All Israeli citizens who hold human rights and democratic values dear should not only support Palestine’s bid to join the International Criminal Court, they should be disheartened by their own government’s response.
Dr. Ishai Menuchin
These days the government of Israel is once again warning the Palestinian Authority not to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), threatening it with an immediate and severe response. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stated Wednesday that the PA should be the one to feel threatened by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for “maintaining an alliance with a terrorist organization, Hamas, which commits war crimes,” and that the Israeli government “will take steps and protect soldiers serving in the IDF – the most moral army in the world.”
If this is the case – if Netanyahu truly believes his own assertions – a ruling by the ICC should be of no concern. Nevertheless, successive Israeli governments has not joined the ICC, and have repeatedly gone through great trouble to prevent Palestine’s membership in the court. This has included comprehensive diplomatic efforts, national public campaigns reiterating that the “world is (once again) against us” and explicit threats directed at the Palestinian government.
In 2000 the Israeli government declared that “as one of the originators of the concept of an International Criminal Court […] its representatives, often carrying personal memories of the Holocaust – the most heinous crime to have been committed in the history of mankind – enthusiastically contributed to all stages of preparation of the Statute with sincerity and seriousness.” Not long after this declaration was made, however, Israel withdrew from the Rome Statute, and the “enthusiasm” and “seriousness” of its representatives were directed elsewhere.
Human rights vs. national values
Fifteen years later and all we have are two contradictory political positions on the ICC and its universal values. For the past few years we have been witnessing an ideological struggle among the Israeli public between universal values and national-particularistic ones. In this realm, national positions promote the uniqueness of Israeli society and its unique circumstances, whereas universal positions promote the human condition as a whole, particularly the institutionalization of universal values in Israel. This is a sphere in which the government of Israel is investing great resources to expose, broaden and separate our Israeli identity from the that of “others.” Advocators of universality and civil society organizations strive to lessen these marks while expanding the legitimacy of “otherness” and promoting universal values. This is the context in which the ICC discussions are taking place.
It is interesting to discover how the institutional national approach to universal values often supports their significance and implementation elsewhere, while simultaneously emphasizing the complexity of the local situation and regarding those who promote the same values in the Israeli context with distrust. It has become customary among right-wing groups to view the universal values promoted by human rights organizations with contempt, while trying to “expose” what ostensibly drives their actions – greed, dishonesty, hatred, anti-Semitism and collaboration with Israel’s enemies, to name just a few.
Nonetheless, all Israeli citizens who hold human rights and democratic values dear should support Palestine’s bid to join the ICC, and be disheartened by their own government’s response. It is time that universal values and norms become the framework through which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed and resolved. It is time that complaints of torture and suspicions of war crimes be examined by the Israeli justice system. Otherwise, they will be investigated by The Hague. It is time that we understand that the ongoing public discussion is taking place not only because “the entire world is against us,” nor does it only concern subjugating the (lacking) Israeli legal system to that of the ICC. Rather the discussion concerns the norms and values that guide Israeli society. Will these be norms put the nation above all else, or will they be universal and democratic?
Dr. Ishai Menuhin is the Executive Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and a chairperson for Amnesty International – Israel. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.