MONDAY’s edition of the British newspaper The Guardian contained an obituary for Marek Edelman, whose claim to fame was his leading role in the famous Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, when Jews trapped in a part of the occupied Polish capital surprised the Nazis by putting up a brave, albeit ultimately futile, resistance.
The obituary noted that among the first actions of the Jewish Combat Organization that Edelman helped to found and eventually led was the assassination of Judenrat officials, who were accused of being Nazi collaborators. Against the odds, Edelman survived; and he subsequently decided to remain in his homeland rather than emigrate to Israel.
There can be little doubt that he would nonetheless have been honoured as a hero in Israel. And deservedly so.
While reading about Edelman, the thought crossed my mind that anyone fulfilling a comparable role today in a ghetto called Gaza would inevitably be tagged as a terrorist and, in all likelihood, targeted for assassination. By the same Israel.
It’s tempting to dub this hypocrisy, but it’s more insidious than that. It’s the notion that robbing one group of people of their rights, their dignity, even their lives, is an unspeakable crime against humanity, whereas meting out a very similar treatment to a different group of people is either perfectly acceptable or, at worst, a relatively innocuous indiscretion.
This criticism certainly applies to Israel, but cannot by any means be restricted to it. It is applicable equally to Muslims who get all fired up when faced with accounts, accurate or otherwise, of injustices committed by others against their brethren in faith, but who are frequently unmoved when Muslims kill each other, or when crimes are perpetrated against followers of other religions. Similar patterns of behaviour can be found among other groups, religious, racial and ethnic.
In the majority of cases this refusal to recognize the Other as a fellow human being in every sense is readily discernible to the objective eye. However, where Israel is concerned, there appears to be a peculiar dearth of objectivity. A visceral hatred of the Jewish state contrasts with the stance that it it must be defended at any cost, even when reason dictates that its actions are utterly indefensible.
There are, of course, significant exceptions. A small but, hopefully, growing proportion of Israelis are unwilling to countenance a situation whereby grievous wrongs continue to be committed in their name. And many Jews in the so-called diaspora, including those who are favourably disposed towards Israel, feel soiled by the state’s moral depredations.
The advent of the Obama administration raised the prospect that their concerns would be shared by Israel’s largest single source of military and economic sustenance. The new US president sought only a small concession from Israel in requesting that the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory be suspended. The government of Binyamin Netanyahu apparently resolved that Barack Obama could safely be ignored.
It would not have been entirely unreasonable to assume that Washington, in turn, would use the Goldstone report on the military assault launched by Israel against Gaza last December to lean on its chief ally in the Middle East. Instead, the US appears to have capitulated completely in the face of the Israeli regime’s confected outrage over indisputable charges of gross human rights violations.
Not only has the US decided that the nearly 600-page report, based on a meticulous investigation, must not be broached in the UN or anywhere else, it appears to have prevented even the Palestinian Authority from bringing it up.
What makes such behaviour particularly unconscionable is the fact that Richard Goldstone, the former South African judge and UN war crimes prosecutor, is both Jewish and a declared Zionist. He accepted the UN Human Rights Council’s commission only once it agreed that the investigation should extend to both sides of the conflict, and his report is sharply critical of Hamas for its indiscriminate missile attacks on Israeli territory.
He concentrates, however, on Israel’s flagrant disregard for civilian safety in the pursuit of military objectives, and concludes that if Israel and Hamas fail to suitably investigate their own actions, the Security Council should refer them both to the International Criminal Court.
In the unlikely event of it ever coming to that, the American veto will undoubtedly be deployed yet again in defence of the most retrograde elements in Israel, the ones who absurdly declared that the "report was conceived in sin and is the product of a union between propaganda and bias". Which effectively means – as the decidedly unfriendly handshake between Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas in Obama’s presence last month signified – that the status quo will be maintained.
Yet the status quo is not only inconducive to peace, it is also untenable. There is a growing body of opinion that only a concerted international campaign of divestment in Israel and a boycott of Israeli goods – along the lines of the global movement that pulled the rug from under apartheid in South Africa – can make a serious difference.
"There is," as someone relatively insignificant once pointed out, " a struggle going on. It’s happening an ocean away. But it’s a struggle that touches each and every one of us. Whether we know it or not. Whether we want it or not. A struggle that demands we choose sides … It’s a choice between dignity and servitude. Between fairness and injustice. Between commitment and indifference. A choice between right and wrong."
That someone was Barack Obama. As a student in the 1980s, he was taking a stand against apartheid. He was calling for divestment. True, South Africa’s transformation into a non-racial democracy required a historic compromise – but it was propelled by sanctions that international public opinion insisted upon in the face of shameful resistance from the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
The time has come to do it again, for reasons that are not all that different.