The values we stand up for

Reflections on discussions with Secretary-General António Guterres and his advisers reveal a profound commitment to values upon which the UN was founded.

Leah Goldin, mother of Hadar, speaks at a press conference, August 5, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Leah Goldin, mother of Hadar, speaks at a press conference, August 5, 2018
I recently had an opportunity to take part in meetings at the UN, with significant member states’ ambassadors and representatives. The discussions focused on the case and cause of Hadar Goldin. However, the insights they offer transcend the specific, are particularly timely, and bear significant ramifications for public policy and external relations regarding Israel’s standing in the international arena, and perhaps even more poignantly, regarding our own evolving collective identity as a state, a society and a people.
Reflections on discussions with Secretary-General António Guterres and his advisers reveal a profound commitment to values upon which the UN was founded, on the ashes of the Holocaust, and the genuine personal accountability of the current secretary-general to fundamental values entrenched in the Geneva Convention enacted 80 years ago; to renewing or creating an imperative “rules-based world order”; and to promoting, upholding and protecting the values upon which this order was intended to secure.
With regard to the specific issue of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed – all held by Hamas in blatant violation of the law, morality and basic human decency – Guterres corroborated that their return to Israel is an unconditional obligation under international humanitarian law. He committed to include this obligation as an integral part of the reporting mechanism under Resolution 2474 on Missing Persons (passed June 11, 2019), and in his own reporting on its implementation. Further, he undertook to factor Hamas’s standing violation of obligations in his reporting. In this context, and more generally, he clearly and unequivocally assumed responsibility to combat the culture of impunity, recognizing that failure to do so rewards and empowers it.
Beyond statements, appreciating the need for practical manifestations, Guterres committed to raise the issue with donor countries who pledge humanitarian aid to Gaza in their upcoming gathering in September. Further, he acknowledged that international humanitarian law is binding to all state and non-state actors; and that all UN state parties are accountable to these obligations, including those involved, in any way, with efforts to advance prosperity or peace in the region. Finally, he undertook to instruct UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov with regard to international law obligations, as part of his mandate.
Beyond this case and cause, there are critical insights for the State of Israel, which must be identified, understood and internalized. At the highest level is the imperative to recognize the opportunity and responsibility to “step out” of the docket of the accused, in order to maintain the moral fabric and uphold the foundations upon which the modern State of Israel was founded. Zooming in, considering the cacophony controlling our airtime weeks before an important election, it is particularly significant to comprehend the insights offered by these meetings, to challenge the paradigms they stem from, and to implement a completely different approach.
Whether a result of “learned helplessness,” or a conscious decision, deep distrust of the rules-based order, however understandable, is detrimental on many levels. Indeed, this “order” did not seem to apply to Jews world-wide historically. As double standards are applied to the State of Israel, as it is delegitimized, as it is demonized, it can easily be claimed that it does not apply today either.
HOWEVER, FOR those committed to the miracle that is the State of Israel, the current understanding and conduct, as revealed at these meetings, should sound alarm bells. Rather than engaging more deeply in and through shared values, in and with the family of nations and those committed to the much-needed “rules-based global order,” it appears that Israel is withdrawing deeper into itself, feeling as misunderstood as it in fact may be, further shutting itself out and off.
This is neither a call for methodical or genuine naïveté, nor a claim that the ever-present, mutating phenomenon of antisemitism, rearing its hideous head once again, will change. Rather, it is a rational and urgent call to maintain our moral fabric – remaining true to our foundational values for our own collective preservation, continuity and enhancement based on the comprehension that the politicization of human rights has been cynically and intentionally used and abused in order to undermine the very foundations of a rules based global order upon which the Geneva Convention was constructed.
To be clear, this understanding is imperative not only so that we speak the language of the “family of nations,” though that may be important enough, but in order to ensure and enhance the sustainability of our own individual and collective identity, promoting, upholding and protecting our own rules-based moral fabric. Continued compromise or enablement of politicization of these foundational values amounts to self-deprecating denial of identity; deepens the rift with Diaspora Jewry espousing those same values; threatens our continuity; and ultimately enables and empowers the success of those intent on turning Israel into a reviled pariah state.
We simply do not have the luxury for disengagement of this kind. It is critical to recognize the need to empower leadership and representatives that will take responsibility, challenging current paradigms; recognizing the imperative to engage and act in the global arena; knowing, comprehending, reclaiming and utilizing the language of rights in their depoliticized form to engage with friends and foes; for our own self-preservation and continuity as a people.
At this historical crossroads, based on our collective memory, in the face of the unraveling reality and in anticipation of what lies ahead, it is insufficient to name values that we stand for. It is high time to vigorously and clearly name, uphold and protect the values that we are willing to stand up for.
The writer is part of the legal team advising the Goldin family pro bono. A legal and social activist and publicist, she is researching the topic of free speech as part of the Human Rights under Pressure–Ethics, Law and Politics doctoral program and is a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. She was a Telem Blue and White candidate for the 21st Knesset.