and Israel’s drama

The legal ambivalence surrounding Sunday's attack did not prevent Obama from authorizing Osama bin Laden's extrajudicial execution. This move highlights America's moral predilection to unequivocally distinguish between good and evil, regardless of international law. But when Israel adopts the same moral compass in determining its actions, the world is up in arms.

By DEBORAH DANAN
May 4, 2011 14:13
Police stand near a wanted poster of bin Laden

Bin Laden wanted poster 311 R. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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US President Barack Obama’s effusive speech announcing the dramatic assassination of public enemy number 1, Osama bin Laden, proved that America’s favorite political thespian hasn’t lost his touch.

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Indeed, the events of May Day 2011 was the stuff of movies. And this specific movie, beginning almost a decade ago with the horrific attacks that brought the world to a standstill, can now wrap up with a final scene of jubilant crowds celebrating the death of the bad guy.

But here in Israel, we can’t help but notice a few plot holes.

And no, I’m not referring to the ludicrous-but-predictable wave of “where’s his body? He must not be dead” theories flooding the internet. I’m merely wondering how it is possible that not a single voice has questioned the methods by which the US neutralized bin Laden (with exception of course, to Hamas’s condemning the killing of Al Qaida’s “holy warrior.”) 

Allow me to pose a different question: What if Israel had killed Osama?



Imagine for a moment, that your favorite TV show was interrupted for a televised announcement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying, “I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.” That quote, of course, is Obama’s - verbatim. Yet astonishingly, the phrases “I determined” and “[I] authorized an operation” and “at my direction the United States launched a targeted operation” barely raised an eyebrow from the international community, despite the blatant judicial violations associated with the president’s autonomous decision.

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Now imagine the world’s reaction had those very same words left Netanyahu’s mouth. The thing is, you don’t need to. History provides a fair indicator of what the likely response would be. In 2004, Israel executed a targeted killing of Hamas founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, dubbed by the then-defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, as “the Palestinian bin Laden.”

To be sure, that particular killing shook the world’s self-righteous tail feathers. Castigated unequivocally by former UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, as being an “extrajudicial killing…against international law,” the UN Council for Human Rights passed a resolution condemning the execution that was supported by votes from 31 countries.

The draft resolution was ultimately vetoed by the US, on the grounds that it should have contained some reference condemning Hamas’s suicide bombings in Ashdod a week prior.

The decision to veto can also be ostensibly linked to a US desire to preserve its conscience by avoiding accusations of hypocrisy. With regards to the Osama assassination, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Shaul Mofaz said on Tuesday that the US adopted the Israeli strategy of targeting terrorist leaders, originally employed by Israel following the murder of nine Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. However, while Obama’s unilateral directive to execute without trial was not hitherto investigated by judicial authorities, the targeted killings performed by Israel on the other hand, are reviewed extensively by the Supreme Court.

Another thorny issue emerging from Sunday’s clandestine operation is the legality of an extrajudicial killing on Pakistani soil without the latter’s express permission. Consider too that Pakistan is not at war with the US, and neither can Osama’s execution be considered self-defense since, according to White House officials, he was unarmed. In yet another ironic plot twist, a precedent for violating the sovereignty of a foreign country was set by Israel in 1960 when Mossad agents captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina to bring him to Jerusalem to stand trial. At Argentina’s persistence, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 138 which declared that such acts “endanger international peace and security.”

The US's violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is unlikely to spur the UNSC to pass a similar resolution, and bin Laden’s atrocities against mankind will provide ample justification for the execution sans trial. As indeed, it should. But the fact remains that in Israel’s case, despite Eichmann facilitating the slaughter of millions, even he received a fair trial. [Incidentally, many principles of international law were established during the ensuing trial, including that of universal jurisdiction, whereby countries can claim criminal jurisdiction over persons whose crimes were committed outside the territories of the prosecuting state.]

The killing of a civilian “human shield” by US Navy SEALs on Sunday also seems to have escaped notice. The White House initially reported that a woman was shot and killed when protecting bin Laden from US fire. Compare this to 2009’s Operation Cast Lead, in which Israel’s alleged use of human shields was detailed in the Goldstone Report - a claim which the eponymous writer himself recently retracted. Unsurprisingly, the 3 other co-authors of the UN fact-finding mission have denied Goldstone’s retraction, claiming that they “firmly stand by [the report’s] conclusions.”

In a brilliant article on the Osama assassination, civil liberties lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, notes with acuity that “Suddenly, targeted killing is not only legal and moral, it is praiseworthy.” Dershowitz further demands that the world “stop applying a double standard to Israel and let it start judging the merits and demerits of military tactics such as targeted killing.”

On Monday, in an interview with Yuli Edelstein, Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, I asked what immediate hasbara efforts Israel should be making to highlight the international community’s double standards in the aftermath of the Osama execution. Edelstein was sceptical that lobbying for equal treatment would prove effective, saying, “we’ve been using the argument of we do what they do and yet they condemn us for years…and it doesn’t work.”

While Edelstein’s office has implemented a host of valuable strategies aimed at combating negative perception of Israel, hasbara tactics should also include taking every precaution not to promote defeatist attitudes.  

Sadly, demonization, denigration and delegitmization of Israel are not going to disappear anytime soon. And the reason that Israel cannot be judged by the Western world’s standard is quite simply because there is more than one. When the Jewish state stands trial in front of the world, the democratic standard is no more; in its place is the discriminatory standard.

But woe betide us lest we neglect to remind the world of this. Edelstein may be right, it probably is a futile battle, but that doesn’t mean we have the right to stop trying. Our imperative must be to continue knocking our heads against the wall, protesting the world’s contradictory moral yardsticks. The hope is that perhaps one day the wall will crumble, and when that happens, at least this particular movie can have a happy ending.

The writer is editor of The Jerusalem Post's Premium Zone.

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