Benjamin Netanyahu did not invent the idea of leveraging the Holocaust for political gain. Yet, like so much else in current Israeli politics, he is taking even that low to new depths.
According to Haaretz, Israel’s prime minister intends to exploit the Fifth World Holocaust Forum – convening this week in Jerusalem to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz – to call on world leaders to publicly back Israel’s self-serving position that the International Criminal Court in The Hague has no jurisdiction in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Netanyahu began this exercise barely 48 hours after ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced last month, after five years of preliminary examination, that she is ready to open an investigation into potential war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, pending an ICC judicial decision on jurisdiction.
Wasting no time, Netanyahu responded that "new edicts are being issued against the Jewish people - anti-Semitic edicts by the International Criminal Court."
This cynical reframing is staggering, both intellectually and morally.
The Palestinians who live under Israel’s occupation are a people bereft of rights. For decades, their existence has been governed by the arbitrary whims of their occupiers. They cannot vote for the government that controls every aspect of their lives. They have no army to defend themselves. They do not control the borders of their own territory, or their ability to travel abroad, or even how long it will take them to get to the nearest Palestinian town – if even allowed to do so.
They also have no recourse to justice through Israel’s legal mechanisms. Israeli prosecutors and judges process Palestinians in the occupied territories through a "justice system" that delivers an almost 100 percent conviction rate. At the same time, this system works to ensure impunity for Israeli security forces who kill, abuse or torture them.
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For Palestinians, quite literally, the International Criminal Court is their court of last resort. Yet Netanyahu, backed by Israel’s entire political leadership, is trying to quash even this faint hope.
How dehumanizing, to insist on denying a people’s last recourse to even an uncertain, belated, modicum of justice. How degrading to do so while standing on the shoulders of Holocaust survivors, insisting that this is somehow being carried out in their name.
What a lack of historical memory and moral compass it must take to ignore the key lesson the world gleaned from the ashes of the 1940s: that no person should ever, under any circumstance, be left bare of rights, precisely because – as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights tells us – "disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind."
But Netanyahu goes even further, arguing that the very same ashes give rise to the opposite conclusion: that there is a people – the Palestinian people – who should remain bare of rights under all circumstance.
A bare life with neither land nor ballot, court nor justice. Where freedom of movement extends only as far as the nearest checkpoint. Where soldiers can enter any home, at any time. Where the only constant is how little control one has over one’s life.
Shame on you, Prime Minister Netanyahu. Shame, also, on any world leader who goes along with the travesty of equating a people’s attempt to achieve justice with anti-Semitism. Taking this cowardly position does not only betray the Palestinians’ hope for freedom and dignity. It joins in the slow death of the lessons that have guided humanity for the past 75 years and are now drowning in the rising authoritarian tide around the world.
This is not the world that humanity tried to build after World War II, after the Holocaust – but it is the world of Putin and Trump, Modi and Orbán, Netanyahu and Bolsonaro. Indeed, we are already living in their cowardly new world. Yet it remains in our hands to decide if the past’s painful lessons will be allowed to be turned on their head in order to further oppression – or remain loyal to a vision of freedom and dignity, justice and rights, for all.
Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B’Tselem. Twitter: @HagaiElAd