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The international miscarriage of justice in The Hague

Should non-democratic, non-pluralistic societies that hold human rights in contempt be allowed to use the ICC as a way of defending themselves against democracy?

The International Criminal Court in The Hague on Sept. 24, 2017. Credit: Flickr/jbdodane.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague on Sept. 24, 2017. Credit: Flickr/jbdodane.
Dan Schueftan
Dan Schueftan

“He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah 5:7)

Sooner or later, international organizations become morally perverted. This is because of the moral defect of most of their member nations, who are not democratic, not pluralistic, and do not know the meaning of human rights.

At best, they are authoritarian regimes like Turkey, Russia, most Arab states, and Africa, even when they have “elections,” “parliaments” and “courts.” At worst, they are totalitarian in the sense of China, or barbaric like North Korea, Iran and Syria. This non-pluralistic majority is reflected in the character of international organizations.

The pluralistic minority lends these organizations legitimacy by their very participation, as it does not condition that participation on the holding in check even of the worst perversions of values. The evil prosper because the good have no moral courage.

This misconstruction is called “the international community,” and it is mainly seen in the United Nations and its various branches. With a few interesting exceptions, the anti-pluralistic majority at the United Nations revolves around the “unidentified” states, comprising more than two-thirds of the organization. Other organizations are supposedly more “professional,” but most of them draw legitimacy and political inspiration from the United Nations.

The biggest and most important group of democratic, pluralistic nations, the European group, is caught in a paralyzing trap. On one hand, its members are aware of the absurd, despicable nature of many of the international body’s decisions. But on the other, the Europeans have created and internalized the folktale that the world can and should behave according to the dictates of a fiction known as the “international community,” which ostensibly represents the will of most of its constituent nations, as expressed in the United Nations more than in any other framework.

The Europeans, who have grown addicted to the ethos of military and political weakness, have a need to believe in their ability to lead this (fictitious) camp. To lead it and build up their status within it, they need to either deny that the United Nations and its organizations are perverting their values, or accept it. In the end, they lose on both ends: they sold their moral high ground for a mess of pottage, and now carry painfully little weight in shaping the world.

The moral perversion of the United Nations and the bodies that follow its lead focuses on a false symmetry between non-pluralistic societies and open, democratic ones. The role of these organizations, according to most of their participants, is to obscure the moral difference between the absolute evil that characterizes their own behavior and the inherently imperfect good of democratic societies.

By obscuring that distinction, they successfully lock down forgiveness for their own atrocities in much of European public opinion and a smaller part of U.S. public opinion, and instill in Western societies feelings of guilt for their sins, both real and imagined. When it comes to Israel, with help from a considerable chunk of the European elite they have managed to turn things around entirely and paint barbaric acts as heroism by oppressed victims, and Israel’s efforts to defend itself as war crimes. Without European support, both active and passive, they would not have been able to.

While the International Criminal Court’s recent ruling that it may accuse Israel of war crimes is more damaging than condemnations by the United Nations, there are signs of positive change in the Europeans’ conduct in The Hague. It should be noted that the authority of ICC judges to discuss the territory of “Palestine” has been recently rejected, not only by Israel and the Biden administration but also European nations that recognize the authority of the ICC—primarily, Germany.

The explanations are legal, but the issue itself is blatantly political: Should violent societies that hold human rights in contempt be allowed to use the ICC as a way of defending themselves against democracy, in the framework of a twisted kind of symmetry that compares the imperfectly good to the thoroughly evil?

Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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