Jewish World Review / May 29, 1998 / 4 Sivan, 5758

Jonathan S. Tobin

Jonathan S. Tobin Double standards here and there: Hypocrisy raises its ugly head in Israel and the U.S.

JUDGING OURSELVES AND OTHERS is a tricky business. If you think of yourself as basically good (as most of us do) and those that threaten your interests or safety as basically bad, you tend to judge yourself gently. And we discount our bad deeds — and those whom we support — in the name of supposed good motives.

Thus is it ever with nations as with individuals. When it comes to making deals we shouldn't make, or condoning things we shouldn't condone, or saying things we shouldn't say, hypocrisy is rife these days in both Jerusalem and Washington.

Torture is still torture

One of the most troubling instances of such hypocrisy is the current case before the High Court in Israel in which a human rights group is seeking to ban torture of terrorism suspects. According to B'Tselem, approximately 850 Palestinian Arabs implicated in terror activities are tortured every year. The torture, which includes sleep deprivation and "violent shaking," has received official sanction from Israeli courts in the past. They have accepted the notion that "moderate physical pressure" under specific conditions ought to be allowed if by doing so, the Israeli security services could extract information from a suspect that could prevent a terrorist attack and save lives.

Despite our abhorrence for such methods, that is a reasonable argument, since the state's obligation to protect its citizens in that case outweighs the terrorist's rights. But once such a procedure is sanctioned — not just in the margins of the law but codified in published judgements — can we prevent it from spreading to other parts of the legal system? Legal history shows that it cannot.

What's worse, Yuval Ginbar of B'Tselem told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, "Torture of Palestinian detainees is routine and is a bureaucratic procedure."

That's the rub. Israel's secret warriors are engaged in a dirty war against evil, brutal terrorists who will do anything to advance their goal of killing as many Jews as possible and destroying Israel. But can friends of Israel pretend that the violence of torture is not seeping into the whole justice system? Inevitably, torture influences everything else the police do.

That's why Israeli police brutality against peaceful demonstrators on the streets has become routine. It happened to right-wing opponents of the Oslo accords who demonstrated during the Rabin/Peres government and it has happened again to people on the other side of the spectrum. And who can forget the police riot last summer when Israeli cops manhandled Conservative Jews who wanted to pray on the Kotel Plaza in Jerusalem? When police brutality becomes routine in one sector of the justice system, it is virtually impossible to prevent the brutalization of the rest.

Though we are right to decry the hypocrisy of such "impartial" judges of Israel like the United Nations (which is largely silent about far greater abuses going on in the rest of the Middle East under tyrannical regimes), that doesn't excuse the silence of friends of Israel on this topic. I don't care for the political agenda of many who back B'Tselem, but in this instance they are right. Though Israel is judged by a different and higher standard than its neighbors, torture is still torture and is wrong in all but the most egregious circumstances.

Oh, that nasty Newt

Yet another entry in the annals of hypocrisy would be the way the White House and the media have come down on the latest set of pilgrims to the Middle East: Newt Gingrich and the Congressional Republicans. The Speaker of the House led a delegation from the House to Israel this week, and before he even set foot in the Land of Israel or opened his big mouth to say a word, he was accused of provoking violence!

What did the ever obnoxious Newt do? He merely expressed a wish to visit the proposed site of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. You remember that embassy? It's the one that presidential candidates promise to move to Israel's capital but which remains in Tel Aviv because of Arab pressure and State Department timidity. The Congress voted a couple of years ago to set a time limit for the move, but everyone knows that Mr. Clinton (the "best friend Israel ever had in the White House") will never allow that to happen because such a step would be an acknowledgment of Israel's undivided sovereignty in its capital. And we wouldn't want to disabuse the leaders of the would-be state of Palestine of their dreams of getting a piece of the city, would we?

Newt also had the temerity to place the blame for the peace process breakdown squarely where it belongs: Not on Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the whipping boy of both Washington and the press, but on the head of Yasser Arafat, who has violated the Oslo Accords with impunity.

For these statements, Newt was pilloried by the world press and pressured by the White House to avoid even visiting the future site of the embassy. What a joke. Though Newt usually has little trouble getting himself in trouble, this time he was the victim of the usual Israel double standard: Tell the truth about the abuses and lies of the Palestinian Authority and you are an extremist. Speak up for Israel's democratically elected government and you are an obstacle to peace.

Bill and Bibi's China tango

While the Middle East is home to some of the most egregious instances of hypocrisy, the Far East is no slouch either. And to prove it, the leaders of both Israel and the United States are heading to China. Though some might think Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to Beijing is motivated by a desire to escape from his latest bout of bad publicity (in this instance, a New Yorker magazine article, in which his media advisor is quoted as saying aloud what everyone else says privately about Netanyahu's own character and controversial spouse), the tour was planned a long time ago. It is part of Israel's ongoing campaign to get their share of profits from military technology sales to the world's most populous country.

Just as the government of the U.S. demeans itself by toadying to Communist dictators, so too do the democratic leaders of Israel. And just as Bill Clinton will stain the honor of the United States by consenting to take part in a ceremony at the site of the Tiananmen Square massacre, so too will Netanyahu. Some will make excuses that small countries cannot afford a moral foreign policy. My response is that countries that want others to treat them morally (as Israel has often not been treated) should hold themselves to a higher standard. Too bad, Israel won't.

As for Mr. Clinton, this one-time advocate of human rights will place the seal of infamy on his record with his upcoming visit to China. As charges swirl around the campaign contributions from Chinese officials and American companies who have exported illegal missile technology, the best defense I can offer for the president is this: I don't believe he had to be bribed to carry out an immoral foreign policy which placed the China trade above national security and human rights at the bottom of our national priorities.

Everything we know about the man says it came naturally. Hypocrisy rules.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger.

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©1998, Jonathan S. Tobin