Delegitimating Human Rights Organizations

Delegitimating Human Rights Organizations

Last year while working with an Israeli Human Rights organization in Jerusalem, I had an opportunity to see the State of Israeli through Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compare B’Tselem (a human rights organization) activists to traitors, and condemned all the Israeli human rights organizations. This happened partly because of B’Tselem’s support of the United Nations whose agency, UNESCO, had passed a resolution that denied the connection of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in Jerusalem. These events created a backlash against human rights organizations in Israel, and raised important questions on the issue human rights organizations and how they obtain their legitimacy?

Through various readings I have been able to explore that question, particularly, the State of Israel’s attempts in delegitimizing human rights organizations. My reflection seeks to answer the following questions: Can external validity such as the one provided by the international community legitimate Israeli human rights organizations in the absence of local support? Why do countries and leaders who often question the legitimacy of institutions such as the United Nations selectively rely on these same organizations to legitimate some of their local actions?  How can we explain the process of through which members of Israeli human rights organizations such Breaking the Silence lose their legitimacy considering that while serving as soldiers they were considered heroes? Does this lead to incompatibility?

These questions about the challenge of the legitimacy of Israeli human rights organizations occupies has occupied a central place in debates in Israeli and international media since last year. If legitimacy is a matter of consent (Zelditch, 2006), where do human rights organizations derive their legitimacy from, and given that they fight regimes and systems that perpetuate inequality, do they need any kind of consent to operate? Those eager to discredit human rights organizations in Israel argue that the organizations have lost touch with daily lives of Israelis, and that is why they are investing their efforts on the global front because they have lost all hope of generating change in Israeli public opinion.[1] They further argue that since the human rights organizations receive substantial amounts of funding from foreigners, they should not be trusted. Last year the state of Israeli passed a law that regulates Israeli human rights organizations.[2] The law undermines the legitimacy of the organizations by limiting their funding, and requiring them to state that they rely on foreign funding in all communication with the public and on TV, newspapers, billboards and online. The law also requires representatives of human rights organizations to declare that they depend on foreign contributions to the heads of parliamentary committees when participating in meetings. The idea here is to represent the organizations as deriving authority from foreign governments that fund them. Thus, questioning their legitimacy. Did they succeed? Although, I do not have statistics or any research to enable me to answer that question, through observation, and talking to Israelis as well as Palestinians, I learned that human rights organizations do not enjoy much support in the Israeli society.

Since the State of Israel presents itself as a democratic state akin to Western European or North American countries, the human rights organizations can claim legitimacy by appealing to norms, values, beliefs, practices, or procedures that are already accepted in a democratic society (Zelditch, 2006). But such a claim to legitimacy will only succeed to the extent that whatever it appeals to has already been accepted in Israel. For instance, the generally accepted human rights laws and conventions such as International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Convent on Civil Rights, and Universal Declaration on Human Rights. One will then expect that a country like Israel will allow human rights organizations to freely operate or better still, stop violating human rights. Unfortunately, the reality is different. So, how can human rights organizations in Israel gain legitimacy?

According to Zelditch, they need to challenge pregiven structures in Israeli society. These structures encompass norms, values, beliefs, purposes, practices, or procedures that legitimate power (Zelditch, 2006). They should strive to build local consensus “in specific, concrete situations out of whatever structure is pregiven and the specific circumstances of the situation” (Zelditch, 2006. P. 347).

NOTES

[1] Shlomi Eldar (2016). Why human rights NGOs are losing support of Israel Public. Al-Monitor, accessed on 3/27/2017 http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/en/originals/2016/10/israel-human-rights-ngos-losing-israeli-public.html

[2] Cook Jonathan (2016). Israel seeks to publicly shame human rights groups. Aljazeera, accessed on 3/27/2017 http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/07/israel-seeks-publicly-shame-human-rights-groups-160717070527290.html

Zelditch, M (2006). “Legitimacy theory” in Contemporary Social Psychological Theories. (California: Stanford University Press)

Thoughts on Sohail Hashmi’s Saving and Taking Life in War: Three Modern Views

Thoughts on Sohail Hashmi’s Saving and Taking Life in War: Three Modern Views

Human life is priceless. The Quran 6: 51 and 25: 68 cautions, “Do not slay the soul sanctified by God, except for just cause.” Sohail Hashmi has explored the views of modern scholars on when to preserve life and when to take it. He focuses on modern scholars because they seek to reinterpret the grounds for war – classical scholars were mainly preoccupied with how to conduct war because to them war was a norm; hence, one did not need to develop principles on when to go to war. Hashmi’s focus on modern scholars is also informed by the presence international law which is at tandem with Islamic. Hashmi discusses the views of Abu al Mawdudi, the founder of Jama ‘at-I Islam, Muhammad Hamidullah, and Wahba al- Zuhayli. The three scholars adopt the same methodology and substance in the study of the theory of jihad and more importantly they mostly concur on the ethics of killing and saving life. This article will examine their views on jus ad bellum.

Mawdudi’s position is that of the Quran: only a just cause can justify taking a life, otherwise human life is sacred (Q6:151). According to Mawdudi just cause can be defensive or reformative. He contends that life can be taken in the case of homicide, when one is retaliating. Though he does not explain the rationale behind this, one can deduce that a murder is a danger to the society, hence should not be allowed to live.  This position is however controversial given the recent debates on death sentence; whether human beings do have a right to take another life in contexts out of war. Mawdudi’s also argues that one who opposes the spread of Islam or one who spreads disorder in the domain of Islam has no right to hold onto his or her life. He further adds two more justifications from the hadith, namely: adultery and apostasy. These are contested justifications in the modern era. Issues such as apostasy have elicited a lot of debate in the recent past. The changing landscape in the nature of religion and its relationship with the state has necessitated some scholars to argue that apostasy ought to be redefined in the contemporary world where separation of state and religion is the norm. Why would anybody be killed for turning his back on a religion?

Hamidullah contends that Muslims have always thought of war as something unavoidable, but not desired. Like Mawdudi he also points out that life can be taken in the case of defense. But he goes further to include other justifications such as sympathetic, and punitive.  He explains that Muslims can take lives in war where they are defending their allies.

Zuhayli on his part contends that war is a necessary aspect of human existence, one sanctioned by the Quran for self-defense and preserving a just society.  Like Mawdudi, he argues that war can be waged against those who block the preaching of Islam. He does not explain how the explosion of technology affects the way Islam is preached or how the ever tight state borders affect the preaching of Islam. Whereas it was easier to enforce this justification in the early centuries of Islam, the modern world poses numerous challenges. There are now laws which stipulate what one can do beyond the borders of his or her country. Nowadays, preaching is an activity that is well undertaken by none state actors who do not have much power compared to governments.

The three scholar’s views on jus in bello are well aligned with the Geneva conventions and the Just War Theory. They all draw a distinction between combatants and ex-combatants and then goes ahead to state that ex-combatants must not be killed. They also concur that prisoners of war should not be killed; instead, they should be set free or ransomed. On Weapons of Mass Destructions, the scholars disagree. Mawdudi argues that Muslims are obliged to develop and acquire all types of weapons (Q 8:60). Zuhayla contents that WMD should be permitted but must only be used as a last resort and only in retaliation.

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