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Israeli diplomat Arthur Lenk addressed the role of international law in shaping Israeli foreign policy and military doctrine at a talk Wednesday at the Harris School of Public Policy.
Lenk, director of the Department of International Law at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is working with the United Nations Secretary General’s Panel of Inquiry on the flotilla incident.
“Israel is a state of the rule of law,” said Lenk, whose office deals with human rights issues and border concerns.
He spoke on military concerns that may carry international implications, such as the use of human shields or of particular munitions. “There’s a public policy consideration of being called a war criminal,” he said.
Lenk criticized the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for allowing membership to nations which themselves have spotty human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, as well as for disproportionately targeting Israel in spite of other nations’ transgressions of international law.
“Are we two-thirds of the human rights problems around the world?” Lenk said, referring to the percentage of UNHRC measures directed only at Israel. “I don’t think so.”
Lenk defended Israel’s human rights track record and what he described as the “significant risks for peace” it has made. He cited, among other events, the 1978 Camp David Accords that brought peace between Egypt and Israel, as well as Israel’s decision to participate with a United Nations investigation into its raid last May on a supply flotilla bound to run the blockade around Gaza—a move he called “a great leap of faith.”
Not all the event’s attendees were convinced by Lenk’s argument.
In a discussion on the Israeli Defense Forces targeting civilian homes that are also being used as weapons caches, one audience member questioned the effectiveness of measures taken to mitigate collateral damage, asking where the people would be relocated. Lenk admitted that measures like evacuating the immediate area do not necessarily provide a long-term solution for civilians.
But as the event was open only to those with an invitation—its location was released only to those whose applications were accepted—the tone was academic and subdued, despite hard-hitting questions.
“There were some tough questions, but it was really academic and fair,” Lenk said. “When we start shouting each other down, who benefits from that?”