News Analysis

Saturday 20 September 2014

Richard Humphreys: Surely Israel isn't the planet's worst human rights offender?

Published 20/01/2013 | 05:00

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When I heard that Trocaire had prepared an online educational resource for secondary schools on the Israel-Palestine question, I didn't exactly sit up and take notice at first. I'm sure it can't be too bad, I thought.

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But my worries began when I looked more closely at the Palestinian flag on the front page. Not a good start in terms of balance.

Inside, the pack features two stories of a boy and a girl, each giving an account of hardship and suffering. A perfect opportunity to hear from each side?

When I was in school, we read a novel about love across the barricades, featuring Catholic Kevin and Protestant Sadie and their relationship across the religious and political divide. Great, I thought. Maybe Trocaire will do something similar for today's schoolchildren. Or maybe not. Both of Trocaire's stories turn out to be complaints of Israeli wrong-doing seen through Palestinian eyes.

The more I read of the Trocaire pack, the more it seemed to be a case of four legs good, two legs bad. Palestinian victims and Israeli oppressors.

Rather puzzled by this, I contacted Trocaire. They told me that this online resource has now been taken off their website in order to review it. They have now decided not to put a revised version up and have decided to focus on the issue of boycotting produce from Israeli settlements.

But the real question is how did such a presentation of the conflict get to be written in the first place?

The Trocaire document gives a potted history of the conflict which tells us that Israel popped into existence in 1948, with no mention of the Holocaust or the need to have a homeland for the Jewish people.

It goes on to say that the blockade of Gaza is designed to "punish Hamas" – no mention of preventing illegal rocket attacks on Israel's civilian population. It's as if Israel decided to attack Gaza just for the sheer hell of it.

What gets me about the Middle East is how threatened people seem to be by the only Jewish state in the world.

There are 126 states with a Christian majority, 49 with a Muslim majority. Nobody questions their right to be there. Yet there is only one Jewish country, Israel, and a lot of people have a difficulty accepting its right to exist.

Why?

Trocaire say they have not called for a boycott of Israeli goods as such. They say that their campaign asks the Irish Government and the EU to ban goods from Israeli settlements from entering the EU "because they are illegal" and because these goods are labelled as "produce of Israel".

Well I suppose Trocaire's concern for correct consumer labelling is to be commended but it is hardly the key reason for a boycott.

You don't need to be much of a lawyer to know that when it comes to political debate, words like "illegal in international law" or "war crimes" are often used as if these were proven matters of fact rather than, as they sometimes are, tendentious and biased opinions.

But no matter how questionable you believe Israeli settlements are, the real question is, why should anyone single them out ahead of everywhere else for a boycott campaign? Do Trocaire really believe that Israel is the worst human rights offender on the planet? Think about it for a second.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East that fully protects gay rights. Religious freedom. Free political dissent. Equal rights for women. By contrast, the Palestinian regime has somewhat different views on women and gays, as well as, shall we say, a rather old-fashioned attitude when it comes to the death penalty.

And the squeeze is now being put on Christians in the Arab world. Maybe you would have thought that persecution of Christians would be a bigger issue for the Catholic bishops and their aid agency, Trocaire.

I'm glad that Trocaire's resource will no longer be available to schools – except maybe in a media studies class about balance.

Richard Humphreys is the Labour Party councillor for the Stillorgan ward.

Sunday Independent

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