By Nasim Ahmed
Countering an allegation of wrongdoing with another allegation of wrongdoing is universally accepted as a misguided fallacy; two wrongs don’t make a right. This fallacy, however, has become a common theme in the current polarized political discourse.
Take the “Muslim ban” ordered by US President Donald Trump as an example. Instead of universally condemning the executive order, some pursued to deflect its racist and Islamophobic overtones by pointing to a number of Muslim majority countries that also have a ban on Israeli citizens entering their country.
On the face of it the accusation is not false. While it is completely incorrect to suggest that there is a Jewish ban, as claimed, there is indeed an Israeli ban. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the countries banned under Trump’s executive order – Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Libya – all block Israeli citizens from entering their own countries, and the measures are also enforced in Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
That said, this accusation is a false equivalence devoid of historical and political context. The comparison isn’t just a case of countering an allegation of wrong doing with another allegation of wrong doing; it’s a complete red herring.
It’s been pointed out that comparisons between America and Arab-Israeli relations “fly in the face of reality”. The relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and some Muslim majority countries, is one of war since 1947 – for the last 70 years.
“The boycott of Israel by Arab nations is a completely different thing,” professor Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics told the Independent. “The Arab world offered Israel a kind of a deal – a Palestinian state in return for normalized political relations. But we are not talking about these small warring states, we are talking about the leader of the free world, the defender of human rights. What Trump has done has undermined America as a moral voice in the world.”
The deal offered to Israel, is the same deal endorsed by the international community including the EU and the US, under the so called Middle East Peace Process. Unwisely, however, most countries decided against conditioning normalisation of relations with Israel to its ability to fulfil obligations under international law and the consensus of the international community.
In doing so, Israel has been allowed to flout its obligations under international law without facing any consequences; conditions which it was required to meet before becoming a member of the international community. After two failed bids to become a member, the UN admitted the new state into its body on 11 May 1949. But it did so with a number of conditions.
The recommendation of the Security Council and of the Committee in favour of the admission of Israel was the outcome of a long process that had begun outside the United Nations and later continued within the organisation. Within the UN, concerns over the plight of refugees, prompted members to voice that the “General Assembly, which owed allegiance to the high humanitarian principles of the Charter and which had only recently adopted the Convention on Genocide and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should be mindful of the plight of three-quarters of a million human beings”.
Strong disapproval of Israel’s membership was put across. Gleaning through the plenary UN meeting discussing Israel’s membership of the UN, there was a strong sense that the UN’s moral position was being compromised. Member states acknowledged that Israel’s admission to the UN was unique, “because never before in history had the forcible invasion of a country and the expulsion of its original inhabitants been welcomed by countries professing their attachment to justice and peace”.
Displaying rare foresight, member states added that: “It would not be a happy omen for the United Nations if it were to reward aggression by approval and admit to membership a government which had not only disregarded the wishes of the United Nations, but had also indicated its intention to continue to do so.”
Noting Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians, Israel’s membership to the UN was made conditional on reversing the historical injustice carried out against the Palestinians. The general consensus was that Israel vowed not to pursue policies inconsistent with the resolutions of the Assembly and the Security Council. There were five major points of concern about Israel’s admission: its position toward internationalization of Jerusalem, its position on refugees, its stand on borders, its willingness to observe UN resolutions, and its failure to apprehend the assassins of UN envoy Count Folke Bernadotte.
Official United Nations records show that Israel “had failed to give satisfactory answers on any of the main issues raised in the Ad Hoc Political Committee, overseeing Israel’s membership. It was clear in the minds of member states that Israel intended to do practically nothing regarding the fate of the displaced Arabs. Equally, it had done nothing substantial in the matter of the assassination of the late United Nations mediator.
Documents from the preliminary discussion at the UN also show that the world body was gravely concerned about the displaced Palestinians, who it was said “continued to suffer from starvation and disease”. After recognizing their plight the committee stressed: “Who would make good the humiliations they were suffering? What restitution would be offered for the death of their children? Who would compensate them for the loss of their property and their country?” It was noted that members of the committee did not believe that any of those things would be done by the delegations which favored the admission of Israel, or by the Jews themselves, who had systematically driven a whole nation out of their native land.
The recommendation given by the Ad Hoc Committee for admitting Israel to membership of the United Nations insisted that in the preamble of the UN declaration it should be stated that “the applicant [Israel] has invaded Palestine, driven its people from their homes, deprived them of their possessions, blocked their return and refused even to pay compensation.”
Member states, after acknowledging that Israel had presented itself as an eligible applicant and to giving the committee binding assurances to be a useful Member of the United Nations to uphold the Charter and its principles adopted UN Resolution 273, accepted Israel into the United Nations on the condition that it undertakes to uphold the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees. The resolution required Israel to specifically comply with General Assembly Resolution 194 of 11 December 1948 which Israel agreed to comply with.
While nearly all western governments normalized relations with Israel on the presumption and good will that Israel would in time fulfill all the conditions in becoming a full member of the UN, some, mainly Muslim majority countries, decided against taking a similar generous stance.
Nearly seven decades have since passed and Israel is further than it’s ever been in fulfilling its obligations under international law. Emboldened by the failure to bring it to account, Israel has continued a policy of ethnic cleansing and colonization adding a multitude of other transgressions to its name. Given this depressing situation can anyone seriously criticize the countries for not fully normalizing relations with Israel until it fulfills its obligations? If anything, history has judged these countries to be correct to not extend their good will and generosity to the fledgling state of Israel. Unaccountability for historical injustice rarely leads to a better situation; it’s done nothing but embolden Israel to behave as though it’s above the law.
(This article was first published in Middle East Monitor)