A colleague of mine recently attended a demonstration in Trafalgar Square in London against the war in Iraq. He is opposed to the war, and wanted to lend his support to the anti-war movement.
After a few minutes he left in disgust, because the thrust of the demonstration appeared to be against Israel and its alleged violation of Palestinian rights, rather than against the war in Iraq.
The hard-left's compulsive need to single out Israel for what is often undeserved condemnation is damaging the human-rights movement, weakening the anti-war movement and wounding other progressive causes, such as feminism.
By heaping disproportionate blame for the evils of the world on the Jewish state, these anti-Israel zealots are not only ignoring the real problems faced by many, they are also providing excuses to the perpetrators of real evils.
Consider, for example, a recent report by Amnesty International on violence perpetrated against Palestinian women by Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The report purported to be "part of the global A.I. campaign to stop violence against women." Such violence is a serious problem, especially in the Arab and Muslim world, because so few leaders within these groups are prepared to condemn it, and so many even justify it as a necessary means of maintaining family honor and male dominance. The report documents honor killings of women who had been raped. In one such case, a 17-year-old was murdered by her own mother after she was "repeatedly raped by two of her brothers."
The report places substantial blame for these and other killings on - you guessed it - Israel. Here is A.I.'s conclusion, listing the causes of the violence directed against Palestinian women, presumably in the order of their importance: "Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are victims of multiple violations as a result of the escalation of the conflict, Israel's policies and a system of norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal members of society."
The "escalation of the conflict" (which A.I. blames primarily on Israel) and "Israel's policies" rank higher than the "norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal." The report asserts that violence against women has "increased" dramatically during the Israeli occupation, and has reached "an unprecedented level" as a result of the "increased militarization of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation." It is as if the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been violence free for Palestinian women until the Israeli occupation.
I spoke with Donatella Rovera, A.I.'s researcher, and asked her to provide the data on which she had based her conclusion that violence against women had escalated to an "unprecedented level" during the occupation, especially during its most militarized phase.
And I asked her whether A.I. had compared violence against women in the occupied West Bank and Gaza with violence against women in unoccupied Arab-Muslim areas that have comparable populations, such as Jordan. Rovera acknowledged that Amnesty could provide no such data, and confirmed that the report was based on anecdotal information, primarily from Palestinian organizations.
It's impossible under these circumstances for any outside researcher to replicate A.I.'s study and to confirm its conclusions.
Listen to the excuses A.I. provides: "Restrictions on movement and curfews which confine people to their homes for prolonged periods, and increased unemployment, poverty and insecurity, which have forced men to spend more time at home, as well as the increase in crowded conditions in the home, have contributed to the increase in violence against women, including sexual abuse, within the family."
By providing these "abuse excuses," A.I. places its own political biases ahead of the interests of the female victims. For A.I., and many other so-called human-rights groups, Israel can do no right.
The A.I. report was brought to my attention by one of the pioneers of the human-rights movement, a founder of Human Rights Watch, who's now somewhat alienated from his own movement. As a result of "their obsessive focus on Israel," he told me, "these human-rights organizations are becoming part of the problem."
This is but the tip of a very large and ugly iceberg of bigotry. Conferences on feminism, apartheid, slavery and environmentalism have been unable to agree on anything other than condemnation of Israel. If real peace is to be achieved - and if human-rights movements are to retain credibility - this obsessive focus by the hard-left on Israel must end. But there is no indication that, even as the Jewish state takes painful steps toward peace, these unjustified attacks are diminishing.
Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard University.