Plowshares into Swords (Extract)

Extract from a story in Issue 20, January 19, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. In the shadow of the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in December 1948 reflected hope that mankind had changed and that relations among nations would incorporate this new moral code. Together with the creation of the sovereign State of Israel that same year, the code was a form of saying "never again." But for Israelis and Jews, the declaration has been a bitter disappointment, and its lofty rhetoric has been turned into a weapon aimed at Israel. Hardly a day goes by without some official or group declaring Israel to be guilty of "war crimes" or "collective punishment," while terrorism and other basic violations by Hizballah and Hamas are ignored. Under the banner of anti-racism, the U.N. held the 2001 Durban Conference, at which 1,500 organizations adopted an anti-Semitic declaration, which demonized Israel by associating it with terms such as "apartheid," "ethnic cleansing," "racism" and "genocide." The Palestinian mass terror attacks, in which hundreds of Israelis were killed, were not mentioned. Given this background, Israelis might be expected to be very cynical about human rights and those who claim to promote them. But a poll, conducted by Keevoon Research for the Public Diplomacy Program at Bar-Ilan University and NGO Monitor on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, showed just the opposite: 89% of Israelis said that human rights were "very important" - a strong endorsement of these moral principles. Rejecting the persistent barrage from the U.N. and others who imply that Israel is the world's worst human rights violator, 55% also said that Israel had a better human rights record than most Western countries. 83% called the Israeli record better than other states in the Middle East - not surprising, given the company of Iran, Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the rest. Strong skepticism emerged in the more detailed questions, particularly about non-governmental organizations or NGOs that claim to carry the torch of human rights. When asked specifically about organizations like Amnesty International, Machsom Watch and B'Tselem, 64% responded that their reports are biased; 51% said that the NGOs favor the Palestinians, while only 19% thought they were evenhanded. Indeed, most Israelis are highly critical of the "halo effect," which, because of their humanitarian focus, insulates these groups from scrutiny. While critics might try to dismiss these results as reflecting a defensive, nationalist perspective, in which Israeli violations of human rights (that unfortunately exist - no army is perfect) are ignored, the poll paints a more complex picture. Although 64% of Israelis concluded that NGOs are by their nature biased against Israel, 69% attached a degree of credibility to the reports from Amnesty International, Machsom Watch and B'Tselem. The problem, for Israelis, was the lack of balance. A similar number, 68%, expressed concern at the ways in which these reports damage Israel's image abroad - an important point as B'Tselem opens a lobbying office in Washington. Only 18% felt that in showing that Israelis are critical of their own government's policies, Israel's image in the world is enhanced. Since many of the NGOs most active in this area receive tens of millions of dollars every year from foreign governments, particularly through the European Union and its member states (often in secret), we also asked questions on the funding issue. Again, about two-thirds of respondents (66%) said that they want greater transparency - an indication of support for the anticipated Knesset legislation that will demand it. Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is executive director of NGO Monitor and chair of the Political Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University. Extract from a story in Issue 20, January 19, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.