Now the hard left is finally talking about torture and other undemocratic abuses in Egypt and Jordan, as well as the despotism of virtually all Arab regimes. Do you recall any campus protests against Egypt or Mubarak? Do you recall any calls for divestment and boycotts against Arab dictators? No, because there weren't any. The hard left was too busy condemning the Middle East's only democracy, Israel.
Radical leftists and campus demonstrators, by giving a pass to the worst forms of tyranny, encouraged their perpetuation. Now, finally, they are jumping on the bandwagon of condemnation, though still not with the fury that they reserve for the one nation in the Middle East that has complete free speech, gender equality, gay rights, an open and critical press, an independent judiciary and fair and open elections.
The double standard is alive and well on the hard left, and its victims include the citizens of Arab regimes who suffer under the heal of authoritarian dictators. Even more important they include victims of genocides, such as those perpetrated in Rwanda, Darfur and Cambodia--victims who did not prick the consciences of the hard left because the perpetrators were Arabs or Communists, rather than Americans or Israelis.
The same must be said for the United Nations, which rewarded Arab despots by according them places of honor on human rights bodies that devoted all of their energies to demonizing Israel. In a recent op-ed, Amnon Rubenstein, the conscious of Israel, has pointed out that the UN Human Rights Commission, to which both Egypt and Tunisia were elected, has gone out of its way to compliment both regimes. Egypt was praised for steps it has "taken in recent years as regard to human rights..." Tunisia was lauded for constructing "a legal and constitutional framework for the promotion and protection of human rights." Israel, on the other hand, was repeatedly condemned for violating the human rights not only of Palestinians, but of its own citizens as well.
Nor do I recall Bishop Tutu urging the Cape Town Opera to boycott Egypt, Tunisia or Jordan as he urged them to boycott Israel. I do recall Jimmy Carter, who has falsely accused Israel of Apartheid, embracing some of the Arab worlds worst tyrants and murderers. Many who claim the mantle of human rights ignore or even embrace the worst human rights violators and direct their wrath only against the Jewish nation.
The anti-American and anti-Israel hard left is a topsy-turvy world where the worst are declared the best and the best are condemned as the worst. This topsy-turvy view has become a staple of higher education, particularly among Middle East study programs in many colleges and universities. Among many on the hard left, where the only human rights issue of concern seems to be Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, the views of convicted terrorists Marwan Barghouti are preached as gospel.
This is what Barghouti, who is serving a life sentence for planning terror attacks against civilians, but who remains among the most popular Palestinian leaders, recently said about Israel: "The worst and most abominable enemy known to humanity and modern history." It is this skewed view of modern history that runs rampant through the hard left and that gives exculpatory immunity to Arab and Muslim tyrants.
There is only one acceptable standard of international human rights: the worst must come first. Under that universal standard, any person or organization claiming the mantle of human rights must prioritize its resources. It must list human rights violators in order of the severity of the abuses and the ability of its citizens to complain about those abuses. It must then go after the worst offenders first and foremost, leaving right-left politics out of the mix. This standard must be applied by individuals, such as Bishop Tutu, by organizations, such as the United Nations, by the media and by everyone who loves human rights. Until that standard is universally applied, despotism will continue, interrupted only occasionally by revolutions such as those taking place in Tunisia and Egypt.
The irony, of course, is that in the most repressive regimes, such as Iran, revolution is well nigh impossible. Revolution is far more likely to occur in moderately despotic regimes, such as Tunisia and Egypt, where at least some basic liberties were preserved. It is the citizens of the most despotic regimes that need the most help from human rights activists. But don't count on it because too many so-called "human rights" leaders and organizations misuse the concept of "human rights" to serve narrow political, diplomatic or ideological agendas. Unless we restore human rights to its proper role as a neutral and universal standard of human conduct, the kind of tyranny and despotism that stimulated the current protests will continue.
Alan Dershowitz's latest novel is The Trials of Zion