Why Not Criticize Hamas's Rights Violations?

Peter Beinart responds to the blog Mondoweiss in the debate about criticizing Hamas's abuses of Palestinians.

In their response to my claim that the anti-Zionist left downplays abuses by Hamas, Mondoweiss's Adam Horowitz and Scott Roth declare that, “the struggle to reform Palestinian society is an issue for the Palestinian people to decide for themselves…we don’t see it as our place to dictate to Palestinians what their society should look like.” Hmm. Where have I heard language like that before? Oh yes, from the American Jewish establishment, which declares endlessly that Israeli policy “is an issue for the Israeli people to decide for themselves… we don’t see it as our place to dictate to Israelis what their society should look like.”

Horowitz and Roth think there’s a difference, that it’s okay to focus on Israeli abuses of Palestinians but not Palestinian abuses of Palestinians for several reasons. First, “because of our personal relationship with Israel as Jews.” But even if it’s okay for Jews to say they feel a special burden to oppose abuses committed by a Jewish state, many of Mondoweiss’s contributors are not Jewish. What’s their excuse?

Horowitz and Roth’s second answer is that it’s okay to focus on Israel’s misdeeds, and not Hamas’s, because America doesn’t give the latter money. “If the U.S. government were funding Hamas,” they write, “we’d feel differently.” But why should leftists only vigorously criticize governments and movements that the United States funds? Should the left have been silent about apartheid South Africa in the 1980s because it wasn’t receiving U.S. aid? Would Horowitz and Roth tell people from countries that don’t give Israel economic, political or military assistance that they should therefore not be concerned about its behavior in the West Bank? Yes, we have a special responsibility for overseas behavior in which our governments are directly implicated. But Human Rights Watch doesn’t limit its focus to countries that receive U.S. aid; it views human rights as universal. By admitting that they’re more interested in human rights violations when Israel commits them than when Hamas does, Horowitz and Roth are implying that they don’t really see human rights as universal. What matters for them is less the oppression itself than the nature of the entity doing the oppressing. As I wrote, there’s a long and unhappy tradition of this on the left, a long and unhappy tradition of ignoring human rights abuse unless it can be linked to America or capitalism or the West. It’s a history that Mondoweiss is continuing to this day.

At the end of their post, Horowitz and Roth say that “the most profound thing” I get wrong is my argument that the Palestinian struggle must be a struggle for “individual liberty and accountable government” and not “merely [for] an end to Israeli control over Palestinian lives.” They note that “at this point in history it would be miraculous ‘merely’ to end Israeli control over Palestinian lives.” Yes, it would be miraculous. But the miracle will be short-lived if Hamas uses Palestinian statehood to implement the kind of Talibanesque policies it has implemented in Gaza. The history of national liberation movements over the last half-century is littered with examples of political parties that went from overthrowing their foreign overlords to mimicking them with astonishing speed. The struggle to make sure that doesn’t happen in the West Bank and Gaza should begin now.