Why Israel sees double standard in response to Wikileaks' Iraq files
The Wikileaks files on US actions in Iraq has some Israelis arguing they were unfairly singled out by a UN inquiry over the Gaza war.
| Tel Aviv
The Wikileaks release of US military field reports from Iraq that detail tens of thousands of civilian casualties in seven years of fighting is being used by some Israels to argue that their country is a victim of an international double standard on human rights.
With Israeli politicians facing possible arrest in Europe and their government facing allegations of war crimes stemming form the United Nations' Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza war, some Israelis are drawing a connection between the conduct of the US military in Iraq and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza. They say that the world's likely response – or non-response – to the Wikileaks revelations will demonstrate that Israel is held to a higher standard than other nations.
On Monday, Israeli lawmaker Michael Ben Ari said he filed a formal complaint with the UN, calling for war crimes investigations of senior American politicians and "international arrest warrants for US government leaders."
In a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he wrote: "I call on the UN to condemn the behavior of the US and especially its attempts to hide the facts... We need to expose the hypocrisy of the West... The world must understand who the criminals are."
Such a call emanating from Israel – usually a staunch US ally – may seem strange. But Mr. Ben Ari, a member of Israel's far right, isn't interested in prosecutions of Bush or Obama administration officials so much as he is in pointing out what, to his mind, is unfair criticism of Israel.
He's not alone. Gerald Steinberg, an Israeli-American professor of political science at Bar Ilan University, shares the view that the volume of international criticism of Israel is out of proportion, though he departs from Ben Ari when it comes to the case of the US.
"In the US, we already have a greater understanding. They know that they are vulnerable and they will be the next in line"' to be accused of wartime misconduct, says Mr. Steinberg, who also runs NGO Monitor, which has criticized non-profits that criticize Israel. "If this was a fair world and there were universal human rights, then Goldstone would open up an investigation, and the United Nations would meet to investigate the allegations… There would be more Wikileaks about violations in China and Saudi Arabia.''
Some Israelis complain of unfair criticism of the IDF that they argue holds the Israeli military to a higher standard than any other country. At the same time Israeli politicians and army officers often call the military "the most moral army in the world."
The Goldstone report faulted Israel for the deaths of many civilians during a war with Hamas nearly two years ago that left 1,400 Gazans dead in less than four weeks. Israel also faces two international panels investigating the May 31 killing of nine pro-Palestinian activists on the Mavi Marmara, which challenged Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.
"What the Wikileaks show is the fundamental difference in battlefield contexts,'' says Dan Diker, a fellow at the conservative Jerusalem Center for Public Policy. "Israel is fighting in its backyard in a fishbowl.... In Iraq, you are many thousands of miles away from the home front, and the military has much more control over who sees things.''
Iraqis carried out most crimes detailed by Wikileaks
To be sure, the vast majority of crimes detailed in the Wikileaks documents were carried out by Iraqis – though there are credible accounts of unarmed civilians shot by US soldiers. That last isn't exactly news.
Most such incidents have been written off as "heat-of-battle" accidents, though at least 23 US soldiers have been convicted for killing civilians in the Iraq and Afghan wars. Israel's much shorter war in Gaza has yielded three convictions of soldiers so far, two for the endangering of a Palestinian boy and a third for theft.
The Wikileaks release was featured prominently in Israeli newspapers and spurred sarcasm about the notion of the US facing a UN inquiry or the United Kingdom facing a boycott from its own academics. (Many British professors have called for a boycott on attending conferences in Israel.)
In the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, political commentator Zvi Barel wrote that condemnation of the US is muted across the Arab world because economic and security ties with the US are too robust to be severed overnight.
"It will be interesting how Turkey responds to the documents and whether it will term them a war crime or state-sponsored terrorism like it accuses Israel,'' he wrote. "Israel can be satisfied with the 'insurance policy' the documents give it against possible condemnation for its actions in the territories.''