Under the shelter of the ‘shared values’ mantra the leaders of America and its vassal states like Australia find justification for militarisation and hegemony. Secretary of State Blinken’s comments in Jerusalem, while sharing a podium with the Israeli Prime Minister, have exposed the utter meaningless and hypocrisy of this formula.
Sloganeering about shared values and international law has intensified since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We are all familiar with the moralising refrain. Because of our shared values, we are told, we are always on the side of right by definition and those who won’t give way to our way are in the wrong.
There are innumerable formulations of these shared values. For example, President Biden says that the Ukraine war is about “freedom everywhere, about the kind of world we want to live in and the world we want to leave our children”. Biden has committed to “redouble to our efforts to defend against authoritarianism, combat corruption, and advance human rights”. The AUKUS Joint Leaders “stand together to support an international order that respects human rights, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes free from coercion”. Sadly these are empty words.
Palestine is an authoritarian’s petri-dish. A place that lies beyond the ordinary civilised norms and standards of international law. In the mind of Anthony Blinken, however, Palestine’s illegal overlords also share the American values; presumably the same values that Australia shares. America and Israel “share common interests” and have “common values”, according to Blinken. However, these do seem to be a different set of values and interests to those supposedly shared with other allies and which are so publicly being pursued in Ukraine.
The UN Special Rapporteur reported in 2022 that “Since 1967, the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory has been steadily deteriorating, primarily as a result of gross violations of international law, including racial segregation and subjugation by the occupying Power, Israel”. Her report highlights the “grave economic and humanitarian conditions generated by a violent occupation.”
She observes “a number of reputable scholars and organisations have concluded that systemic and widespread discriminatory Israeli policies and practices against the Palestinians amount to the crime of apartheid under international law”. Human Rights Watch also has assessed that Israel’s policies and actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories amount to apartheid, and Amnesty International has pointed “to broader international recognition of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as apartheid”.
Is the tolerance and fostering of apartheid, or at best ignoring it, in the Occupied Territories one of the shared values to which Blinken refers? Is racial segregation a value Australia shares?
Then there is the broader issue of how to characterise the occupation holistically. The Rapporteur concludes that “The Israeli occupation is illegal because it has proven not to be temporary, is deliberately administered against the best interests of the occupied population and has resulted in the annexation of occupied territory, breaching most obligations imposed on the occupying power”.
Is such a grievous breach of international law something AUKUS is premised on? Israel has, in the view of the Rapporteur, transgressed international law by the forceful acquisition of territory; the imposition of regimes of alien subjugation, domination and exploitation, including racial discrimination and apartheid; and by failing to respect the right of peoples to self-determination. The “Israeli occupation constitutes an unjustified use of force and an act of aggression”, amounting to a case of settler-colonialism which is “a war crime under the Rome Statute”. A ‘war crime’!
It jars when Blinken asserts America’s “shared interests and shared values” with Israel are rooted in “support for core democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, the equal administration of justice for all, the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law, free press, [and] a robust civil society”. Really? It is inconceivable that Blinken doesn’t know that almost everything he is saying is not true. Demonstrably and universally known to be not true.
What is most disturbing though in the narrative about the higher motives underlying the foreign policy of the democracies, especially the white European and North American ones, is that they just present a thin excuse for conspiring to maintain American hegemony through violence. The shared values argument is served up to docile and suggestible electorates and media outlets to distract them from the hostile reasons underpinning much of the strategic policy positions of America. In reality, these putative shared values can be ignored or dismissed when national interests are involved.
While Israel is effectively a rogue nation, it is the hypocrisy with which the Americans can abandon the Palestinians in pursuit of the neutralisation of Iran that is astounding. Blinken fails to criticise, perhaps even implicitly countenances, racial discrimination and segregation, apartheid, illegal annexation, and warcrimes by Israel. In fact, at the joint press conference, Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked America for helping “push back on the attempts to delegitimise Israel in the United Nations”. Probably a reference to Blinken’s support in shielding Israel from the International Court of Justice. Blinken argued that bringing Israel to justice for its crimes would be “to target Israel unfairly”.
Blinken’s overt tolerance of the appalling Israeli record in Palestine is symptomatic of the real values the West seems to share when it suits. And they are fluid, adaptable, and self-serving. There are no universal and enduring values for America.