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Why Israelis should welcome Palestine's ICC bid

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.”

The Security Council votes on a draft resolution submitted by Jordan on the establishment of “a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine” within 12 months, December 30, 2014. (UN Photo/Loey Felipe)

The Security Council votes on a draft resolution submitted by Jordan on the establishment of “a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine” within 12 months, December 30, 2014. (UN Photo/Loey Felipe)

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.

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    1. Tomer

      The p people’s invented phantom nation will join ICC.

      Gee, I wonder whether Alice’s Wonderland, Tolkien’s Middle Earth or CF Foster’s Narnia may join too.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bar

      The person who chairs an organization that without full knowledge of the facts has publicly accused Israel of war crimes is telling Israel that it should be happy to be placed in yet another international diplomatic crossfire where it will be subject to the political whims of others.

      Perhaps Dr. Menuhin could stop with the pretend-naivete and acknowledge that the international “justice” community – and I include his NGO, HRW and their many colleagues-in-sin from Durban 2001 – have managed to destroy the credibility of international institutions as well as their own NGOs’ credibility with the immoral (and unethical) focus on Israel.

      76,000 Syrians were killed just in the last year, more people than the total of Jews and Arab Palestinians killed in the entire history of our conflict (and about 25% less than all the killed, including all the Arab dead, not just Palestinian Arabs), but, as always, the focus is on Israel. Shame on you.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ginger Eis

      Oslo is finally Dead. Dead and cold. And Mahmoud Abbas killed it with his ICC-maneuver – aided by the terrorist surrounding him at the Muqata and a bunch of presumptuous far-leftist political NGOs masquerading as “human rights” orgs and “legal” advisers! There can be no greater gift to the Israeli Right than this Palestinian suicidal maneuver. There can be no greater rude awakening to the Israeli Left than this ICC-maneuver! What a breathtaking stupidity! We are squarely back to the pre-Oslo era – and the enormity of this foolishness will gradually unfold in the coming weeks and months. Ultimately The Jewish State will win this war imposed on her by the Muslim-Arabs with the goal of smearing and de-legitimatizing the Jewish State and stigmatizing the Jewish People. The ultimate losers will be the terrorist Muslim Arabs and their corrupt elite. Thank you, Great Abu Mazen, for tearing up Oslo. No Israeli PM could ever have succeeded in doing that. The Sword Of Vengeance has been drawn and you will be among the first to smell its wrath!

      Reply to Comment
      • Phil Fumble

        This move by the PA is an example of the persistent unwillingness to address the pathologies that grip Palestinian society. These pathologies are the core reason for the tensions and conflict with Israel–and rather than dealing with them, the leadership of the Palestinians is, if anything, falling even deeper into denial. The more they fail, the more they blame Israel for their failures. This is an assault on reality, a slander of Israel, and a massive disservice to Palestinians. It would be helpful if more nations, starting with the United States, said so.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          Surely “the core reason for the tensions and conflict with Israel” is the absurd notion that north-east European Jews could found a state (as opposed to simply living) in the heart of the Arab middle east. Tensions rose in 1929 and 1936 only when your coreligionists started claiming “the Western Wall is ours” and building institutions to create a state and dispossess and then expel the rightful residents.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Phil Fumble

      The idea of the Palestinian Authority taking Israel to court over war crimes is among the most grotesque and absurd developments imaginable, a moral inversion of staggering dimensions. The PA and Hamas, for example, intentionally target civilians–including using Palestinians as human shields–whereas Israel takes extraordinary steps to protect them.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Phil – spare us this nonsense – the Israeli army cannot even “take extraordinary steps” to protect its own soldiers, let alone helpless civilians. Let us remind you of the scores on the doors: Cast Lead – 13 Israeli dead (10 soldiers, 4 killed by Israel) Palestinian deaths 1417 dead (including nearly 1000 civilians); Protective Edge – 5 Israeli civilians (1 Thai worker), 66 soldiers (4 by friendly fire) 2192 Palestinian dead including at least 1523 civilians. In those two operations then 300 Palestinian civilians were killed for every Israeli civilian.

        I believe that Israel military does not deliberately target civilians, though individual soldiers clearly fire indiscriminately or target civilians waving white flags, but its weapons of choice (bombs, missiles, artillery shells, flechettes, white phosphorus etc) deliberately used in heavily populated civilian areas inevitably kill civilians. Even your targeted killings kill more innocent by-standers and family members than they kill militants.

        Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Now that really surprises me. Why would Ross possibly believe it was necessary to put pressure on the Palestinian. He is a religious Jew, founder of AIPEC-sposored WINEP, has close links with the American Jewish community, “had an inherent tendency to see the world of Arab–Israeli politics first from Israel’s vantage point rather than that of the Palestinians (according to Aaron Miller),had a “bad habit is preconsultation with the Israelis” (according to a state department official), became chair of the Jewish People Planning Policy Institute, was a noted advocate of the Iraq War and the Project for a New American Century, opposes negotiations with Iran and believes that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and should not be divided. Have you any other honest brokers you can refer us to to prove your point of view?

        Reply to Comment