Falk's law

Israel cannot afford to ignore men like Falk, or cede a powerful weapon to the barbarians.

checkpoint Falk 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
checkpoint Falk 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
As we were reminded this week, international human-rights law, as wielded by the United Nations, sometimes works. Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of war crimes including Europe's worst massacre since World War II, was arrested Monday, and will face justice at the UN war crimes court in The Hague. At other times, however, stymied by inaction and lack of enforcement, international law - the system of collective security, international organizations and treaties like the Geneva Conventions established since World War II - seems increasingly impotent. It could not prevent the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur any more than it can now punish the state-sanctioned incitements to genocide we hear from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For all its high-minded rhetoric, the impotence of the international legal order in the face of state-supported terrorism and hostage-taking is increasingly plain to see. YET IN still other cases, international law manages to damage both its own credibility and the very cause it attempts to address. As we were recently reminded, such continues to be the case with its treatment of Israel. NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regularly depict Israel as a consistent human-rights violator. The UN General Assembly annually passes more resolutions against Israel than against all other countries combined. Since it was established in 2006, replacing an even more discredited predecessor called the Commission on Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Council has devoted itself almost entirely to attacking Israel. Of the 20 state-specific resolutions it has passed censuring human-rights violations, 19 have condemned the Jewish state. Not impermeable to awareness of this absurd state of affairs, the Human Rights Council itself recently proposed reform. Outgoing Council president, Romanian Ambassador Doru Costea, suggested amending the job description of the so-called Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories to make it less explicitly biased against Israel. The idea has even been endorsed by the new rapporteur, Richard Falk. Unfortunately, the proposed changes do not augur a saner treatment of Israel - for reasons having much to do with Falk himself. Falk embodies the new international law regime. A professor emeritus of international law at Princeton, he has acted as counsel in cases argued before the International Court of Justice, and held several international law posts at the UN. He has also agitated for economic sanctions against Israel in the form of divestment campaigns; has charged that "Israel is seeking to obliterate the existence of the Palestinian people"; and has said that Israeli policies vividly express "a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty." Falk has moreover rejected the characterization of Hamas as a terrorist organization, and has defended Palestinian terrorism as a "right of resistance enjoyed by an occupied people when the occupying power ignores international law and refuses to withdraw." NONE OF this is new, of course. Israel has come to expect double standards, from the UN's condemnation of its raid on Iraq's nuclear reactor to the International Court of Justice's 2004 ruling that "The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law." But it is a mistake to pretend indifference; doing so only allows our enemies, who remain quite undeterred by its statutes, to seize on international law as a club with which to beat Israel. In discussing whether a single legal code could govern relations among all nations, John Stuart Mill wrote: "To suppose that the same international customs, and the same rules of international morality can obtain between one civilized nation and another, and between civilized nations and barbarians, is a grave error." And yet Israel cannot afford to ignore men like Falk, or cede a powerful weapon to the barbarians, or underrate the significance of international law in creating a climate of opinion. It must instead insist that if the UN and its members are serious about preventing a further degradation of the rule of international law, if international law is to regain any authority, the blatant anti-Israel bias must be dropped.