The International Community: A figment of the mind
The "international community" is a shifty and shadowy ideal. Demands and verdicts are made on its behalf. The casualty is usually Israel, which tells you pretty much all you need to know
In two words we trust. How many people, and how often when they want to make a viewpoint sound like a fact, defer to a bodiless power called the International Community. Legend, we know, is often better than reality, and far more useful than mere facts.
According to legend, then – according to a real power named Wikipedia, the international community is,
“A term used to imply the existence of common duties and obligations between countries. Activists, politicians and commentators often use the term, particularly in the context of calls for action to be taken against political repression and to protect human rights.”
‘Imply’ would be the operative word. Activists and politicians calling “for action…to protect human rights” would be the give-away reference to people and bodies that view Israel and the devil in one frame, and who cloak what ails them by deferring to a ghost community.
Useful ghosts have to be incorporeal. The spectral community “with common duties and obligations” is the epitome of a useful ghost. It has no address, no defined constituents, and can’t be touched or seen.
But this hardly matters. It may even help, considering that a notional body can pack a punch above its weight. With power and concept being what they are – inverted buddies – the less defined and real a concept the greater its power to manipulate the masses.
Stalin’s Bolshevism and Hitler’s National Socialism were like that – incorporeal, not cast in stone. For a very good reason. From day to day it was impossible to predict what new canard or atrocity they might inspire.
Likewise the shifty shadowy ideal we call the international community. Without it diplomacy would hardly stand on its feet. Not-for-profit bodies like Oxfam or Amnesty or Human Rights Watch have to sprinkle the ineffable name on their case dockets to make them credible. As an arbitrary arbiter of good and bad, or to pass down all manner of verdicts on Israel, the ghost community wins hands down.
‘Halt settlement building!’
Why – what is wrong with Jewish settlements?
‘Who says they are?’
‘It’s the consensus of the international community.’
‘Make concessions to the Palestinians!’
‘Why – Israel made them umpteen times, but Palestinian leaders still won’t recognize Israel. And they’ve abused abundant opportunities – e.g. the Oslo Accords.’
‘No matter; Jewish settlers are the stumbling block to a two-state solution.’
‘Who said they are?’
‘The international community’ says so.
Thick and fast fall demands and verdicts, and with such wisdom and authority you’d think they came from the bible. They do. International Law is the holy tome of the international community; and about as real.
Go to Europe, oh non-believer. Consider her ways and believe.
Andrew Standley is one Euro lounge-about who quotes from the bible, loud and often. “The framework that we operate in is the framework of international law. International law is our bible.”
Then Hezbollah carried out a deadly attack on European soil, in Borgas, Bulgaria, and the world waited to hear what Europe’s bible had to say. Nonetheless Hezbollah remains a charity, the bible said. Meaning that terrorism, like Andrew Standley, operates in the framework of international law.
Or take France. It went to war in Mali because, its president said, “we cannot have a terrorist state at the door of Europe.” Yet Paris, 6,000 km away from Mali, looked askance on Israel 1 km away from Gaza, when it went to war over missile attacks on Israeli towns. France called it aggression. A double-edged bible, to be sure!
But to protest is hopeless and even passé. The international community is all in the mind, a patchwork of allies and adversaries looking after their own backs. And they need to. In Europe, remember, the Muslim element is immense, so a pro-Palestinian platform makes perfect political sense.
It also fits snuggly with economic imperatives. French President Hollande, leveraging the precarious Spanish economy, twisted Madrid’s arm to vote for Palestine’s upgrade at the UN. The Spanish in turn court favour with Arab members because they need votes to get a seat on the Security Council.
The UN more than most, defers to the spectre without body, soul or mind. It could even be a rule of the General Assembly to invoke the international community in every debate. The UN is the place where more figments of the mind are displayed than anywhere else. And ‘Palestine’ on its plinth has pride of place.
To mark his maiden motion (after the UN gave ‘Palestine’ observer status) Riyad Mansour called upon the international community to hold Israel accountable for violations and crimes and to save the prospects for peace and justice. He implored the world (another name for the figment) to take strong action to hold Israel accountable for violations of international law in the Palestinian Territories.
In that speech lurks enough figments to fill an Israel-loather’s handbook.
The UN wags other Israel-loathing tails. Take the Human Rights Council. Over the entire history of the Council there have been seven inquiry missions on Israeli operations in Gaza and the West Bank. And remember the factor of 50. By that factor the number of Palestinians who died in Israeli operations falls below the murder count in peaceful South Africa.
To the rest of the world the Council dispatched only five inquiry missions. Atrocities committed by Iran, China and Sri Lanka attracted not a single one. For good reason: Israel is a paradise for UN inquiry teams, while Iran, Syria, Gaza, etc are inquiry team hells.
But accept the UN for what it is – a god made flesh, the venerated voice of the international community.
It did make efforts long ago, weak and truncated efforts, to be even-handed. Two motions at the Human Rights Council were put up, but then withdrawn before the vote. One motion condemned suicide bombing as a crime against humanity. Another called for the right of Israeli children to be protected from belt-fitted suicide murderers.
Horse-traders buried both proposals. The Arab bloc did not like their flavour, and South Africa with trade benefits on the table and an eye on the Muslim vote back home, liked the flavour no better. The idea of human rights for the children of Israel was quite unpalatable.
But not to get the wrong idea; Israel’s own leaders bow to the ghost community. Prime Minister Netanyahu defers to it frequently.
“The construction blueprints that came to light risk causing unnecessary confrontation with the international community, at a time when Israel is trying to persuade the rest of the world to keep up pressure on Iran’s nuclear program. It creates unnecessary confrontation with the international community at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the international community to reach a better deal with Iran.”
But fickleness could be Netanyahu’s saving grace. There are times when he’s moved to swear at the ghost.
“I condemn the international community for its deafening silence in response to recent vows by the head of the Hamas militant group to fight on until the Jewish state is destroyed.”
What tonic is to gin, America is to the international community. The stamp of America imparts a civil and sophisticated tang. President Barak Obama invokes and involves the community at every turn. Everyone wants a piece of Obama’s policy-making for the Middle East, if only they could figure him out. Clearly he would like to build relationships with this bloc and that bloc, deal with Iran and its bomb, get buy-in from Arab and Israeli leaders.
Juggling is no simple act, and American policy-making is a juggling act. Nothing the Israel lobby can do will stop Obama joining with international demands on Israel, or passing down dicey verdicts. The international community is not kind to the Israel lobby. But in two words Israel’s enemies put their trust.
Steve Apfel is director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book, 'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics' (2012) and a contributor to, "War by other means." (Israel Affairs, 2012). His articles and blogs are published in several foreign journals and his new work, 'Bilaam's Curse: The enemies of Zion' will be published by Hamilton Books this year
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