The following article explores the very different reactions of the UN and the international community to two nearly identical events: the killing of Osama Bin Laden this week by the U.S., and that of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin in 2004 by Israel. For a summary of the 2004 debate at the UN Commission on Human Rights, including UN Watch’s testimony, click here.
Bin Laden versus Yassin
Hypocritical world that slammed killing of
Hamas’ Yassin now lauds bin Laden hit
Published: 05.03.11, 23:29
By Manfred Gerstenfeld
The flurry of international reactions to the killing of Osama bin Laden by the American army provides Israel with a great opportunity to demonstrate the double standards applied against it by so many in the Western world and elsewhere. All one has to do is compare the reactions of major institutions and leaders with those after the death of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. This leader of the Hamas terrorist organization was killed by Israel in 2004. He was directly responsible for many lethal attacks on Israeli civilians including suicide bombings.
On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that “the death of Osama bin Laden, announced by President (Barack) Obama last night, is a watershed moment in our common global fight against terrorism.” Yet after the killing of Sheikh Yassin, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said “I do condemn the targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin and the others who died with him. Such actions are not only contrary to international law, but they do not do anything to help the search for a peaceful solution.”
The now-defunct UN Commission on Human Rights condemned “the tragic death of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in contravention of the Hague Convention IV of 1907.” At the Security Council, the US had to use its veto power to prevent condemnation of Israel.
After the bin Laden killing, the leaders of the European Council and European Commission stated that his death made the world a safer place and showed that terrorist attacks do not remain unpunished. Following the Yassin killing, then-EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said, “This type of action does not contribute at all to create the conditions of peace. This is very, very bad news for the peace process. The policy of the European Union has been consistently condemnation of extra-judicial killing.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron congratulated President Obama on the success of the bin Laden assassination. Cameron considered it a massive step forward in the fight against extremist terrorism. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair also welcomed bin Laden’s demise.
However, the killing of Sheikh Yassin was called by the then-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw “unacceptable” and “unjustified.” The official spokesman of then-Prime Minister Blair condemned the “unlawful attack“ and observed: “We have repeatedly made clear our opposition to Israel’s use of targeted killings and assassinations.”
A case of anti-Semitism?
France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed Bin Laden’s killing as a coup in the fight against terrorism. He called President Obama, praised his determination and courage and all others who had pursued the head of al-Qaeda for 10 years. Sarkozy added that the two heads of state had agreed to continue the just and necessary fight against terrorist barbarity and those who support it.
Yet after Sheikh Yassin’s death, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Herve Ladsous, said, “France condemns the action taken against Sheikh Yassin, just as it has always condemned the principle of any extra-judicial execution as contrary to international law.” Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin declared that “such acts can only feed the spiral of violence.”
German Chancellor Angel Merkel said at a recent press conference, “I’m glad that killing bin Laden was successful.” She also called it “good news.” Then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had stated after the killing of Sheikh Yassin that “the German government is deeply concerned about the development.”
Russia released a statement regarding bin Laden which the Voice of America quoted as saying that retribution inevitably reaches all terrorists and that Russia is ready to “step up” its coordination in the international fight against global terrorism.” After the Yassin assassination, a foreign ministry spokesman said that Moscow was deeply concerned about the situation.
President Abdullah Gul of Turkey declared that the killing of bin Laden was a message for terrorist organizations all around the world. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called the killing of Yassin “a terrorist act” and said that “the assassination was not humane.”
This comparison gets even more meaningful when seen in the context of the definition of anti-Semitism as regularly used in the European Union. It was prepared by one of the EU agencies. It gives examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel, including the following: “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Israel could considerably improve its public diplomacy by using the comparison of the two killings and other comparisons of events which occur with great frequency to stress such double standards. This is one of the many ways that Israel can fend off at least part of the unjust criticism against it.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and founder and director of its Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism Project.