Phillip Adams' recent interview with visiting* US human rights lawyer and former Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor under Obama, Michael Posner (The business of human rights, LNL, 23/5/16), managed to expose yet another example of the PEP (Progressive Except for Palestine) phenomenon.
"In your affirmation speech to the Obama administration in 2009," asked Adams, "you said your vocation as a human rights lawyer had been shaped by the lessons of the Holocaust. What were those lessons?
Posner replied, "Well, my family... came from Europe, and on my mother's side, in Hungary, a number of my grandmother's siblings had been killed, and on my father's side, French Jews, had been involved in the Maquis, the underground... so I saw the horror of the human capacity for cruelty but also the resilience of the human spirit, the resistance, and that really influenced my decision."
OK, so Posner failed to answer the question, but, hey, who couldn't warm to a guy whose life's work was inspired by the French Resistance? So far, so good.
As the interview progressed, such egregious abusers of human rights such as China, Russia, Egypt, apartheid South Africa and Saudi Arabia came up for mention. But not Israel. Interestingly, it was Adams who raised the subject:
"We talked earlier about your work in Uganda and about the efficacy of economic sanctions, and yet you're not in favour of movements like Boycott Divestment Sanctions, BDS, which has been proposed against Israel over the occupation of Palestine."
"Yeah," responded Posner, "I don't believe that's the most effective way to make change there. I am absolutely committed to the notion of a negotiated settlement, a two-state solution. I believe very strongly, and I believe I was the first assistant secretary of the US to go to Israel. I went 5 times after the Gaza war, the Cast Lead war of 2009, to raise human rights issues. You've got to raise the issues. The need is real. Palestinian rights need to be respected, but I think these issues need to be negotiated by the Israelis and the Palestinians. They're obviously not doing it now but I think we need to keep reinforcing that rather than isolating Israel using boycotts."
Sound familiar? That's right, the stock standard Netanyahu line. In fact, the Israeli prime minister reiterated it only days ago:
"In a bid to head off the latest international initiative aimed at pressuring the parties to reach a Mideast peace deal, Israeli Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has offered to clear his calendar and sit down immediately for one-on-one negotiations with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas." (Netanyahu: Peace comes from direct negotiations, not from 'international conferences, UN-style', Patrick Goodenough, cnsnews.com, 25/5/16)
But apart from that, Posner's talk about his 2009 visits to Israel "to raise human rights issues" was less than honest.
Remember the UN's September 2009 Goldstone Report, which found that Israel's 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead against Gaza constituted "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population," and which accused Israel of war crimes?
In his definitive study of Operation Cast Lead, 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion (2010), Norman Finkelstein records that Netanyahu condemned the Report as "a kangaroo court against Israel," that the US Israel lobby called it "rigged" and "deeply flawed," and that the Obama administration "quickly fell into line with the Israel lobby," with Assistant US Secretary of State for Democracy Michael Posner condemning it as - ahem - "deeply flawed." (p 136)
But there's more. We now have access to some of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails, which reveal that:
"The State department devoted itself to, in its own words, 'deferring' UN action on Israeli war crimes, 'reframing the debate' about the atrocities, and 'moving away from the UN'... The messages, some of which are written by high-level State Department officials, expose the role of the US government in undermining the international response to the 2009 United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict, also known as the Goldstone Report... Publicly released Clinton emails reveal that the UNHRC, under heavy US pressure, postponed consideration of the Goldstone Report from October 2 until March 2010. While the UNHRC ultimately endorsed the report's findings on October 16, it took nearly 6 months for the body to urge the UN General Assembly and Security Council to refer the Gaza massacre to the ICC pursuant to 13(b) of the Rome Statute, which the US then blocked." (Deferring justice: Clinton emails show how State Department undermined UN action on Israeli war crimes, Jared Flanery & Ben Norton, salon.com, 20/11/15)
Integral to this process of neutering the Goldstone Report was our Assistant Secretary of State for HUMAN RIGHTS, Michael Posner:
"The State Department's attempts to 'defer' UN action on Israeli war crimes in Gaza are further evinced in a message from Michael Posner - a former assistant secretary of state who served as founding Executive Director of Human Rights First and is now a business professor at NYU. In a November 10, 2010 note, Posner discussed multiple trips he and US government officials took to Israel in order to discuss the Goldstone Report with the Israeli government. Posner revealed the US and Israeli governments worked together in order to 'reframe the public debate' around Israel's attack. He wrote: 'Our approach has been to offer our support and willingness to work with the Government of Israel to 'reframe the public debate' from defensive (responding to Goldstone or Flotilla reports and resolutions at the UN, etc) to a more productive narrative focused on the challenges of fighting an urban or asymetrical war. We are having productive, and generally positive preliminary conversations about a possible GOI white paper that would: 1) set the context, outlining the challenges in fighting an asymetrical conflict; 2) spell out the steps the IDF and other agencies have taken to address these challenges; and 3) identify ongoing challenges that Israel and other professional armies will need to address in the future'." (ibid)
[*To deliver the UNSW's Australian Human Rights Centre's annual lecture.]