Friday, October 13, 2006

Letter to Michael Ignatieff, in response to this:

Dear Mr. Ignatieff:

Only recently have I become aware of the great storm that your comments about the Israel-Lebanon war last summer provoked.

I do not share in Mr. Harper's accusation of you being anti-Israel, but I do have great sympathy and understanding for the anxiety that your words caused in the Jewish community. When I heard of your move into politics, I was somewhat worried that you would not be able to sustain that intellectual decency and fairness which I always associated with your academic work. And I consider this incident as an illustration of that anxiety. It's not the actual wording of your message that matters. People with a crucial stake in the conflict, on either side, are not listening to the words. They are looking for the hidden message, the coded signification concealed within the folds between the words and they are all too politically savvy to miss the nuances.

Thus, when you speak of Qana here:

Hezbollah’s strategy is to lure Israel into an escalation of violence that will radicalize the Arab world and cause Israel to lose its remaining international support. The terrible tragedy in Qana, which claimed 57 lives, is thus a victory for Hezbollah.

you de-facto accept the Lebanese inflated number of deaths. The real number was put at 28 lost lives. You ignored that, and one wonders if that was a genuine mistake (which I can't believe) or an attempt to mollify Lebanese outrage by siding with their fake numbers.

Furthermore, when you are leaving the task of determining whether a "war crime" was committed by Israel in Qana to international bodies, you are not being straightforward about it. You are saying you are going to abide by those decisions. Now we know how the record stands as far as justice for Israeli life is concerned, when it comes to international bodies. Let me remind you of the ICJ ruling on the matter of the Fence, and the hundreds of anti-Israeli UN resolutions, which automatically stake the deck against any fair judgment of Israel's actions. No, Mr. Ignatieff, referring Israel's alleged crimes to an international body for judgment is taking an a-priori anti-Israel position. In this, I agree that your position could be construed as anti-Israeli. Don’t ask me about an alternative path. Israel is a country of law and order, where its courts dearly and sacredly uphold justice for all. You lived and taught in Israel. You must be aware of the impeccable integrity of its Supreme Court, where such charges are determined. They are the ones that ought to weigh in on the veracity of this accusation.

You ought to keep close to your academic decency, which was manifest in what you wrote in your book: "Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry”

Global human rights consciousness, moreover, does not necessarily imply that the groups defending human rights actually believe the same things. Many of these NGO’s espouse the universalist language of human rights but actually use it to defend highly particularist causes: the rights of particular national groups or minorities or classes or persons… The problem is that particularism conflicts with universalism at the point at which one’s commitment to a group leads one to countenance human rights violations towards another group.

Only a few days ago, Mary Robinson voiced a rare concern for the bowdlerization of the noble mission of human rights when she said this:

I hoped that the Human Rights Council would act in a human rights way, and set up a commission of inquiry into both [human rights violations by Israel and Hizbollah]. Alas - and this was a problem of the previous Human Rights Commission - it only set up a commission of inquiry into what had happened in Israel, by the Israel forces. And that is not the human rights approach; that is the political approach. And if the Human Rights Council continues to taint human rights with the political approach, this time because of the Organization of the Islamic Conference countries... They had the majority, they wanted to hit Israel, not do human rights work.

So that's one very big problem. And then, I would very much agree with Human Rights Watch. How can you have a Human Rights Council that's not absolutely outraged by what's happening in Darfur? It's getting worse by the
day.

It was a surprising attempt to rid the subject of human rights, which is about the right of the individual human being to live in safety and peace, of the particularism and antisemitic language that have accrued to it. And I am not conflating what is called legitimate criticism of Israeli actions, whether I agree with that criticism or not, with the anti-Semitic idea that Israelis (aka Jews) are less entitled to defend the lives of their citizens than any other nation on earth.

I live in Montreal, where my son's school was firebombed by two Palestinian youths, where a shopper at "Adonis", a supermarket catering to Lebanese Montrealers, asked a Jewish woman to not shop there anymore, because she refused to donate money to Lebanese victims. These are the risks to the peaceful everyday life of the Jewish community, a harbinger of things to come.

Your carefully worded speech is not heard for what it, or you, want to say. It is read for what people can squeeze out of it, in the service of their own interests. It enables to feed their outrage and sense of entitlement. These are intoxicating emotions. You are not just a politician, you are an ethicist, and you have to take these consequences and misreading into account, before you opt for appeasement of a perpetually disgruntled population with maximalist expectations.

I am nearly heart broken over your moral abdication of an obligation to make sure that the universal application of human rights will not become ever again a political gambit, Mr. Ignatieff.

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