Human Rights

A hint of truth

Zvika Krieger has been reporting from Geneva on the Durban II conference and related events. After telling how anti-Zionists hijacked one panel, he recounts a moment from an NGO panel on “Freedom Of Expression And Incitement To Racial Or Religious Hatred” that perhaps redeemed the whole nasty business.

When the chair opened the floor to questions, a dozen Jewish activists raised their hands, and of the five people called for questions, three were from Jewish groups. They were prepared with questions about the rights of Bahais by the “radical religious regime in Iran;” incitement to hatred in textbooks and classroom indoctrination in Arab world; and religious freedom in countries like Iran, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia.

Though most of the panelists gave the usual banal, pat answer to these questions, the most poignant response came from panelist Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who had spent most of his presentation criticizing human rights in the Middle East. “There are many brave human right defenders in the Arab world,” he said calmly in response to the questions from the pro-Israel activists. “It is not respectful to their hard work and sacrifices when the human right situation in these countries is cited not in a genuine concern but as way of political scoring or name-calling.” As one of the Jewish activists told me after the session, “It was such a powerful response because there was definitely a hint of truth in it.”

Indeed. To paraphrase Stephen Spender, if you don’t care about all human rights everywhere– if you’re just using them as a cudgel against your enemies– you don’t really care about human rights anywhere.