Professor Stephen Zunes Discusses Israel’s Role in Conflict with Palestine

Stephen Zunes, coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, evaluated the United State’s defense of Israeli actions in the conflict with Palestine in terms of international law and human rights in a seminar at the Belfer Center on Monday.

He cited the United State’s reaction to the Goldstone Report, an initiative of the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate possible war crimes or violations of international law in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as evidence of U.S. bias towards their Israeli allies.

Goldstone, the Report’s primary investigator, is Jewish, a Zionist, and a longtime supporter of Israel, which Zunes said was a testament to the Report’s unprejudiced nature, Zunes said. However, Congress rejected the Report as “irredeemably biased” in a vote on the 2009 document; Zunes said this demonstrates that “the apparent intent by Congress and the Administration was to ensure that war criminals be allowed to escape prosecution,” Zunes said.

Zunes also questioned the willingness of members of Congress more generally to trust others in investigating their Israeli allies.

“The US support for human rights and international law in those investigations has been uneven, but only recently has Congress gone on record by such an overwhelming bipartisan margin to discredit,” Zunes said.


Zunes also argued that Israel has committed war crimes in the conflict against Palestine, although he did not deny that Hamas, too, has been guilty of violating international law. His intent was not to “unfairly single out Israel for criticism,” but rather to argue that Israel cannot claim immunity from the consequences of its actions.

The U.S. may have acted out of self interest in defending Israel, since it, like Israel, employs a loose definition of “terrorist,” according to Zunes, and wants to avoid setting a precedent that could restrict its future actions.

“[The U.S.] is essentially going on record that massive killings of civilians are legitimate as long as you are fighting terrorists,” Zunes said. “This provides a blank check for U.S. forces, and by that matter, Russian, Syrian, and any other forces for greater atrocities in the future.”