With the butchery of children and the massacre of over 100 more civilians in one town alone, the Syrian government has reached a new peak in its gruesome list of achievements. For over a year, the world has witnessed people being slaughtered, day after day.
These words will have little if any effect, and still they must be said: The actions of the Assad government, or any other forces involved in the unbearable killing of civilians is deplorable, contemptible, and inhuman. This is nothing short of a war crime and a crime against humanity. All of humanity.
I say this as a private individual. But the values also express what I view as the shared moral and ethical basis of my ideological community: the Israeli left. I don’t really like the label, because to me human rights are a universal starting point whether one is conservative or liberal. But certainly those who advocate human rights for Israelis, for Palestinians, for minorities, migrants, citizens and strangers, must share in this condemnation.
Lately, the new sport of certain right-wingers (and Im Tirzu is not the only one) is to accuse the left for failing to speak out strongly enough. This is a screaming hypocrisy from the right, who never shed even a crocodile tear over Arab tragedies, but mostly hopes they’ll all kill each other. And if they can bait the lefties in the meantime, they think, at least the Arabs turned out to be good for something. The sickening trivialization of suffering should be the shame of all right-minded right-wingers.
However, as a whole, the Israeli left has not been highly vocal on the topic, although some have indeed made statements of condemnation. I would personally like for all of us who struggle for human rights at home to join the chorus of condemnation – certainly as individuals, and where appropriate, as organizations. Any justifications of why the left has not done so pale in light of the urgency, or what Israelis call “the command of the hour.”
If we truly embrace the universalism of human rights based on the natural rights of all people, this value must arise out of our souls, and transcend the profane realm of politics or strategy, as an immutable truth. Many of us are secular and don’t have too many transcendent beliefs. This is the moment to call upon them.
I do hear the argument made by blogger and human rights worker Yoni Eshpar that Israeli human rights groups would be overstepping their specific mandates on this issue, when there are so many other ongoing and tragic violations around the world. And he’s right that no such statement from the left will satisfy its critics.
But this isn’t the time for anyone on the left to give a &*^%$. It’s the Syrian people, stupid. That’s why I support Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak in their condemnation of the killing, although their motivations are so clearly cynical.
Let’s not be naïve – probably the last thing Syrians care about is the support of Israelis. But there is power in countries, organizations and individuals, regardless of identity, uniting to condemn and then putting policy behind their words. It’s this kind of global chorus that can lead to a stepped-up sense of international urgency following diplomatic efforts that have so far failed to stop the carnage, leading so far to the ousting of Syrian ambassadors on Tuesday and some talk of military intervention (although with high skepticism, which I share).
My colleague Noam Sheizaf set an excellent example when he concurred with Foreign Minister Lieberman, whose political positions we detest, when the latter recommended that the Israeli government denounce the killings. Noam also spoke precisely for me when he said:
Furthermore, dealing with a massacre taking place across the border would serve as another acknowledgment that Israel, and Israelis, are part of the Middle East, and as such, share the concerns of other people living in the region. It is the kind of psychological shift the local public discourse should have made years ago.
Yes, there are horrors happening elsewhere, too tragic and too numerous to name. But one-fifth of Israel’s population is Arab and Israel is located in the Middle East – this counts as our tragedy too. The people being killed are related culturally, ethnically, linguistically to the largest minority where I live and that minority is integral to my identity as an Israeli.
More importantly, they are related to me as human beings.