The war on Ukraine by a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council has done more to expose the Western world’s double standard than all the Palestinian activists and their supporters have been able to do in decades. While the effort to end the Israeli occupation of Arab lands has received a tremendous number of words, little action has accompanied those public positions. In the Ukrainian crisis and on every level, one can see the world move past lip service and into action. This is seen with most of the world punishing the aggressor both politically and economically and enforcing political and financial sanctions against Russian companies, Russian military leaders, and Russian assets in the West.
All these actions not seen in other conflicts clearly indicate the absence of political will toward simmering crises such as Palestine. While there is plenty of will for Ukraine, the more troubling results are with organizations that are supposed to be independent and free of the political pressures of governments. Here also we can easily see how the world has failed a serious test and shown that business companies and the media, as well as world sporting federations, are not as free and independent as they claim to be. When it comes to the critical need for such organizations to keep their distance from the positions of governments, they have miserably failed.
Adopting Israeli Phraseology
Palestinians and their supporters have for years insisted that the attitude of Western countries is nothing more than lip service paid to the issue of ending the Israeli occupation. At the very same time, the same countries that speak of the Palestinian right to be free are financially, militarily, and politically supporting the Israeli occupiers.
For decades the international community tried to legally ban boycotts and declared that politics should not touch sports and that sanctions are not to be used against a country that professes to be a democracy. Army attacks on media, medical personnel, and civilians was dubbed as either unintentional collateral damage or the result of the occupied people using their own citizens as human shields.
Western countries and media often used the exact terms of the Israelis to describe dissent and resistance, whether violent or nonviolent, as acts of terror. Even diplomatic initiatives were dubbed “diplomatic terror.” By and large, some in the media and in political circles adopted this Israeli phraseology.
Hypocrisy of the International Community
Suddenly, women preparing Molotov cocktails are media heroes. Sanctions are used not only against the army or political personnel but even with regard to sports and as part of financial ostracization. Russians will be charged with war crimes, and even the slow-moving International Criminal Court appears to have gotten enough energy to start investigating crimes of the Russian occupiers within days. The Red Cross is putting out public service announcements reminding the Russian occupiers of their obligations according to international law. The term double standard is no longer a theoretical issue but a daytime show of hypocrisy by the international community, which did little to nothing to enforce its own words in opposition to the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
PLO executive committee member Hussein Al Sheikh tweeted on this issue saying “When #color, #religion and #race become an #identity, it’s when values, morals and #humanity are lost. When #international legitimacy is violated by two standards, #justice is lost, rights are destroyed, and power has become tyranny.”
Jordanian writer Rula Samain noted on her social media that the term boycott is repeated in different forms. “I have been saddened because we have been calling for boycotts, but no one stood by us. Palestine is in my heart.”
There is little doubt that the world is witnessing a stark comparison in the way invasion, occupation, resistance, and international law are handled. On the one hand, there is unprecedented powerful and speedy use of every diplomatic, political tool against the Russians. On the other hand, years of demands for action that is of much less gravity have been rejected by Western countries as being somewhat inappropriate or untimely. The hypocrisy is really dripping out of the mouths and actions of many in Western media or in the international community.
Fall of Independent Media
One of the first pillars of independence to fall during the war in Ukraine was Western media. Journalists working for prestigious media outlets which boast on their websites of their neutrality surrendered any semblance of independence and became partisans in a war that their own countries are not even directly involved in. What made things worse wasthe way the war on Ukraine and the refugee crisis that it causes exposed a stream of racism among many reporters, who began dividing the world into civilized and uncivilized, with peoples from the supposed European “civilized” world being seen as different from those from the ”uncivilized” world, like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
From Lebanon, media critic Magda Abu-Fadil documented the gross racism that was revealed by the Western media in an article published on Medium titled: “Media bigotry loud and clear in Ukraine was coverage.” She wrote: “The ignorance, arrogance and racism dripping from Western foreign correspondents’ and anchors’ mouths covering the Ukraine story in recent days will provide media ethicists with case studies for years to come.” Her article was full of quotes of journalists spouting out clear racist positions that uplifted the Ukrainian resistance and sympathized with the migrants, a clear difference from the way Palestinian resistance is handled or Arab and Muslim refugees are referred to.
Social media, which has been blocking pro-Palestinian accounts with impunity on the flimsiest of excuses, suddenly became proponents and advocates of the Ukrainian resistance and barred Russians from making any profit using their websites. The Russians retaliated by blocking social media sites and, as a result, the very fact of wanting Russians to have multiplicity of sources was another self-inflected wound by the major international digital giants who had been previously touting their guidelines as the justification for blocking sites that incite to violence or contain hate speech.
Dima Khatib, a senior Palestinian journalist in Doha, told Al-Monitor that it turns out that resistance is allowed if you have blue eyes. “It seems we are not ‘civilized’ enough and not ‘white’ enough and our eyes ‘are not blue’ enough. Of course, resistance to occupation is now legitimate and people going to the streets with guns is not only allowed but worthy of praise, punishing the attacker is now logical. Oh, if we were a different color, we would have become heroes and not terrorists.”
Even South African comedian Trevor Noah was unable to stay quiet on his Daily Show regarding the racism. “I was shocked to see reporters around the world, by the way, seem to think it's more of a tragedy when white people must flee their countries because, I guess, what? The darkies were built for it.” The words and images do reflect a clear bias of the world community. We are told that Ukrainian victims are different because they are “civilized.”
Sports Organizations Fall into the Trap
Another organization that was supposed to be protected from political interference suddenly fell into the trap of becoming partisan in the conflict. International sports conglomerates shifted away from their own policies and bylaws by promoting one side of a complex conflict without realizing their own double standard. They don’t seem to have noticed that they have been opponents of attempts by pro-Palestinian forces for a much lower intervention or even the simple nonviolent act of raising the Palestinian flag in football stadiums.
Fines in the thousands of euros were slapped on activists who dared speak out for Palestinian justice in sports stadiums, while the present conflict in Ukraine opened the floodgates. Russian teams and players were banned from participation in international meets, and football stadiums were suddenly filled with blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and political statements in support of one side of a conflict by a sports agency that in the past had vowed not to allow any such public displays of political statements or symbols.
For years, Palestinians have been calling on the world sports bodies for justice. The head of the Palestinian Football Association. Jibril Rajoub, was not asking for the moon. He wanted FIFA, the international football federation to honor its own bylaws – namely, that no teams of a member of FIFA are allowed to play in the lands of another FIFA member without their permission. The request made in 2015 at the FIFA congress in Zurich was clear and was totally legal according to the global sports organization. The case in point referred to six Israeli football clubs that were established in the occupied Palestinian territory. Palestine, a member of FIFA since 1988, was dragged through legal and administrative loopholes for years and in the end nothing happened. While the request was about standing bylaws of the sports body, many interpreted the request as ”political,” and since FIFA tries to stay out of politics, ultimately the issue was turned down simply for political expediency.
While many were complaining about the double standard that had emerged because of the reaction to the war on Ukraine, one Arab sports champion took advantage of the change.
Egyptian champion Ali Faraj, who clinched the world squash tournament held at Wimbledon, ignited social media as well as traditional media with his simple but powerful statement after winning the squash championship. “Before it was not allowed to talk about politics in sports, and now it is possible, then let's talk about #Palestine, which is going through what Ukraine went through 74 years ago.”
Ali Faraj, a long-time professional squash player who graduated from Harvard University, argued that his statement was not mixing sports with politics but reflected today’s reality; no more double standards. Many people around the world are subjugated, occupied, and discriminated against.
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions
Palestinian civil society and its supporters have also been involved in encouraging sports professionals to divest and stop cooperating with the PUMA sports company, which has been the sponsor of Israel’s six illegal settlement football clubs. International law is very clear. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids occupying countries from moving its people to the areas under its occupation. The boycott call initiated by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is led by Palestinian academics and has become a global movement, has been having a hard time in many countries, especially the United States, where its nonviolent protest activities have been ruled illegal by state and federal laws. Anti-BDS laws, which are in direct contradiction of the basic human right of self-expression, have been defeated in some areas but have stayed on the books, causing a chilling effect to anyone who dares defy the pro-Israeli position that considers the BDS movement anti-Semitic simply because of its opposition to the occupation by the State of Israel.
The boycott of Russian companies has become trendy in many countries, including the U.S., where laws in several states made it illegal to use the nonviolent act of boycott when directed at Israel. In the very same states where these antidemocratic laws were passed, entire legislatures have become leaders in calling for the boycott of Russia and its ally, Belarus.
Bennett as a Model for Putin
Strangely, the Ukraine war elevated individuals who presented themselves as honest brokers in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, while in fact they have themselves been occupiers. Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has more in common with Russia’s Christian Orthodox strongman Vladimir Putin than he has with the Jewish Ukrainian president.
Bennett, like Putin, thinks that he can operate according to a different legal standard than the rest of the world. They both believe that might makes right, and they base their ultranationalist territorial ambition on the vague reference point of historical rights.
In a one-hour rambling speech on the eve of the war on Ukraine, Putin dismissed the sovereign rights of a UN member state by claiming that Ukraine has historically belonged to Russia. Israel similarly lays claims to the Palestinian areas commonly referred to as the West Bank and Gaza. While Putin sees Ukraine as it was 30 years ago, Bennett and the Zionist movement to which he belongs make the claim based on Biblical rights that go back thousands of years.
When it comes to the issue of refugees, Putin can learn from Bennett a lot about blaming the Ukrainians for being refugees, asserting that no one forced them to flee and that those who fled have neither the opportunity nor the right to reclaim their own properties left behind in occupied areas. Sure, Bennett can give a lot of tips about the occupation to the Russian leader, but he will not be much help to him in finding an end to the war. Bennett can explain how world anger will slowly disappear and how boycotts and sanctions are not innocent nonviolent acts of protests but are, in fact acts of anti-Semitism that the world opposes.
It is sad to see that the leader of a tiny country that is occupying another people wants to help bring about peace between Russians and Ukrainians at a time that when neither the president of France nor the U.S. nor anyone else has been able to stem the lust for land of the Russian dictator. Furthermore, that same Israeli leader has vowed publicly not to even meet with the Palestinian leader located a few miles from his office.
Russia and Israel Violate International Law
The International Criminal Court, which has the mandate to investigate violations of international humanitarian law, wasted little time in announcing that it will be investigating allegations of war crimes by Russian troops. Russia and Israel stand today as the two UN member states who clearly ignore this principle and have resorted to the old style “might is right” paradigm. Palestinians have been waiting for years for the Hague-based court to act and have seen nothing more than bureaucratic moves and intentions but nothing as clear as has been done regarding war criminals in Africa or in the former Yugoslavia.
The large-scale Russian war on Ukraine should certainly not be justified, no matter what the background and history between the two countries is. When the Second World War ended, all the nations of the world agreed that the acquisition of territory by war is unacceptable. This world consensus was reflected in the preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 242 passed on November 22, 1967. Russia’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to recognize its annexation of the Crimea and other lands in the east of Ukraine are no different a violation of international law than Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and its unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Anyone who fails to see the comparison between the two is politically blind.