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Gaza and the decline of US-Western hegemony

May 30, 2024 at 10:25 am

Pro-Palestinian protesters hold placards as they demonstrate outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) during a hearing of South Africa’s request for a Gaza ceasefire, in The Hague, on May 24, 2024 [NICK GAMMON/AFP via Getty Images]

From the ashes of World War Two came a reckoning from which Western governments established global institutions with the shared goal of upholding social, political and economic values. These values included, among others, accountability for all, freedom of speech, human rights, democracy and friendly alliances.

The United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, NATO and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) were all established in the years following World War Two. The International Criminal Court (ICC) followed a few years later. For decades, nations and people alike have turned to these international bodies to uphold human rights, prosecute those who transgress them, provide aid to those in need, resurrect struggling nations economically and organise collective defence against rogue states.

While the legitimacy of these international bodies has been questioned many times over the past eight decades, this has been more apparent than ever over the past eight months. With most of these institutions having no means to enforce their decisions, they have been criticised as tools of Western governments holding the rest of the world accountable to standards that they do not adhere to themselves.

The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Karim Khan, mentioned in a recent interview that he was told by an unnamed official that the court was “built for Africa and for thugs like Putin”. This official was implying that “democratic” Western nations cannot possibly be led by politicians who commit crimes that warrant the ICC’s scrutiny.

Even more sinister, perhaps, is the implication that even if such “democratic” Western politicians did commit serious crimes, they can do so with impunity.

This much was evident when a number of AIPAC-backed US politicians released statements following the ICC prosecutor seeking arrest warrants for senior Israeli and Hamas officials, the general complaint being that, “There is no moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas.” The ICC, of course, prosecutes individuals accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, whereas the ICJ adjudicates in disputes between states, so Khan’s move is looking to deal with the guilt or otherwise of the named individuals; it is not by any stretch of the imagination looking to make the kind of comparison that the pro-Israel politicians allege. Their objective in making such comments was obviously to divert attention from the genocide in Gaza by creating faux outrage about a non-existent legal comparison between these two entities rather than outrage about Israel’s brutal military onslaught against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

READ: ‘There is no time to waste’: UN Mideast envoy calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza

It wasn’t only US politicians bought and paid for by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who threw such a tantrum. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, shredded the UN Charter in a childish demonstration of his belief that the UN is incapable of resolving issues. This was just a couple of weeks after Erdan called frantically for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council following Iran’s military response to Israel’s attack on the Iranian Consulate in Syria.

Furthermore, the US is not even a member state of the ICC and has summarily dismissed the court and its officials. Rulings of the ICJ, of course, are binding on all “States Parties to the disputes” to which they apply, and all UN member states are committed to accepting the court’s decisions.

The US and Israel have made it clear that they believe themselves to be above the law.

While the US Department of Defence welcomed the ICJ ruling directing Russia to halt military operations in Ukraine, the US government has struck a completely different tone for the court’s rulings about Israel. This hypocrisy is more pronounced given that the US and Israel are not signatories to the Rome Statute which created the ICC. In what may be a tacit admission of guilt over war crimes, US House Speaker Mike Johnson criticised the ICC move for arrest warrants saying, “If the ICC is allowed to threaten Israeli leaders, ours could be next.”

What we are seeing unfolding in front of our eyes is the collapse of US-Western hegemony and the West’s unearned role as arbiters of truth, freedom and human rights in the world. The facade of moral values and freedom championed by the West is being exposed by Israel’s genocidal onslaught in Gaza. Not only have the US and some of its major allies rejected rulings and recommendations of the very international bodies that they helped to create, but they are also becoming authoritarian regimes of the kind that Washington, London, Berlin et al have always criticised in public if it doesn’t suit their interests to cosy up to dictators in Africa, East Asia and the Middle East.

READ: Unprecedented surge in conscription refusals amid Gaza war: Israeli group

Here in the US, we have seen university and college campuses erupt in protest at Washington’s unquestioned support for Israel. Students and faculty members have been calling for federal and state governments and academic institutions across the country to divest from arms manufacturers and Israeli companies. The response from university administrators has been to ignore or condemn the student-led protests, with most of the encampments being forcibly torn down violently by police. The response of the Biden administration was to condemn the protestors for exercising their democratic right — some would say duty — to stand up for the human rights being violated so clearly by Israel and, through its default position backing the occupation state, the US government.

US President Joe Biden somewhat predictably condemned the student encampments as “anti-Semitic”, while his predecessor Donald Trump threatened to deport students who take part in protests against Israel. Others accused the protestors of supporting terrorism and anti-Semitism and encouraging violence in American cities and campuses. More than 2,900 students have been arrested on 57 campuses across the US. Universities have withheld diplomas from students who took part in protests, evicted them from campus housing, suspended them and censored them from giving speeches at their graduation ceremonies.

These protests have been likened to those in the 1980s against apartheid South Africa, and in the 1960s against the Vietnam War. In every instance, the freedom of speech that the US government advocates for in dictatorships around the world that it doesn’t like, was being suppressed right here at home. The US government has learnt nothing from previous student movements and has opted to be on the wrong side of history yet again.

Israel peddles itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, but it has cracked down on its own anti-war protestors, using violence even against the family members of captives held by Hamas. The Israeli government has implemented draconian laws since the start of the war last October, banning a major news organisation like Al Jazeera from operating in Jerusalem and Israel, as well as allowing police to arrest anyone who shows sympathy to the Palestinians in Gaza on social media.

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In taking the stand that it is, the US is putting everything that it allegedly stands for – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, human rights – at great risk in order to protect the apartheid, settler-colonial state of Israel. The UK is doing the same, as are other allies of Israel. The resilience of the Palestinians in Gaza throughout the disaster befalling them shines through in their faith, resistance and perseverance; they are making it clear that they are not simply going away to suit the people who have stolen and colonised their land. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his War Cabinet are going to extreme lengths to accomplish their objective of annihilating the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. They are supported in this objective by the US to the tune of billions of tax dollars in additional weapons and aid since 7 October, even though Netanyahu and his far-right accomplices are becoming more and more isolated by the day.

Biden’s Zionist administration, backed by a Congress basically bribed by AIPAC to toe the pro-Israel line, is under pressure to maintain full and unconditional support for a sinking ship that is taking everything that the US allegedly stands for down with it.

Who would have thought that a tiny strip of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean would be the place where US-Western hegemony would go to die?

The UN, NATO and other post-World War Two institutions have become tools with which Israel and its allies block justice for the Palestinians who have suffered from Zionist terrorism and occupation since the mid-1940s. The ICC and the ICJ have the opportunity now to break that Zionist stranglehold on world affairs and strike a significant blow for Palestinian freedom. Or maybe not, but what we are seeing is that major changes in the way that the international community operates are not only essential, but also on the cards. The liberation of Palestine is long overdue, as is peace and justice across the Global South.

We are on the side of Nelson Mandela, Ghassan Kanafani and Marwan Barghouti and their ilk who have trodden this path before us. The movement demands moral courage, resistance, justice, human rights and the inalienable right to self-determination and freedom. The just cause of the Palestinians is driven not by the selective morality of the West, but by those who for decades have called it out for its oppression, hypocrisy, racism and faux outrage. So, when Biden and other US politicians blast the ICC and say “there is no moral equivalence” know that they are absolutely right, because they have no morals left to be equivalent with anything.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.