Mohammad Shtayyeh, BDS, and the Antisemitic Circle of the ICC
The modern story of international criminal justice involves the boycotting of Jews.
On April 1, 1933, the Nazi leadership in Germany sent their Storm Troopers to stand in front of Jewish businesses as part of their call for an economic boycott of Jews. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, “the boycott marked the beginning of a nationwide campaign by the Nazi Party against Jews in Germany that would culminate in the Holocaust.”
Those Nazi atrocities, of course, led to the Nuremberg Trials that prosecuted the Nazi war criminals as a sort of temporary predecessor to the International Criminal Court (ICC). It also spurred the drafting and adoption of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, officially outlawing the kinds of mass atrocities witnessed in the preceding decades.
Tragically, mass atrocities did not end. Despite the promises of organizations like the UN — also created in response to the horrors of World War II — the world stood by through new horrors, like the Khmer Rouge and the Rwandan genocide.
So, it should have been a moment of idealistic optimism when a half-century later, an “International Criminal Court” was created to purportedly provide some justice for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
And yet, the Jews remained the world’s boogeyman.
While negotiating the list of war crimes to be covered by the ICC, Arab states successfully altered the definition of the war crime of “transfer” — originally designed to cover the types of mass deportations the Nazis used in World War II — to try and include Jews building homes in Judea and Samaria, their ancient homeland, which has otherwise become known as the so-called “occupied” territories.
When it came time to vote on the ICC’s statute, the Jewish State regretfully had to vote no. Israel’s head delegate to the conference, Judge Eli Nathan, himself a victim of Nazi crimes, referenced the attempt to criminalize Israeli settlements, and asked:
[C]an it really be held that such an action as that listed in Article 8 [the list of “war crimes”] above really ranks among the most heinous and serious war crimes, especially as compared to the other, genuinely heinous ones listed in Article 8? Or is it not clear that this has been inserted as a means of utilising and abusing the Statute of the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Court itself as one more political tool in the Middle East conflict?”
As we’ve unfortunately seen, the truth was the latter. While Syria’s Bashar al-Assad barrel bombed and chlorine gassed civilians, and the Chinese regime locked millions away in modern day concentration camps, the ICC has instead been used to investigate Jews for having the audacity to want to live in their ancient homeland.
And now we see the sad story come full circle. On March 1, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, on Palestinian Authority TV, expressed his indignation at the Jewish state having a “monopoly on pain” due to having been “tormented by the Nazis.”
In a classic antisemitic twist of attempting to obscenely compare Israel (for all its faults) to the Nazis, Shtayyeh argued that the “Palestinians live in the diaspora,” which was a “painful reality of the Palestinians,” so they had to shatter “the monopoly on pain that Israel purported to have” by taking Israel to the ICC.
But they won’t just go after Israel, you see. Even those trying to do business with Jews in Judea and Samaria must be punished. According to Shtayyeh:
If Israel is indicted, all the parties involved in the Israeli actions against the Palestinians will also be indicted. That means we can also take the American companies and organizations that support Israel to court.
In other words, they intend to turn the ICC into the latest BDS organization. Just like in Nazi Germany, Jewish boycotts will be enforced, if Shtayyeh has his way.
And so here lies the hopes and dreams for justice. A story that began with a boycott of Jews is now ending with a boycott of Jews.
David M. Litman is a lawyer who advocates for Israel and human rights.