From the Archives: Dr. Jacobs’ Argument on MSM Coverage of Human Rights Abuses

Two recent posts on The Augean Stables have referred to Dr. Charles Jacobs’ hypothesis on why the Western human-rights community focuses on “crimes” committed by Israel against the Palestinians, while saying little, and doing even less, about serious non-Western human rights violators.  Global Jihad Warming in China and NYTimes Strangely Uninterested by Palestinians Killing Palestinians highlight cases in which this dynamic comes into play. The Uighurs of China have been oppressed by the Han majority and have had little religious freedom, yet the media rarely reports on their plight. It is also no secret that the MSM gives far less attention to the many Palestinians killed by their own people, but if Israel is suspected, headlines trumpet the story on the front page.

Dr. Jacobs’ article is from 2002, but it is still a useful paradigm for considering modern coverage of human rights abuses. 

Why Israel and not Sudan, is Singled Out

by Charles Jacobs                                                                                                    Boston Globe, October 5, 2002

Harvard President Lawrence Summers recently criticized those on his campus who speak in the name of human rights but selectively censure Israel while ignoring much greater problems in the Middle East. He described the divestment campaign against Israel on his campus as anti-Semitic “in effect if not intent.” But human rights (and media) attention is often disproportionate to the severity or urgency of human conflicts. What determines their focus is not mainly anti-Semitism. Nor is it the level of horror. It is the racial, religious, and cultural character of the perpetrators, not the victims, that determines the response of Westerners.

An instructive case is Sudan. Atrocities there exceed every other world horror. For 10 years the blacks of South Sudan have been victims of an onslaught that has taken more than 2 million lives. Colin Powell calls it “the worst human rights nightmare on the planet.” Yet with the important exception of the black Christian community here, there has been a disturbingly muted reaction from well-known American human rights champions. The media cover the deaths in Sudan only occasionally.

Do rights activists and editorialists care more for Palestinians than for blacks? Surely not. It is the nature of the conflict, I propose, not the level of horror, that determines the response of Westerners.

In Khartoum, a Taliban-like Muslim regime is waging a self-declared jihad on African Christians and followers of tribal faiths in South Sudan. Non-Arab African Muslims are also targeted for devastation. Two million people have been killed – more than in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, and Burundi combined. Tens of thousands have been displaced, and 100,000, according to the US Committee on Refugees, forcibly starved.

Western lack of interest is all the more stunning as Khartoum’s onslaught has rekindled the trade in black slaves, halted (mostly) a century ago by the British abolitionists. Arab militias storm African villages, kill the men, and enslave the women and children. Accounts by journalists and others depict the horror. In these pogroms, after the men are slaughtered, the women, girls, and boys are gang raped – or they have their throats slit for resisting. The terrorized survivors are marched northward and distributed to Arab masters, the women to become concubines, the girls domestics, the boys goat herders.

It is hard to explain why victims of slavery and slaughter are virtually ignored by American progressives. How can it be that there is no storm of indignation at Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, which, though they rushed to Jenin to investigate false reports of Jews massacring Arabs, care so much less about Arab-occupied Juba, South Sudan’s black capital? How can it be that they have not raised the roof about Khartoum’s black slaves? Neither has there been a concerted effort by the press to pressure American administrations to intervene. Nor has the socialist left spoken of liberating the slaves or protecting black villages from pogroms, even though Wall Street helps bankroll Khartoum’s oil business, which finances the slaughter.

What is this silence about? Surely it is not because we don’t care about blacks. Progressives champion oppressed black peoples daily. My hypothesis is this: to predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; look instead at the party seen as the oppressor. Imagine the media coverage and the rights groups’ reaction if it were “whites” enslaving blacks in Sudan. Having the “right” oppressor would change everything.

Alternatively, imagine the “wrong” oppressor: Suppose that Arabs, not Jews, shot Palestinians in revolt. In 1970 (“Black September”), Jordan murdered tens of thousands of Palestinians in two days, yet we saw no divestment campaigns, and we wouldn’t today. This selectivity (at least in the United States, does not come from the hatred of Jews. It is ” a human rights complex ” – and is not hard to understand. The human rights community, composed mostly of compassionate white people, feels a special duty to protest evil done by those who are like “us.”

“Not in my name” is the worthy response of moral people. South African whites could not be allowed to represent “us.” But when we see evil done by “others,” we tend to shy away. Though we claim to have a single standard for all human conduct, we don’t. We fear the charge of hypocrisy: We Westerners after all, had slaves. We napalmed Vietnam. We live on Native American land. Who are we to judge “others?” And so we don’t stand for all of humanity.

The biggest victims of this complex are not the Jews who are obsessively criticized but the victims of genocide, enslavement, religious persecution, and ethnic cleansing who are murderously ignored: the Christian slaves of Sudan, the Muslim slaves of Mauritania, the Tibetans, the Kurds, the Christians in Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt.

Seeking expiation instead of universal justice means ignoring the sufferings of these victims of non-Western aggression and making relatively more of the suffering of those caught in confrontation with people like “us.” If the Israelis are being “profiled” because they are like “us,” the slaves of Sudan are ignored because their masters’ behavior has nothing to do with us.

In the United States it is not predominantly anti-Semitism that causes the human rights community to single Israel out for criticism. It is rather our failure to apply to all nations the standards to which we hold ourselves. The effect, as Summers correctly said, is anti-Semitic. But it is also the abandonment of those around the world in the worst of circumstances whose oppressions we find beside the point.

32 Responses to From the Archives: Dr. Jacobs’ Argument on MSM Coverage of Human Rights Abuses

  1. Eliyahu says:

    actually, skin color is a red herring in the Arab-Israeli conflict. There is a broad range of skin colors among both Jews and Arabs. There are a lot of Arabs no darker than I am and many Jews are much darker than many Arabs. Look at the blue eyes of Bashar Assad and the pale skin of Fuad Siniora, who hates Israel as a good Sunni should.
    On the other hand, my grandfather, born in what is today Belarus, was brown-skinned. Swarthy or olive-skinned describes relatives of mine on both my mother and father’s sides.

    Yet, so influenced by “politically correct” indoctrination is so much of public opinion, especially “leftists,” that the empirical facts are not perceived.

    This false notion became apparent to me back in the 1960s, when “leftist” publications and other agitprop organs began to criticize Israel for having been set up on the land of “non-white people.” At the time, there was only an insinuation made. They didn’t write that Jews were white, or pale white, just that the Arabs were “non-white.” This fit in with the illusions of a “3rd World” and the Bandung movement and a “non-aligned movement.” But this sort of skin color-based agitprop was not limited to “leftists” in Britain where certain Establishment type anti-Zionists picked it up.

    Insinuating a contrast between Jewish and Arab skin colors was a subtle way of saying that the Jews were racially alien to the Middle East. The Judeophobes of 100 years ago in Europe used to regularly insist, and quite openly, that the Jews were alien to Europe. They depicted Jews as swarthy which was proof of their non-European nature. Now, Jews are portrayed as Whites fighting Non-White Arabs, which is one of those “conventional lies” that a new Max Nordau should talk about. What has happened is that the urge 100 years ago to see Jews as alien to Europe has been transposed to the Middle East, where instead of being swarthy or olive-skinned aliens among us pure white folk Nordic Europeans, the Jews are now insinuated to be alien “whites” among the po’ downtrodden “non-white” Arabs. The 14 centuries of history of Arab-Muslim oppression, humiliation, economic exploitation of Jews disappear in a passion-play-like melodrama of alien “whites” oppressing “black folk.” Also forgotten is the centuries-long enslavement of Blacks by those same “non-white” Arabs.

    See link for a graphic illustration:
    http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=12598830&postID=1290420904020805940

    Jews are alien here, alien there, alien everywhere. The prejudice of 100 years ago is the same as that of today. Only the details have been changed.

    This phenomenon also shows that “leftist” groups are manipulated by psychological warfare and serve too as channels for transmitting and introducing false, ahistorical notions into the public discourse. Another deduction from this phenom is the incapacity to see the world empirically among the chattering classes.

  2. [...] “human rights complex” comes to mind: it doesn’t matter who suffers, or how much; it matters who perpetrates [...]

  3. Lynne T says:

    Meanwhile, Hamas’s Khalid Mishal offers his support to Sudan’s president following the International Court’s levying of charges against the latter in connection with Darfur.

  4. Cynic says:

    What is this silence about? Surely it is not because we don’t care about blacks. Progressives champion oppressed black peoples daily.

    Certainly not if one looks at Zimbabwe. Why was South Africa not censured for its Security Council vote that nullified sanctions against Robert Mugabe?
    Because the progressives don’t care about blacks in general. Certainly not the terrible plight of Zimbabwe’s masses.
    They only get on their high horse when their pre-ordained bogeyman appears.

  5. Cynic says:

    Also forgotten is the centuries-long enslavement of Blacks by those same “non-white” Arabs.

    And it was from those Arabs that many African slaves ended up in the Americas, sold as chattel.

  6. oao says:

    They only get on their high horse when their pre-ordained bogeyman appears.

    that’s at least in part because the progs know that the arabs, mugabe, sudan’s bashir et al don’t give a ff about what they think and would completely ignore them even if the progs criticized them. it’s much more effective to dump on israel and the west, because they often dance to the progs’ crap.

  7. [...] Most (all?) Israeli “human rights organizations” are genuinely moderate by my definition, dedicated to documenting Israel’s violation of the human rights of others. Indeed, they are so moderate, that they will unfairly side against their own side. The excessive predilection for this counter-intuitive direction produces what Charles Jacobs calls “the Human Rights Complex.” [...]

  8. [...] course all of this is directly related to Charles Jacobs insight about The Human Rights Complex in which the indignation of the “Human Rights” community derives far more from the [...]

  9. [...] of all, at one level this needs to be understood in the context of what Charles Jacobs calls, the Human Rights Complex, which argues that if you want to gauge the intensity of moral outrage at Human Rights violations, [...]

  10. [...] the “human rights complex” holds: “If you want to gauge international “human rights” indignation, [...]

  11. [...] himself with his own analysis. It’s a classic case of what Charles Jacobs calls the “Human Rights Complex,” in which the “third world” “other” is treated as little more than a [...]

  12. [...] It’s shot through with what Charles Jacobs calls the “Human Rights Complex” – if you want to know what gets the Western “human rights community” exercised, [...]

  13. [...] It’s shot through with what Charles Jacobs calls the “Human Rights Complex” – if you want to know what gets the Western “human rights community” exercised, [...]

  14. [...] or cultural identity of the person who has committed the offense. As Charles Jacobs one wrote, (Augean Stables From the Archives: Dr. Jacobs’ Argument on MSM Coverage of Human Rights Abuses) To predict what the human rights community (and the media) focus on, look not at the oppressed; [...]

  15. [...] It explains the dynamics behind the Human Rights Complex. [...]

  16. [...] to his selective empathy, I begin to realize how tight the grip of what Charles Jacobs calls the Human Rights Complex is on our journalists, and their party-buddies, the UN workers and “Human Rights” NGOs [...]

  17. [...] Israelis, we have difficulty with a moral equivalence, that ends up as a moral inversion, with the profound condescension and bigotry it involves in its abysmally low standards for the Palestinians, and the inversely exacting [...]

  18. [...] the argument of defending the settlements). That’s cruel to Israel, and, on some level, quietly racist, because it refuses to hold the Palestinians to even the most basic moral [...]

  19. [...] that Kristof would readily apply to his own country, or, say, Israel. Is reverse prejudice – not applying basic standards to “minorities” and other subalterns because they couldn’t live up to them – a form of [...]

  20. [...] broad tolerance for morally reprehensible behavior on the other side. Neo-progs have the Human Rights Complex: if Westerners can be blamed for some infraction of human rights (a fortiori the Jews, now the [...]

  21. [...] broad tolerance for morally reprehensible behavior on the other side. Neo-progs have the Human Rights Complex: if Westerners can be blamed for some infraction of human rights (a fortiori the Jews, now the [...]

  22. [...] Whatever his motivation, it undermines his claim that the Jewish Hulk is hyper-ventilating at the “slightest criticism” of Israel. On the contrary, what he reveals here is his impatience either with the notion that Israel is a democracy – which strikes me as a pretty harsh criticism – or with the notion that the other countries in the Middle East (Turkey, Lebanon, Gaza) are not democracies – which strikes me as a total lack of criticism. Indeed, it bespeaks the tendencies of self-degrading Jews to fall prey to the Human Rights Complex. [...]

  23. [...] a self-censoring political correctness and a fear of being called racist. The feminist version of Human Rights Complex. “When women are harassed and subjected to this in society, they’re denied an equal place in [...]

  24. [...] illustrates better the principle that, when it comes to the Human Rights Complex, Israel is the whitest of the [...]

  25. [...] and something beyond all moral suasion. As Charles Jacobs put it, in discussing the “Human Rights Complex” (something Goldberg undoubtedly shares), you don’t criticize your cat for chasing mice [...]

  26. ErisGuy says:

    I should start reading this website regularly.

    “We live on Native American land.”

    This is hilarious. EUros off Neanderthal lands!

  27. [...] has here made the classic moral inversion so characteristic of HRC: he treats Muslims as a force of nature, and not as autonomous moral agents. In his analogy, the [...]

  28. [...] has made the classic moral inversion characteristic of the Human Rights Complex: he treats Muslims as a force of nature, not as autonomous moral agents. In his analogy, the [...]

  29. [...] small Jewish blemishes unbearable to Jewish progressives and “humanitarians” with Human Rights Complex should not confuse [...]

  30. [...] allusion to the embedded racism of the Human Rights Complex. but it seems to ”them”  as a sign of our moral cowardice, that we proleptically [...]

  31. […] Israelis, we have difficulty with a moral equivalence, that ends up as a moral inversion, with the profound condescension and bigotry it involves in its abysmally low standards for the Palestinians, and the inversely exacting […]

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