And, as it happens, to an outraged Muslim-majority and non-western world, Russia and China get to act like heroes, boosting their attempts to construct an illiberal bifurcation. They can just sit back and watch the West burn itself alive with hypocrisy.
With its defence of Israel and its defence of mass murder, the liberal democratic West is hammering the nails in its own coffin. When Assad, Iran and Russia were allowed to get away with what I and many others believe will one day be widely seen as genocide in Syria, many of us warned that this was the new world order. It was not a one off. Then you had the Rohingya and Uyghurs. Then you had Russia invading Ukraine. To name but a few instances of the new landscape of illiberal ‘multipolarity’.
You can’t pick and choose universal values. You can put an asterisk beside the term universal to render it as a particular and thus abandon the idea of universal values altogether.
That bombing civilians is a war crime ought to be a universal value. That bombing civilians due to their intrinsic features, their ethnicity and identity and, interrelated to this, their geographic location, is a genocidal war crime ought to be a universal value.
This is not controversial. Don’t take my word for it. Take it from the great Israeli scholar of international law and former president of, I think, Tel Aviv University, Yoram Dinstein, in his ‘The Conduct of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict’, where he states: “There is no genuine difference between a premeditated attack against civilians [such as what Hamas did on October 7] and the reckless disregard for the principle of distinction [such as what Israel is doing in Gaza right now].”
Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel, said on, iirc, October 8th that there is no distinction between Gazans and Hamas. He said Gazans had voted for and supported Hamas. What does that make them? Fair game for death. Since then, not a single Israeli official will even pay lip service to the LAW of the principle of distinction between civilian and combatant. In fact, they have stated that if you’re in North Gaza, you’re a target and will, as their leaflets say in Arabic, “face the consequences”. Even if you go to South Gaza, you’ll still face airstrikes – even if you flee, you’ll still be targeted by Israel, as has happened now on several occasions.
And they’ve lived up to this rhetoric – over 10,500 Palestinians dead, the vast majority of them civilians, including over 4,300 children.
Now, you can disregard what international law says on this if you want. But you can’t then pick and choose and pretend to be a proponent of progressive universal values. You either embrace the era of genocide in two ways: you can come out and embrace a world where the deliberate murder of civilians is fine and dandy whether in Gaza or Ukraine, or you come out and say that international law doesn’t apply to Palestinians because, like Israeli officials, you don’t consider them to be fully deserving of what it means to be human (in legal terms or any other terms, such as intrinsic terms). Either way, you’re embracing a world of brutal lawlessness, layered with ethnic and cultural prejudices – it seems people have forgotten that the current Israeli government is a far-right one, full of self-proclaimed fascists and proudly racist Kahanists.
To put it in concrete terms, you can’t say it’s okay for Israel to completely abandon international law and commit genocidal acts of state terror and mass murder against Palestinians in Gaza, but it’s wrong for Russia to do the same in Ukraine. Well, you can say it, but you might as well volunteer to go to Russia and drop a few bombs on Chernihiv, as you’re making it so much easier for Putin to justify his own murderousness. And for other state monsters out there too, as it happens. At best, you’re putting out there the idea that there is a hierarchy to human life – 1400 Israeli lives are worth an indefinite amount of Palestinian lives? Then come the connotations and attachments to this, which is racism and ethno-supremacism and everything the West likes to imagine it has blasted into space. These things are now inescapable. Some supporters of Israel on the centrist-liberal side of things are just bursting to say it.
This isn’t about blowback or any of that rubbish. It’s about the West, which claims to be the arbiter of progressive liberal democratic values, fatally wounding those values and associated systems by so enthusiastically committing itself to supporting Israeli state terror and its now genocidal acts of violence in Gaza.