Melanie Phillips has a must-read analysis of the problem with the human rights community as it now stands. In so doing she has an interesting (and probably controversial thesis about both the biblical origins of human rights and the reasons why today’s “human rights advocates” have made Israel a major target.
I don’t have time to comment now, but will in the coming days. Meantime, I leave it to my readers to comment.
The ‘human rights’ witch-hunt
FRIDAY, 25TH SEPTEMBER 2009
As readers may know, I have had my differences with the American civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz – specifically, over how American Jews can continue to support Barack Obama given his acute hostility towards Israel and appeasement of the Arab and Islamic world. Nonetheless, all credit to Dershowitz for mounting a devastating onslaught upon Richard Goldstone and his shocking travesty of justice masquerading as judicious analysis for the UN Human Rights Commission on Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. In this piece, Dershowitz accuses Goldstone of conducting a ‘kangaroo court’ in which he
abandoned all principles of objectivity and neutral human rights.
And in this terrific piece he excoriates Goldstone’s ‘wilful and deliberate’ refusal to hear the other side of the story – Israel’s side: the most elementary precondition of justice and fairness. As I wrote here, the mandate Goldstone was given by the UN required him to be thus one-sided and unjust, singling out Israel alone for investigation and thus merely collecting the evidence to uphold the prior verdict of guilt – an utter negation of legal and ethical principles which he sought to conceal by presenting a dubiously revised version of his mandate which bestowed a veneer of even-handedness, while delivering precisely the rigged verdict that the UN had required of him. Dershowitz tears him to shreds by showing how he refused to take evidence from Col Richard Kemp, Britain’s former commander in Afghanistan who had previously stated that during Cast Lead Israel had behaved with globally unprecedented ethical care to avoid killing Palestinian civilians — evidence which would have holed below the water-line the blood-libel Goldstone was assembling from overwhelmingly partisan sources that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians.
Dershowitz has written countless powerful articles and books attacking the Israel-bashers. Yet his onslaught upon Goldstone has a different quality. It is a cry of anguish. He has clearly set out not just to destroy Goldstone’s report but to destroy Goldstone. Thus he states:
His name will forever be linked in infamy with such distorters of history and truth as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and Jimmy Carter.
The reason for this all-out attack is surely that Goldstone personally embodies the two most nightmarish, perplexing and agonising aspects of the witch-hunt against Israel: that a malevolent campaign based on bigotry, falsehoods and injustice marches mind-bendingly under the banner of ‘human rights’; and that so many of its leading proponents are Jews.
Goldstone is one of the most pre-eminent practitioners of ‘human rights’. A former judge of the South African Constitutional Court, he served as the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. If there is a high priest of the religion of ‘human rights’, Goldstone is it. And he is also a prominent Jew – indeed, according to his daughter, he is ‘a Zionist and loves Israel’.
That’s why, as Dershowitz says, his name invests the falsehoods in his report with credibility. But worse, far worse than that for Dershowitz, this report threatens to destroy the moral high ground of the whole ‘human rights’ culture.
That’s why he cries:
Every serious student of human rights should be appalled at this anti-human rights and highly politicized report… [Goldstone] no longer deserves the mantle of a human rights advocate. He has done more to destroy the credibility and objectivity of human rights than any credible human rights personage in modern times.
To save the reputation of ‘human rights’, Goldstone’s reputation has to be eviscerated and buried. But alas for Dershowitz, it’s not that simple. For Goldstone is not an aberration. Not just on Israel but on a host of other issues, ‘human rights’ has become an Orwellian synonym for an attack on human rights. It has become a judicial wrecking ball which is being deployed to shatter the fundamental principles of both western civilisation and national identity.
This is almost wholly obscured by the fact that it was western civilisation which produced the concept of human rights in the first place — the sacredness of human life, the equality of all people, the seminal importance of freedom, law and justice – and declared these to be universal principles. That’s why ‘human rights’ lawyers protest that their doctrine cannot possibly constitute an attack on western civilisation, because it is rooted in that civilisation’s own foundational principles.
The crucial point, however, is that these were not universal principles but – very different, this – culturally particular principles to be applied universally. They derived from a particular set of religious ethics which gave rise to western civilisation — principles promoted through Christianity but deriving from the Hebrew Bible. Without that Biblical moral underpinning, there can be no basis for freedom or equality or respect for life.
This idea — derived from a particular set of religious ethics to be applied universally — is critical. When the founding fathers wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident… that all men are created equal…,” they were in effect expressing their own cognitive egocentrism. Not only are all men (and women) not self-evidently created equal — we all have different talents and strengths — but no society before the 18th century — and certainly not the Greeks, not even their most radical proponents of democracy, the Athenians — ever declared all inhabitants of the same polity equal, with the exception of biblical legislation.
The notion that this exceptional notion of equality should be extended to the entire world was/is a messianic one — “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks” (i.e., the aristocracy will exchange their weapons of dominion for tools of honest manual labor). The idea now bandied around that this is a “no duh” norm for the entire world shows just how little people who expound on human rights understand.
As for the kicker in that statement — culturally particular principles to be applied universally — now we’re in the delicate realm of cognitive egocentrism, cultural imperialism, and all the confusions to which trying to make this universal without recognizing the origins create. In a nutshell I’d rephrase the Founding Fathers’ remark about
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…
with the following: