Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: The Quality of Mercy is Strained

Aug 31, 2009 | Tzvi Fleischer

Tzvi Fleischer

There are two points to be made about the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdal Baset al-Megrahi to his native Libya on “compassionate grounds” by Scottish authorities.

Firstly, the complaints from Scottish and British officials that the celebrations Libya orchestrated for his return breached verbal agreements made by both al-Megrahi and Tripoli seem pretty clueless. Did they really expect that such deals would be kept by an unrepentant mass-murderer and the regime which sent him to blow up a civilian plane?

Secondly, the argument that it was the “compassionate” and merciful thing to release al-Megrahi so he could die at home seems pretty logically deficient. I agree with renowned human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, who wrote in the Guardian (Aug. 22), “It seems to me an utter perversion of the meaning of compassion, both in law and morality, to suggest that an unrepentant, mass murderer of entirely innocent human beings should not be required to end his life in prison. The Lockerbie bombing was a crime against humanity, part of a series of terrorist acts most likely approved by Gaddafi and cold-bloodedly carried out by officials such as al-Megrahi. The requirements of compassion extend only, in international humanitarian law, to providing medical assistance and pain-killing drugs to treat his cancer and allowing family visits… The decision to release him for what any person of any intelligence at all would foresee as a hero’s welcome in Libya was lacking in compassion to every victim of terrorism and makes an absurdity of the principle of punishment as a deterrent. [Scottish Justice Minister] MacAskill’s arguments are both morally and logically fraudulent… Crimes against humanity are so heinous that the perpetrator forfeits any claims to favourable treatment beyond that laid down by the Geneva Conventions… His release, in order that the criminal state which approved his crime may celebrate it and so justify its criminal actions… is a sad day for humanity and for the struggle for global justice.”

How Swede it isn’t

I also wish to make two points about the controversy surrounding the Swedish paper Aftonbladet’s publication of an article accusing Israel of killing Palestinians to harvest their organs.

Firstly, similar ugly baseless stories are likely to appear more in the Western media in the future, coming out of the Middle East. This story was not rooted simply in a mindset that views Israel as completely evil and capable of anything, or even classical European antisemitism. It combined one or both of the above with one of the often antisemitic conspiracy theories about Israel emanating from the Arab world. The genesis of this story was that an anti-Israel journalist, Donald Boström, came across and recycled a Palestinian conspiracy theory dated from 1992 in his largely government-funded book Inshallah, published in 2001. He then used the occasion of the arrest of a non-Israeli rabbi in New Jersey in relation to organ trafficking (involving living kidney donors) to recycle this conspiracy theory in Aftonbladet. Nor are these stories unique to the Palestinians. Iran produced a series in 2004, also broadcast around the Middle East in Arabic, called “Zahra’s Blue Eyes” about Israelis stealing organs from Palestinian children. Its director insisted this actually occurs. The Turkish film, Valley of the Wolves, which did big business across the region, featured a Jewish-American doctor stealing organs from the injured in Iraq to send to Israel, among other places. In other words, the Swedish paper was recycling an antisemitic conspiracy theory, akin to blood libel, much circulated in the Arab world.

Other similar wild claims have already made the leap from the Arab world to Western media – including Israel distributing booby-trapped toys to kill Palestinian children, supposed Israeli use of radioactive depleted uranium in artillery shells, and claims Israel is manufacturing an “ethnic bomb” which kills only Arabs. Sadly, however, credulousness to wild and conspiratorial claims against Israel circulating in the undemocratic Middle East seems to be increasing dramatically in elements of the Western media, and we will likely see more such stories in future.

The second point I wanted to make is that the Swedish government’s refusal to distance itself from the Aftonbladet stories appears both absurd and hypocritical. Contrary to Swedish claims, no one is asking the Swedish government to repeal freedom of speech – all Israel wants is a clear statement that the government condemns the allegations in the story. The Swedish ambassador to Israel offered this, but her government refused to back her up. Moreover, the principle the government is now invoking for refusing to comment did not apply as recently as 2006. The same government, and same foreign minister, Carl Bildt, strongly urged Swedish media not to publish the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and even shut-down an online publication which reproduced them.



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