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Global Ethics Corner: Interests or Values: The West and Israel

Friday, December 3, 2010

The clash of interests and values in foreign policy is pervasive in the modern world.

Machiavelli, in the 1500s, cynically but practically advised Princes to put interest first, that the end justifies the means. For centuries, this was the de facto rationale underlying the global state system.

Today, value based ideas like democracy, humanitarian intervention, and universal human rights have become core elements of foreign policy. Values are expected to matter.

This clash is clear in the western support for Israel.

Israel is considered a key ally in Middle East and an integral part of western security. For the U.S., Israel is an essential strategic partner especially in the global "war on terror" and in the efforts to deter Iranian nuclear ambitions. Shared values and culture, too, make Israel important to the West. Hence, Israel receives western aid and political support.

At the same time, Israeli actions in Gaza are uniformly criticized by the international community, and the ongoing blockade is condemned by the United Nations. Israeli settlements in the West Bank are a stumbling block to peace, and violate individual human rights.

For some, this is hypocrisy. The U.S. praises human rights and wages wars to promote these rights globally. Similarly, the EU claims to be a union of values, upholding democracy and human rights. Yet Chomsky argues that they turn an opaque eye to Israel's criminal acts in Gaza.

What do you think? Must interests and values clash? How do you resolve the differences or negotiate the chasm? Can there be a middle ground?

By Omer Zarpli

For more information see:

Gideon Levy. Punishment of Gaza. Verso, 2010
Noam Chomsky, "Exterminate all the Brutes": Gaza 2009


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