Why Good People Do Bad Things

Why Good People Do Bad Things


Howard Adelman

With all the sidetracks I am taking, I am not going to get to my blog on whether participating in the war in Gaza was just, or my blog that was to follow on evaluating each side’s strategy in the conduct of the war in Gaza. But I will get there. First, I want to answer the many missives I received about my Bill Schabas blog.

First, some housekeeping. Attached, please find a corrected version of my blog on Schabas. I did not proof read it properly because I was tired and wanted to get it out. The numerous typos are corrected. I spelled my colleague’s name, Israel Charny, correctly, but twice I typed Charney. Pillay of course is a woman and not a “he” as I wrote once. I repeated one sentence twice and included a partial and incomprehensible clause as if it were a sentence when it was to be deleted. I want to publicly thank Alex for being so attentive to my errors.

My apologies.

Now for more substantive issues. My question “Why international human rights law and not just (my italics) international humanitarian law?” was read as if the word “just” was omitted and that I was stating that the reference to international humanitarian law was left out of the mandate of the inquiry of the UN Human Right Council into the Gaza War. It was not and I did not say it was but my way of expressing this could have been clearer. My query was why international human rights law was included into an investigation about a war. It was a sincere question.

Secondly, it was suggested that my blog implied that Bill had such a close relationship with the Iranian regime that he was a supporter of that regime. I did not say nor did I mean to imply that. My intention was to suggest that Bill was closer to the regime than he should have been and his judgment of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been impaired to say the least for Ahmadinejad is an unrepentant anti-Semite.

I was criticized from the other side for stating that Bill was a friend. Further, I insist he remains a friend – unless he chooses to break off the friendship because of what I wrote about him. How could I have a friend who takes the positions Bill does?

Unlike Bill who dislikes criticisms of friends – and for that he is the better person as I shall later explain – I level my intellectual criticism most acutely at my friends as my good friends can attest. I always hope it does not ruin the friendship, but as people also know, my tone more than my comments sometimes leave a scar on that friendship and I am always sorry for that – though not for my harsh criticism. I believe that friendship should be able to tolerate and even welcome harsh criticism.

I like and respect Bill Schabas. He is an excellent scholar. More than that, he is very well intended and is very personable. He has a number of ideals I respect. He is also a very good person. But he is also naïve, self-contradictory and capable of very bad judgments. His naiveté was evident in his activities in Iran where he saw himself as performing the task of an educator to a regime that badly needed enlightenment. He does not understand, in my estimation, how he was used. His naiveté is evident in his acceptance of the offer to chair the inquiry. It is even more apparent because he failed to learn how an inquiry can go so wrong from the results of the Richard Goldstone inquiry, another inquiry headed by a good man with integrity but who got in way over his head and the results were atrocious. And Goldstone was a Zionist which Bill is not.

Bill is not only naïve but he suffers from a deep contradiction. He believes that international humanitarian law is inherently political. But he believes that he personally (as he believed Goldstone is and was) could be impartial and detached. But how does he (and Goldstone) escape from being political but no one else can? Bill doesn’t, as his many pronouncements highly critical of Israel attest, even extending to condemning Israel for crimes against humanity when he has not conducted a detailed investigation.

People like Bill are friends because I believe that they are also reasonable and well-meaning and that I can reach them through evidence and argument. More importantly, he has even more to teach me. And he is devoted to teaching – his students and his friends, This is not the same as some Israelis I have met. I can recall being at a Shabbat table in Jerusalem where Arabs were referred to in explicitly racist terms by former Americans and right wing Zionists who had never had any dealings with Arabs but felt perfectly positioned to state that “all Arabs are…” You fill in the words but none of them were complimentary. They then went on to advocate that all Arabs should be expelled and even killed. They are not my friends and I never returned to have dinner with them again. (The individual who invited me turned to me at the dinner table and whispered, “And you thought that I was right wing.”)

The bigger question is to explain the naiveté of people like Bill, the self-contradictions in their approach, their blindness to evidence staring them in the face, and the harshness with which they single out Israel and make unwarranted assertions against that wondrous country with all its faults about which criticism is fully justified.

Let me deviate from Bill Schabas to take up the current controversial parallel case of Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz as well as Pedro Almodóvar. The facts are fairly straightforward on the surface. Both, along with a number of other Spanish artists and intellectuals signed an open letter condemning Israel for its crimes against humanity in the 2014 Gaza War. Javier Bardem had written an OpEd in the Spanish newspaper El Diario a few days before the open letter was published stating that in Gaza there are only “alleged terrorists” while Israel is in effect accused not only of being in occupation of Gaza but of genocide against the people of Gaza.

After the storm broke out over what they wrote they issued a statement insisting they were not anti-Semitic, that they had many friends who were Jewish, that Bardem had a child born in a Jewish hospital in LA and they were only trying to promote peace. Though Barden was critical of the Israeli military, Barden explained that he had “great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses”. That deep compassion and respect did not lead him to write an open letter or an OpEd condemning Hamas for sending rockets against Israel before Israel decided to respond.

I now want to put the Cruz/Bardem comments on the war, and their mushy, totally inadequate response to criticism of their claims of genocide and intentional extermination, that they were only calling what Israel did “genocide” because they believed in peace for everyone. Soeren Kern at the beginning of August published an essay under the auspices of the Gateway Institute in Britain entitled “Spain Anti-Semitism Alive and Well” depicting the extet of anti-Semitism in Spain with one of the lowest proportions of Jews of any nation in Europe. Spain is a country that permits open expressions of hatred towards Jews to be published in major newspapers in spite of laws on the books consistent with EU norms prohibiting anti-Semitic hate speech. In El Mundo, a newspaper with the second largest circulation in Spain, Antono Gala, a well-known and award-winning playwright (The Green Fields of Eden), writer, current president of the international theatre institute and anti-Semite, in an article on the Gaza War on June 24th described Jews, whatever their virtues and perhaps in part because of them, as a people “not made to exist with others”. This is the eternal character and condition of Jews. They “screw the weakest” and so it is not surprising that they “have been so frequently expelled.” In other words, the Spanish expulsion of the Jews over 500 years ago was justified.

“The Hebrew people, tested since antiquity by ups and downs and the intimate dealings with their God, could have done much good for humanity: due to their prudence, their wisdom and endurance, their apparent religious fidelity and their proven administration of money. What is happening is that suddenly humanity is sick and tired of them: a phenomenon that has been repeated throughout their history, as if they were not made to coexist with others. This is how it is and will remain, as it always has been. No matter what the Jews call their civil or military leaders, they end up creating problems for everyone: it is ancient history. Now you must suffer their abuses in Gaza, and review it all with an apparent injustice. They are never clear.”

The original sin of the Jews is greed, in general for money and in Palestine greed for more territory. They “do not want to co-exist”. They have only “disregard for the lives and possessions of other people”. The actions of Bardem and Cruz have to be understood in this anti-Semitic context. Relative to other intellectuals and artists in Spain, they are not anti-Semites. They do not use generalities of evil to characterize all Jews. But they do accuse Israel, and hence the Israeli people who are mostly Jews, of genocide and intentional extermination. So though they are not in the same class as Gala, their anti-Israel animus is blatant and, at the very least, borders on anti-Semitism.

Bill Schabas is even more to the centre than Cruz or Bardem. He does not and would not apply the descriptor “genocide” to the actions of Israel. He has written that although Israel has committed crimes against humanity, there are a lot of countries far worse than Israel in this regard. Bill is not a Zionist as is Richard Goldstone, but he is not an anti-Zionist. He neither supports nor opposes the self-determination of the Jewish people. But he does accuse Israel of being in occupation of Gaza and of being guilty of crimes against humanity. Because he is not as extreme as others to the left him on the spectrum of an anti-Israel animus, in such company he takes himself to be impartial and even a defender of Israel because, according to his scale, its crimes are not nearly as serious as that of other countries.

But, like Cruz and Bardem, he is naïve in the extreme as indicated by his going to Iran, a country that, in its officially authorized electronic press in English, reported on the Cruz-Bardem focusing on the allegation that Hollywood would boycott the two actors as if it was fact and then printed a number of comments from writers supposedly writing from around the world. A selection of those comments published by a regime that is supposedly much more moderate than that of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad follows:

Julia C. Kent (Is she the author of romance novels like It’s Complicated?)

“They are both very brave to talk against the Zionist Israel’s genocide of innocent women and children. I do all the time, but I am not a celebrity, although I do have a book out on my life which includes a lot from the Middle East.”

Boycott Hollywood.

Aug 12, 2014 2:28 AM

“There is no room in Hollywood for those who oppose Israel…..This should be reason enough to boycott anything out of Hollywood.”

Erzebet Mourad

Aug 11, 2014 10:11 PM

“Keeping neutrality in this horrible situation is the same as cooperating with the rabid murderer Israel. Congrats to Penelope, Javier and few others that still remain brave facing the lobby of zionist film industry. Solidarity is power!”

Wahida Joosub

Aug 11, 2014 4:16 PM

Zionism is directly opposed to Judaism. What Israel is doing to the people of Palestine is not different to what Hitler did to the Jews in Germany. Then like now, – The oppressed people put up a resistance. The world remained silent Women and children were murdered simply for belonging to a particular race. Should we let it happen again or should we speak out for those being oppressed????

Kevin McAree

Aug 11, 2014 11:49 AM

Like many others opposed to Zionist Genocide I have not gone to cinema to latest planet of the Apes film because of filim studios link and support of Zionism. I would urge others to take this stand and boycott any studio supporting genocide, dehumanising of Palestinians or blacklisting stars for speaking out!


And on – and on and on – it goes. Cruz and Bardem are not anti-Semites in the traditional sense, but their views feed and reinforce traditional anti-Semites and their characterizing Israel as a genocidal state is a form of the new anti-Semitism in which Israel is selectively chosen from among all other states and subjected to the harshest criticism calling it a genocidal state. Schabas is more moderate still. He may not call Israel a genocidal state but he accuses Israel of crimes against humanity before there has been a trial by a neutral judge or jury. He is clearly pro-Palestinian from what he has written and says, but sees no reason to recuse himself in the role of chair of an inquiry when he has already pronounced Israel guilty about the very actions he is about to assess.

If Bill were courageous and fully aware of the terrible decision he made in agreeing to chair the inquiry under the auspices of a very deformed mandate which he did not challenge and a UN Human Rights Council with a despicable reputation when it comes to assessing Israel fairly, he would resign and admit that he made a mistake. But he won’t because, terrific guy that he is, his moralism disguises and perhaps feeds his illusionary self-confidence that he can be impartial even if almost everyone else is infused with political agendas.

Good men are very dangerous when they do not recognize their own biases and deep inadequacies. So, again, why do I regard Bill as a friend and insist he remains a friend – unless he chooses to end the friendship. Further, I go further. In comparing the two of us, in spite of his imprudence, naiveté, bad judgment and irresponsible comments, I regard him as the better man. So in what sense is he a friend?

I will answer the question more fully in tomorrow’s blog on “Friendship”.

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