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Global Double Standards: Unequal Reactions to Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza Conflicts

By, Hibaterahmen Boussenna: Department of International Relations and Strategic Affairs 11/07/2024        

The US and some of its European allies are facing accusations of double standards for supporting sanctions and international war crimes investigations against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine while blocking them over Israeli military actions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

While US government officials do not hesitate to accuse, condemn, and besiege Russia by imposing harsh sanctions because of Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, they take the opposite position regarding Israeli attacks on Gaza.

They even make direct statements that implicitly suggest they view Israeli attacks as “legitimate acts,” without a single condemnation.

“The whole world is united to support Ukraine and make Russian President Vladimir Putin pay a heavy price” said President Joe Biden.

    Although the number of civilian casualties in Israel’s bombing of the Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist Hospital in northern Gaza was much greater than losses in Russia’s targeting of the Maternity Hospital in Mariupol on March 9, 2022, the US neglected to hold Israel accountable but commented on the targeting of the hospital in Mariupol seeing it as an “injustice” and a “disgrace to the entire world.”

    After the attack on the hospital in Gaza, Biden said he was “deeply saddened by the explosion”.

    “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you” he said at a news conference with Israeli Prime

    Genocide Definition and Legal Framework:

    Genocide Definition According to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948): “genocide includes acts such as killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children, all committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group”.

    Legal Framework: Genocide is prosecuted under international law by bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). These institutions rely on evidence and state cooperation to pursue charges and issue rulings.

    Genocide Condemnations Against Russia:

    Since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Russia has faced widespread international condemnation for alleged war crimes and acts of genocide.

    Specific incidents, such as the massacres in Bucha and Mariupol, have drawn sharp criticism and calls for accountability.

    Numerous countries, including members of the European Union and the United States, have openly accused Russia of committing genocide. The ICC has opened investigations, and various international leaders have called for legal actions against Russian officials.

    The choice of language in media and official statements also highlights double standards. As the media has extensively covered the alleged atrocities, often using terms like “genocide” and “war crimes” to describe Russia’s actions.

    This coverage has contributed to a strong international narrative condemning Russia’s behavior.

    While there have been calls from some international bodies and human rights organizations to investigate Israel for war crimes or genocide, the response has been more muted compared to Russia. Major Western powers, including the United States, often defend Israel’s right to self-defense and avoid labeling its actions as genocide.

    They even make direct statements that implicitly suggest they view Israeli attacks as “legitimate acts,” without a single condemnation.

    Biden instantly described what happened in Ukraine as “genocide” but deferred to reporters when asked about Israel.

    Addiontianlly, Media coverage of the Gaza genocide often uses less severe language, describing Israeli actions as “clashes” or “explosions” rather than obvious “genocide”, “ethnic cleansing”  or “massacres”.

    This manipulation in terminology shapes public perception and international discourse, and leads to the spread of misunderstandings and misinformation on the case.

    The geopolitical alliances and strategic interests of major powers play a significant role in shaping their responses.

    Russia’s actions in Ukraine threaten the stability of Europe and challenge Western dominance, leading to a unified and strong condemnation.

    In contrast, Israel is a key ally for many Western nations, particularly the United States, which influences a more cautious and supportive stance.

    Legal and Diplomatic Actions:

    The willingness to pursue legal actions against Russia, such as ICC investigations and potential sanctions, contrasts with the reluctance to take similar steps against Israel.

    This huge disparity reflects the influence of political alliances and lobbying efforts.

    The disparity in genocide condemnations between Russia and Israel underscores the complex interplay of geopolitics, media influence, and legal frameworks in shaping international responses.

    Highlighting these double standards not only reveals biases but also calls for a more consistent and principled approach to addressing alleged atrocities, regardless of the actors involved.

    Economic Sanctions:

    The stark contrast in the international community’s willingness to impose extensive sanctions on Russia contrasted to the limited sanctions on Israel is mainly attributed to geopolitical alliances and strategic interests, such as

    Economic Dependencies:

    Many Western countries have economic dependencies on Israel, including military and technological collaborations, which deter them from imposing harsh sanctions.

    Political Lobbying: Israel’s powerful lobbying efforts, particularly in the United States, influence the decision-making processes regarding sanctions.

    Public Perception and Media Influence: The framing of conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza by the media also shapes public opinion and political actions. The strong condemnation of Russia is widely accepted, while criticisms of Israel often face pushback and accusations of bias or antisemitism. A striking example is how Meta now removes posts containing the term “Zionist“ considering it as a form of hate speech and “antisemitism”.

    A broad coalition of countries has imposed extensive economic sanctions on Russia. These sanctions include:

    Financial Sanctions:

    Freezing assets of Russian individuals, government officials, and businesses.

    Restrictions on transactions with Russian banks.

    Trade Sanctions:

    Bans on exporting certain goods and technologies to Russia, particularly those that could support its military capabilities.

    Energy Sanctions: Restrictions on the import of Russian oil and gas, aiming to weaken Russia’s primary revenue source.

    Individual Sanctions: Travel bans and asset freezes on key political figures, oligarchs, and military leaders involved in the aggression against Ukraine.

    These sanctions resulted in multiple impacts such as:

    Economic Impact: Severe contractions in the Russian economy, with significant reductions in GDP, international trade, and investment.

    Political Impact: Increased isolation of Russia on the global stage, with diplomatic ties strained or severed with numerous countries.

    Social Impact: Negative effects on the Russian population, including inflation, unemployment, and shortages of goods.

    Economic Sanctions Against Israel:

    While there have been calls from various international actors and human rights organizations for sanctions against Israel due to its actions in Gaza and the West Bank, the actual implementation of significant economic sanctions has been limited.

    Some Pro-Palestinian countries and organizations have imposed specific restrictions over Israel, such as banning products from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories or divesting from companies involved in the occupation.

    Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement: A global campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israeli and pro-Israeli companies’ goods and services.

    This has been a widely spread and successful movement that gained a huge support all over the world.

    Israel continues to enjoy strong diplomatic and economic relationships with key allies, particularly the United States and European Union members.

    Moreover, there is some impact on Israeli companies and institutions targeted by boycotts, but overall societal impact remains limited.

    Over the years, student activism in American universities has increasingly focused on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including calls for justice in Gaza. These movements often involve protests, divestment campaigns, boycotts,  and educational events aimed at raising awareness about the situation in Gaza and advocating for Palestinian rights.

    Prominent student organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement have been at the forefront of these efforts. These groups organize various activities, including demonstrations, educational forums, and petitions demanding that university administrations divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation.

    In response, Some universities have imposed limitations on academic discussions and events related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This includes canceling events, censoring materials, pressuring faculty members to avoid controversial topics, and even violent attacks by police and counter-protesters on demonstrators’ encampments.

    The influence of external political pressure from pro-Israel organizations and donors plays a significant role in shaping university policies such as lobbying efforts, funding threats, and public relations campaigns that push universities to crack down on pro-Palestinian activism.

    The violent suppression and administrative hurdles faced by student movements advocating for Palestinian rights in American universities reflect broader issues of free speech, political influence, and double standards in institutional responses.

    Despite significant challenges, these student movements continue to adapt and push for justice, highlighting the ongoing struggle for Palestinian solidarity in academic spaces.

    To sum up, the contrasting international responses to the Russia-Ukraine war and the Gaza-Israel conflict starkly illustrate the presence of global double standards.

    While Russia’s actions in Ukraine have been met with swift and severe condemnations, legal actions, and economic sanctions, Israel’s genocide in Gaza has often received more muted criticism and less stringent repercussions.

    Such double standards undermine the credibility and effectiveness of international norms and institutions. They highlight the challenges in achieving consistent and fair applications of justice and human rights principles across different conflicts all over the world.

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