Ours is an age when the moral authority of accusers is at its height. Also the moral authority of accusations. There was a time when accusations had to be proven. That requirement has long since passed. After all, why would anyone bear false witness? So everybody is a witness, especially those with phantasmagoric tales to tell, especially those who yearn to testify against liberal societies which have established and proven processes to alert their own demos about evil. There are many of these foul witnesses: some ideologues, some ideological liars, some resentful, some haters. Like haters of Jews, of which in the arrested world of Islam there are more and more. As there are more and more among philo-Islamists, a cultural sickness in the West not yet fully gauged.
1. The Fall of Human Rights Watch
Robert L. Bernstein is of the best of American liberalism, of the best of American intellectual liberalism. He was chairman for a full quarter century of Random House, a distinguished New York publishing house. He was also the founder of Human Rights Watch. That was roughly 30 years ago, and he was the working chairman for two decades. Subsequently, he was the organization's chairman emeritus, watching--I would guess--with horror as the institution he established lost track of the defining distinctions between democratic societies and tyrannies.
Human Rights Watch was a light for those actually or spiritually imprisoned in the many real-life gulags spread throughout the world. But human rights are violated in both closed and open societies, and HRW didn't ignore the abuses of milder despotisms or, for that matter, of vaguely progressive commonwealths. There are such.
Still, there is, Bernstein writes, the "important distinction between open and closed societies," nowhere more evident than in the Middle East, which has been the central locus of the work of Human Rights Watch. And, within that focus, Israel is the polity it seeks to penetrate, expose and defame. It has been doing that for years. I am no naif. Israel is far from perfect, and the Israel Defense Forces are far from perfect. But I know many soldiers in the IDF, and when they and their comrades go to battle they try to present themselves with "purity of arms." Frankly, I don't believe a single Arab soldier would recognize the concept, and certainly not the fanatic warriors of Islamic Jihad, Hamas or Hezbollah.
Bernstein is very light on the rhetoric and very strong on the reasoning. But let me make the point: there is some meaning to the fact that not a single Muslim community in the orbit of conflict has a modern conception of human rights, their protestations against Israel to the contrary. Bernstein, however, does quote Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, saying that the I.D.F. in Gaza "did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare."
I don't care a fig about what Mr. Kenneth Roth, the, yes, "Jewish," Human Rights Watch chief apparatchik, says about this. And, frankly, I don't care a fig either what Judge Goldstone--yes, also Jewish--says about this since he consented to sit on a juridical panel with a South African lady who had judged Israel guilty before she had heard or read a word of testimony, testimony that is intrinsically suspect.
Human Rights Watch has turned out to be the prosecutor and aspirant-hangman of free societies, basically indifferent to the fate of democracy and liberal ideals. A good idea when it was born, an important idea. No one will miss it save the enemies of truth.
2. The J Street Circle Jerk
I have kept away from J Street. I don't like cranks, and I especially don't like cranks who exaggerate their own importance. (Cranks who grasp their own insignificance are kind of sweet and honest. J Street is neither.) Still, J Street with its fakery gives the world a bad name, and especially the Jewish world.
Its latest trick was to paste together a list of congressmen and senators who would be "hosts" at the first Washington confab of the organization. Maybe J Street doesn't understand that these men and women routinely sign on as "sponsors" of legislation for which they have no intention of voting. I'd be flabbergasted if more than two handfuls will show up, even counting two of the three Arab members of the House and the most ideologically left from the Black Caucus.
I am, however, especially disappointed that my now senior senator (and my friend after an honest and touching patch-up, at least touching to me) is an invited keynote speaker. If he does what he says he will do, which is to speak the tough truth, J Street will rue his invite. Of course, the great hope of the J Streeters is James Jones, who is to give the main oration. If he satisfies J Street, which I hardly believe he can given the existential similarities between administration policy and realistic Zionists, Obama and company will be in deep trouble, especially coming on the heels of all his palpable foreign policy failures experienced in recent weeks.
Of the so-called Jewish dignitaries, I'm afraid, I hardly recognized one. I was told I was wrong when I tried to identify two. There is no one on the lists from Hollywood, another deadly sign that J Street is a pariah, no, not important enough to be a pariah. Believe me: there are plenty of Israeli intellectuals who cleave to something like (though not quite) J Street politics. Not a one will be in Washington. One Israeli, who actually now works for J Street, had a reputation for being a security risk a long time ago. Who knows?
J Street is a circle jerk. A bit tawdry, a bit showy. The exhibitionism started with the New York Times Magazine's own James Traub, who cast a bit of respectability over J Street by trashing J Street's designated enemy, AIPAC, no one from whose entourage he ever asked a question, not a single one. And it isn't as if Traub knows much about the Jewish people or Jewish communal politics or, for that matter, the State of the Jews. On these issues, he is an am oretz. This means a "man of the earth." Not a peasant with its dignities, mind you. But a grubber yung, a coarse young man.
Traub, like J Street and Human Rights Watch, have chosen their friends. They are not civilized.
PS: Oops! John Kerry has dropped out of the line-up, too. Calendar conflict, his office reports. And my dog ate my homework. There will be many other drop-outs once more of the guests realize who are their hosts.