Remember the time when Israel was praised as a beacon of democracy in an undemocratic region, when the world cheered tiny Israel fighting a sea of hostile Arabs? Now that the Goldstone Report has come out – the last in a series of reports criticizing Israel's Gaza Operation -- Israel is supported by all the usual suspects – rightwing Jews, rightwing Israelis (Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres on the moderate nationalist right to hyper-fascists like Ayalon and Lieberman), and, I suppose, Christian evangelicals and some conservative goyyim. Not a single liberal or progressive will rise to Israel's defense, because let's face it – when Israelis, Jews, and the rest of the world rise to criticize the bully's actions, when the person accused by the prime minister of Israel as conducting a "kangaroo court" is one of the most respected judges and scholars of international law (and a Jew and a Zionist to boot), when all the evidence against the Goldstone report is linked to research done by the rightwing Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, or the rightwing NGO Monitor (which itself does not do fact-checking but instead a lot of googling to dig up dirt on its opponents), then you know that Israel has already lost.
The real issue is not whether the human rights NGOs or whether the Goldstone Commission made this or that mistake, or relied erroneously on this or that testimony, or had biased members.
No, Israel's battle is not against the human rights NGOs but rather against the whole concept of human rights and international law. If Israel could point to a single human rights NGO that supported Israel's claim, or, for that matter, a single, unbiased expert in international human right law – this rules out strident Israel-apologists such as Irwin Cotler – then its defense would have some credibility. But because this is not possible, Israel's only recourse, after it violates the rights of Palestinians, is to deny that such rights exist.
Now, it Is not self-evident that there are human rights. Philosophers have debated the question. And international law does indeed restrict the unrestrained power of states to as they see fit. That is why conservative legal authorities in the US (and nationalists everywhere) do not like international law. They deem the use of international law against its violators "lawfare". They have no problem when lawfare is used against their enemies. I didn't hear any complaints against Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International in the Israeli media when the published reports critical of Hizbollah and Fatah (except, perhaps, that they were too little, too late.)
When Israel is accused in report after report of gross violations of human rights, and now, war crimes and perhaps crimes against humanity, its knee-jerk reaction is to accuse the organizations of bias, anti-semitism, holding kangaroo court. And this is precisely the response of rogue states like Mugabe's Zimbabwe, or Bashir's Sudan to critical reports by the same human rights NGOs against them.
And why? Because Israel – at least its government –simply doesn't get human rights or just war doctrine. It assumes that it discharges its duty to minimize civilian casualties by dropping leaflets and telling civilians to leave areas. By that reasoning, Hamas could blow up civilians legitimately if they simply warned them (like the IRA) to leave areas where they have planted bombs.
I don't want to minimize the complexity some of the issues. Just war theory, for example, is notoriously tricky when dealing with unlawful combatants. And, as I have written here before, it Is not without its detractors, and not necessarily on the right.
Let me take one example: the bombing of the police graduation that started the Gaza War. A report prepared by the rightwing Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs argued that there were not innocent traffic cops but members of militant organizations.
Granted – but so what? Under the Geneva Conventions, one cannot kill even soldiers when they are not engaged in hostile activity, or supporting it. If Hamas were to bomb an IDF graduation ceremony, that would be a violation of military convention. Now, it may be true that this is a protection only extended to regular armies. But from an ethical standpoint there is no difference. Every state sees its own army as just and peaceful and the enemy's army as barbaric and unjust. The point of conventions is to limit military action to the battle-field as much as possible. Even if military forces are located in civilian areas, such as the location of the IDF Kirya in the heart of Tel-Aviv, that does not give carte blanche, to an attacking army to wreak havoc on a civilian population.
In short, can anybody take Israel seriously when the evidence collected by Goldstone, and by NGOs – many of them Israeli -- is so overwhelming that the Gaza Op violated international humanitarian law? To argue otherwise is to accept the testimony of the IDF as infallible and to dismiss the testimony of eyewitnesses – Israeli and Palestinian – as inherently biased.
Israelis congratulate themselves that they did not nuke Gaza. After all, if they really wanted to, they could have killed hundreds of thousands, and not 1,400.
The world doesn't buy it. And Israel's isolation is growing. When an Israel's deputy foreign minister can compare the Goldstone Report to the Zionism = Racism UN, you know that Israel is grasping for straws.