The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Most of the Democratic candidates blew this interview question on Israel

An Israeli flag flutters from Andromeda's Rock in the Mediterranean Sea against the backdrop of Tel Aviv's skyline. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

The New York Times asked 21 candidates the same 18 questions, which makes for some interesting and amusing viewing. However, with just a few exceptions they all struggled with the question as to whether Israel abides by international standards of human rights.

Alexandra Petri: Here is the answer key to the New York Times candidate questionnaire

Here is the answer they should have given:

You know it’s weird you are asking about the only true democracy in the region. Saudi Arabia dismembered an American journalist. Egypt is run by a brutal authoritarian. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad committed genocide. And yet you want to know about Israel. Again. Can I ask why you don’t focus on any of those, on China, on Russia, on illiberal regimes that have come to power in Europe?
For starters, Israel has a democratically elected parliament in which Arabs serve. It doesn’t have a judiciary under the thumb of the government, as is the case in dozens of other countries. It has a judiciary independent enough to bring charges of corruption against a sitting prime minister. It has full equality for women and for its LGBTQ community. It has a famously independent and aggressive press. I could go on.
Now you may be referring to its policies regarding the Palestinians. Let’s start with a reminder that, on multiple occasions, Israel (at Camp David, for example) has offered the Palestinians more than 90 percent of the West Bank. Currently the offer is on the table to negotiate with the Palestinians with no preconditions. Israel withdrew from Gaza — and got nonstop war. It was accused by the Goldstone Report — later repudiated by its lead author — of human rights violations in the Gaza War. Israel conducted an independent investigation — as democracies do. In fact, the Israeli military repeatedly took actions to avoid civilian casualties to a degree most democracies would never undertake.
The question is a loaded one, for every democracy at one time or another violates human rights. In the United States the federal government and many states discriminate against the LGBTQ community in employment. We have snatched hundreds of children away from their parents and put them in cages with no effective plan for reunification and at great harm to the children. We have a pattern of unjustified killing of young black men by police officers.
The question is not whether the United States or Israel or France or any democracy makes mistakes and has people acting under the color of law who violate human rights but that they are the very countries that promulgate, enforce and reaffirm human rights when things go wrong. War criminals are prosecuted. Citizens collect civil damages against the police. Politicians go to jail for wrongdoing. The press ferrets out the truth. There is a system, imperfect as are all human systems, for obtaining justice.
We are not perfect. Israel is not perfect. However, the insistence on singling Israel out for criticism is emblematic of a double standard. Criticize Israel (I do). Debate its policies (I do). But let’s not make it No. 1 on the wanted list of human rights violators. It frankly shouldn’t be on the list at all.
Now about Prime Minister Netanyahu: There is an election (again) going on. If you are an elected official or running for office, you’d best hush up about your political preferences. We have, I thought, established the principle that democracies elect their own leaders. Otherwise, it’s entirely acceptable for Americans to criticize Netanyahu’s alliance with a fascist group, his scare tactics about Arabs going to the polls, his annexation of the Golan Heights (which sets a terrible precedent for Russia and others) and much more. However, we deal with the leader democracies elect and counsel allies in private.

Well, I suppose no one had time for that sort of answer. But seriously, these candidates need to do better.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: How to talk about Israel, and how not to

Jennifer Rubin: On Israel, Charles Schumer rises to the occasion

Jackson Diehl: The Democrats have an Israel problem — and it’s not Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar: We must apply our universal values to all nations. Only then will we achieve peace.

Dana Milbank: Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech is a knife in the heart of the U.S.-Israel alliance