Certain rights should be inalienable — yet Israel refuses to grant them to Palestinians and the world continues to treat the country as a rights-based democracy. What does this absurdity say about human rights as a political tool, and about the powers, entities and institutions that speak in their name?
Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK David Rotem laid out some of his beliefs and world views in an extensive interview with Israeli financial daily Globes a few weeks ago. One of Rotem’s statements – which made the headline of the piece – was that “human rights are [reserved] for people who are citizens of the state.”
Rotem was referring the Israeli High Court of Justice’s decision to strike down, for the second time, an amendment to the “anti-Infiltration Law,” which authorized the prolonged imprisonment of asylum seekers who entered the country illegally. The final word in this legal battle has yet to be said, as Rotem’s committee will soon discuss and advance yet a third version of the law, which in all likelihood will be also be challenged before the High Court.
Yet when it comes to Israel’s decades-long occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, Rotem’s statement captures the entire logic of the system. This logic is tolerated, and often even accepted, by entities and institutions that see themselves as guardians of human rights. In that sense, that fact that a man like Rotem now heads the Israeli parliament’s constitutional committee is more telling than it seems. Human rights here are not a given, but something that are reserved for one category of people and deprived from another.
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Many 20th century scholars, even liberal ones, have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of human rights as a political concept that can be used for advancing freedom and dignity for all human beings.
The fact that these “inalienable” rights were quickly attached to the concept of “national rights” and citizenship is even more troubling. Jewish philosopher Hanna Arendt pondered the fate of the person who is not entitled to citizenship – making it “legal” to strip him of his human rights, too. The result is a “legitimate” form of abuse, which could actually be worse than what preceded the...Read More