Should Beauty and Manners Define Human Rights?

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

Last month, among the many intense chapters of the Israel-Palestine situation, people all over the world rallied in support of Palestinians who now find themselves helplessly embroiled in what many think is a disproportionately brutal counterattack (via advanced airstrikes) on behalf of the Israeli government. Amidst the public outcry over the lives lost and misplaced from these attacks were comments made by Palestinian-American fashion model, Bella Hadid, who tweeted in support of her Palestinian heritage, “The way my heart feels... To be around this many beautiful, smart, respectful, loving, kind and generous Palestinians all in one place… it feels whole! We are a rare breed!” Hadid received immediate backlash, particularly from the official Israeli Twitter account. Of course, their bias is well known: They want to defend Israeli interests, even at the expense of Palestinians, so firing back at Hadid’s comments is part of their job description. But such Zionist bias is not the reason why I, in particular, disagree with Bella Hadid’s comments.

Hadid’s intentions are true and noble: Palestinians have indeed been on the receiving end of excessive attacks from the Israeli military, and are in a vulnerable position with very few options, so they need all the support, sponsorship, and endorsements they can get… but not because they’re beautiful. Or smart. Or respectful. Or loving. Or kind. Or generous. Palestinians deserve support because they’re human beings stuck in a terribly unfair situation. That should be the contextual priority in justifying support for them, not their perceived beauty. Hadid’s tweets, although kind and supportive, highlighted aspects of human life (like beauty, intelligence, generosity) that should not hint at or influence who gets to get bombed by Israel’s Zionist military and who doesn’t. If you are witnessing people getting bombed, is your first thought going to be, “Look at how beautiful and smart those people are?” You might praise their courage and resilience in a time of hardship, and maybe empathize with their struggle, but should your first instinct really be to highlight their beauty, or some other similarly unrelated trait?

Interestingly enough, this recent incident reminds me of another similar example of a victimized, persecuted individual whose terrible fate (and the narrative of unjust cruelty that is attached to it) has been arguably overshadowed in history by her perceived beauty, intelligence, and charm: Anne Frank. Most of us know Anne Frank’s story, but fewer know about Helga Newmark, one of Anne Frank’s friends who was similarly imprisoned in concentration camps by Nazis during their occupation of the Netherlands. Newmark survived the Holocaust, and in her later years would recall the story of how, before Nazis took them and their families, Anne Frank threw a birthday party inviting some of the girls from her neighborhood, but excluded Helga. Reminiscing about the apparent slight, Newmark said, “Anne Frank was a brat.” Apparently, according to Newmark, Frank was a bigmouth and a bit of a know-it-all, even testing the patience of her teachers by not ceasing to speak during class. Imagine, for a moment, being friends with Anne Frank, knowing how impacting her diary was, and how touching and moving her story was for millions of people… and then publicly calling her a brat! Naturally, Newmark received backlash. In response to her obituary years later, protectors of Anne Frank’s honor and near-sainthood would post comments such as, “The nerve to criticize Anne Frank!” and (in caps) “I WOULDN’T HAVE INVITED HER EITHER.”

But they all missed the point. Newmark didn’t want to highlight that Anne Frank was a brat simply because she had a decades-long grudge against her for not inviting her to a birthday party. Newmark wanted to show that Anne Frank, like you and like me, was human, with human flaws. Imprisoning and murdering Anne Frank wasn’t wrong because she was a nice person, or because her diary inspired us. It was wrong because she had the basic human right to not get killed by Nazis.

Anne Frank might very well have been a brat, that Palestinian you know might very well have acted unkindly to that store owner, that black person might very well have smoked weed once; none of them deserve a cruel and unjust fate because of that. To truly understand that, we have to ensure that arguments pertaining how beautiful, smart or kind people are do not get entangled into conversations about whether they deserve to be killed or oppressed.

Let’s end this piece with an exercise: Take every adjective that Bella Hadid used to defend Palestinian rights, and find its respective antonym. “Beautiful” becomes ugly. “Smart” becomes stupid. “Respectful” becomes rude. “Loving” becomes hateful. “Kind” becomes mean. “Generous” becomes greedy.

Now, ask yourself: Have you ever been any of these antonyms? Do you know or love someone who has? And if someone had the power to decide whether they live or die based on those negative qualities, would you like that? Because right at this moment, supremacist entities with the power and willingness to violently act on their bigoted instincts are waiting for just the right and convenient narrative to come along and deem those “others” as, you guessed it, less beautiful, less smart, and less respectful than them. Don’t give such powers that opportunity by beautifying human rights.

By Gary Izquier

Gary Izquier is a Venezuelan-American student of International Communications at THUAS. As a Millennial in a class full of Gen-Z students, he hopes to learn but also express whatever wisdom he can give to a young, international community. When he isn't studying, working, or over-thinking global issues, he can be found either gaming, debating strangers online, or pretending to be Bob Dylan on the guitar.

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