Outrage over perceived double standards in international politics has grown rapidly since Israel began its intense bombardment of Gaza following the October 7 Hamas attack. The widely heard argument is that Israel is not held to the same level of accountability as other nations, as seen in Israel’s historical disregard for numerous UN resolutions regarding the occupied territories and the treatment of the people living there. Exacerbating these concerns is Israel’s privileged status as a protégé of the United States, which has vetoed 34 resolutions to shield the country from censure.
However, those who now rally against this apparent leniency toward Israel fail to notice (or pretend not to notice) that they themselves are practicing a double standard. We have heard next to nothing of any rallies in London, Paris or Berlin against the indiscriminate massacre of Yemeni, South Sudanese, Sudanese, Tigrayan or Rohingya children, women and elderly. Similarly, there was scant outcry against the indiscriminate bombing, sometimes with chemical weapons, of hospitals, schools, and shelters in Syria, in a civil war in which more than 500,000 people were killed, 6.7 million internally displaced and 6.6 million obliged to flee the country. While countless protests advocate for Palestinian refugees, there has been a conspicuous lack of public support for Syria’s thirteen million refugees. Paradoxically, some of the latter have become victims of anti-immigrant sentiment in the same countries where protests for Palestinian rights are widespread.
When Muslim heads of state and government met in Riyadh on November 11, it was both a slur and an even more blatant manifestation of double standards, a shameless display of international hypocrisy.
It was a slur because Arab and some other Muslim countries (notably Iran and Turkey) have been exploiting the “Palestinian cause” for 70 years to fuel and legitimize their internal and regional power struggles. If there is still a Palestinian issue today, the main responsibility lies with those countries, which have done everything possible to prevent its solution. And by invoking the “two-state” plan, they simply continue doing what they have done for 70 years, precisely because they know that ”two-state” is not a solution. And if, theoretically speaking, it was realized, it would only increase and perpetuate Palestinian suffering, with the “two states” in a perennial condition of reciprocal hostility and hatred. In either case, the hypocritical supporters of the “Palestinian cause” would continue to exploit it to fuel and legitimize their internal and regional power struggles.
And the Riyadh meeting was a display of hypocrisy because, while the leaders there unanimously condemned Israeli war crimes and called on the International Court of Justice for action, the meeting’s host, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been accused of orchestrating the worst humanitarian crisis ever in Yemen and is the alleged mastermind behind the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. The meeting’s attendees included figures such as Bashar al-Assad, responsible for the Syrian conflict’s worst atrocities, and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the harshest in a series of harsh Egyptian dictators. Also attending was Isaias Afwerki, the president for life of Eritrea, whose government stands accused of enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, and forced labor, and whose army took part in the invasion, looting, systematic killings and rapes in Tigray, along with the Ethiopian army, in 2020-2021. And finally, they were joined by Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, whose reputation for violating human rights is undisputed. And of course, no one single word was spent condemning the October 7 attack and denouncing the use of Gaza's population as human shields for the protection of Hamas militants.
This situation underscores once more the inherent hypocrisy in political struggles, where powers shamelessly exploit human suffering for political gain. In times of heightened passions, and when everyone is called upon to take sides in a supposed struggle between good and evil, between good guys and bad guys, it is crucial to maintain a level-headed perspective and recognize that, in politics, absolute “good guys” do not exist, and there are only varying gradations of “bad guys.”
Manlio Graziano, PhD, teaches Geopolitics and Geopolitics of Religions at Sciences Po Paris, at la Sorbonne, and at the Geneva Institute of Geopolitics. He collaborates with the Corriere della Sera and with the geopolitical journals Limes and Gnosis. He founded and directs the Nicholas Spykman International Center for Geopolitical Analysis. He published several books in the US, with Stanford UP, Columbia UP and Palgrave. His upcoming book, Il Mondo fuori controllo. Perché l’ordine mondiale è impossibile (Mondadori) is scheduled for publication at the beginning of 2024.