U.N. official says U.S. squelches debate on Israel and Palestinians
A United Nations official who tracks Israeli-Palestinian relations says the media don't adequately report what he says are violations of international law by Israel.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Richard Falk, United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, contends that in the hyperpoliticized and media-distorted picture surrounding the Middle East, anyone who reports honestly and factually is accused of bias, whereas pro-Israel bias is perceived as mainstream.
Falk was in town Friday to speak at University Temple United Methodist Church about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel and the Palestinian conflict.
Because the media don't adequately report what he says are violations of international law by Israel, said Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, "the American public isn't aware of the behavior of Israel or the victimization of the Palestinian people. This creates a kind of imbalance."
Falk, an American, is appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission to report on the human-rights situation in Palestinian territory.
In an interview Friday, Falk said the American people are far ahead of members of Congress, increasingly seeing Israel as the aggressor and the Palestinians as the victims in the conflict.
"One has a strange situation where the American people are much more ready for a balanced policy than are the institutions of our government," he said. "Congress is so under the influence of the Israeli lobby in the U.S., there's no real debate."
U.S. support for the Israeli approach to its security, Falk said, puts this country into conflict with democratic forces in the region and makes war more likely.
Earlier in the week, Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., offered a different perspective when he was in Seattle for a speaking engagement.
Oren, in an interview with The Seattle Times, portrayed Israel, despite its recent economic prosperity, as a country under siege. He said it faces threats from a hostile Iranian government, from Hezbollah missiles and from the growing presence of extremist groups in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
In his U.N. role, Falk has come under fire from critics. Last year, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called for Falk's dismissal after what she termed his "despicable and deeply offensive" blog comments claiming there were "awkward gaps and contradictions" in the U.S. government's official explanation that the 9/11 attacks were an al-Qaida operation "with no foreknowledge by government officials."
Falk has been heavily criticized by Israeli leaders and has been called "anti-Semitic" for his reports accusing Israel of "ethnic cleansing."
Public-relations efforts by Israel and its American supporters have "been quite effective in making honest critics seem like they're ideological fanatics," Falk said.
He contends politicians ignore or condone activities by Israel that violate basic human rights, such as the imprisonment of Palestinians without charge or trial.
"You can contrast our concern with what's happening in Libya or China with our disregard for what's happening to the Palestinians. It creates an impression of American hypocrisy and double standard that weakens our capacity for leadership in global affairs," he said.
Falk's talk was sponsored by a variety of groups, including the American Friends Service Committee, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Mideast Focus Ministry of Saint Mark's Cathedral and the World Affairs Council.
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or email@example.com. On Twitter @costrom.