Report on “Rescuing Human Rights” Conference at UC San Diego
by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
Davey, a long time member of the Tikun Olam reader community, lives in San Diego and attended theRescuing Human Rights program hosted by StandWithUs at UC San Diego this week. I wrote about the event before it occurred. His report is below:
Stand With Us and Tritons for Israel presented “Rescuing Human Rights” on Wednesday evening May 15th at the University of California San Diego. Moderated by Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, the panelists included Brooke Goldstein, a human rights attorney, Zuhdi Jasser, described as a “devout Muslim” and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and last and least, Avi Bell, Professor of Law at the University of San Diego School of Law and at Bar-Ilan University, an expert on the laws of war.
There was no organized counter demonstration, but three armed police were visibly at the ready. On entering the auditorium, signs reminded attendees that placards and uncivil behavior would not be tolerated. The early attendees were an older crowd, about one-half over 60 I would guess. These attendees arrived largely as couples or families and form perhaps the loyal backbone of the local “Stand With Us” organization.
The evening began with a harangue by the moderator about the many instances of human rights violations worldwide that are not reported or investigated by certain human rights agencies, including the UN. The list of horrors was long and graphic. Stephens stated several times that these agencies were derelict except in the case of “one state.” He went on to distinguish between “real” human rights abuses and the human rights issues in Israel, though the distinction was lost on me.
Jasser’s theme was that religion is an individual thing and that governments should get out of the way. He claimed that he was freer to practice Islam in the US than in many Islamic states and that such states are dominated by Sharia law, law dispensed by clerics.
Bell emphasized that the self-appointed guardians of Human Rights are simply not doing their jobs. He explained that private land transactions–an Arab selling his land to a Jew–is a capital crime in the West Bank and that such a law is plainly anti-Semitic. Yet such legal restrictions on the buying and selling of land are very much on the books in Israel! Are these laws anti-Semitic, as well? Amnesty International was faulted for finding “facts tailored to their agenda.” One might object to such a claim by responding that, even so, they nonetheless have facts.
Finally, Ms. Goldstein offered a vivid description of the abuse of children by Islamists, teaching children the glory of martyrdom and stuffing them into suicide belts. We should be aghast that the rights of these children are not protected and advanced. She asked why the human rights agencies aren’t focused on these abuses.
The arguments made, the ideas broached, seem almost inconceivable to me given the sponsorship of the meeting by the State of Israel (Stand With Us.) And that is the point: Israel would love to change the nature of the human rights discourse, and the evening was indeed devoted to that purpose. Yet, how can a State so utterly deficient on the subject, suddenly come to sponsor human rights events? It is a brazen concept, even insulting.
The risk of opening debate on human rights is so severe for Israel, that one might think they would not want to take it. Apparently, they are so bedeviled on these matters, they must feel they have nothing to lose! But, every argument offered by the panel was specious and easily-deflated. For example, a listing of unreported, unrecognized human rights abuses worldwide does not relieve Israel of its own culpability. Any parent surely comes to know that the child caught doing wrong will attempt to divert blame by pointing to a sibling or a neighbor and their yet more horrendous deeds. All parents learn to discount these transparent efforts. Yet, here it is again. Israel’s accountability is not diminished one bit by the sins of other states. And Jasser’s call for separation of Church and State would not play well in the Jewish State where rabbinical organizations and religion in general is State-sponsored.
Ms. Goldstein, however, was particularly smug and self-righteous in her condemnations of the Islamist abuse of children as suicide bombers, human shields, and warriors. Here, too, the bubble is easily popped: During Q & A, I asked, via notecard, that inasmuch as her specialty is the violations of children’s human rights, would she comment on the abuse of the 300 children killed in operation Cast Lead? She backed away from the question, reiterating that we can agree that it is not right for Islamic children to be abused, which I took as a plea of nolo contendre. Bell, however, offered a heated response rooted in the fiction of human shields and the rules of “war” etc. (Of course, Cast Lead was only war from the Israeli point of view as there was no actual other side, just a civilian population subjected to F-16’s and tanks! War? More like murder.) Bell’s remarks were greeted with some perfunctory applause, all of it from the front section of older people, the neatly attired old guard who arrive early and fill up the first rows.
The mention of the 300 children, a fact that I cannot escape and I do not let others escape, did cast a pall, if only for the moment, over the proceedings and crashed whatever silly hope the organizers might have had that perhaps nobody would rub their collective noses in Israel’s abundantly terrible record. Given this moment, I stalked dramatically out of the auditorium unnoticed by anyone.
My impression is that SWU has launched a crafty but potentially risky plan to engage on human rights issues and they have selected Islamophobia as the main avenue of approach, telling graphic stories of Islamic-based abuses of human rights. The program should crash in any open forum precisely because the record in Israel is so well-known and documented by the very agencies they assault. So, the preacher only preaches to the converted, the old-guard.
The attempt to hide the sins of Israel behind other outrages worldwide servesonly to open the door to discussion of Israel’s crimes. If SWU cannot animate new, sophisticated individuals, it is just spinning its wheels. Let them spin: If this is the best they can muster, I am that much more assured that I am on the right side of things here and that they will not win many young hearts and minds by this approach. The discussion offered no insight or perspective, and is in this sense just as vapid and hypocritical as anything from Dershowitz, Oren, and the rest of the Israel gang out there. Human rights will not be advanced or “rescued” by a paid charade such as this.
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