Friday, October 30, 2009

Goldstone’s Detailed Response to the Berman- Ros-Lehtinen Resolution Criticizing the Report

I received Judge Goldstone's response to the House Resolution a few minutes ago as a pdf file. I OCR'ed, but there are probably many typos. Shabbat is soon, and I have to run


Shabbat Shalom

The Honorable Howard Berman

Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Ranking Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

October 29, 2009

Dear Chairman Berman and Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen,

It has come to my attention that a resolution has been introduced in the Unites States House of Representatives regarding the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which I led earlier this year.

I fully respect the right of the US Congress to examine and judge my mission and the resulting report, as well as to make its recommendations to the US Executive branch of government. However, I have strong reservations about the text of the resolution in question – text that includes serious factual inaccuracies and instances where information and statements are taken grossly out of context.

I undertook this fact-finding mission in good faith, just as I undertook my responsibilities vis à vis the South African Standing Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and Intimidation, the International War Crimes Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Panel of the Commission of Enquiry into the Activities of Nazism in Argentina, the Independent International Commission on Kosovo, and the Volker Committee investigation into the UN's Iraq oil-for-food program in 2004/5.

I hope that you, in similar good faith, will take the time to consider my comments about the resolution and, as a result of that consideration, make the necessary corrections.

Whereas clause #2: "Whereas, on January 12, 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed Resolution A/HRC/S-9/L.1, which authorized a `fact-finding mission' regarding Israel's conduct of Operation Cast Lead against violent militants in the Gaza Strip between December 27, 2008, and January 18, 2009; "

This whereas clause ignores the fact that I and others refused this original mandate, precisely because it only called for an investigation into violations committed by Israel. The mandate given to and accepted by me and under which we worked and reported reads as follows:

" investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after".

Whereas clause #2: "Whereas the resolution prejudged the outcome of its investigation, by one- sidedly mandating the `fact-finding mission' to `investigate all violations of international human rights law and International Humanitarian Law by ... Israel, against the Palestinian people ... particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression'"

This whereas clause ignores the fact that the expanded mandate that I demanded and received clearly included rocket and mortar attacks on Israel and as the report makes clear was so interpreted and implemented. It was the report carried out under this broadened mandate – not the original, rejected mandate – that was adopted by the Human Rights Council and that included the serious findings made against Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups.

Whereas clause #3: "Whereas the mandate of the `fact-finding mission' makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks, which numbered in the thousands and spanned a period of eight years, by Hamas and other violent militant groups in Gaza against civilian targets in Israel, that necessitated Israel's defensive measures;"

This whereas clause is factually incorrect. As noted above, the expanded mandate clearly included the rocket and mortar attacks. Moreover, Chapter XXIV of the Report considers in detail the relentless rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and the terror they caused to the people living within their range. The resulting finding made in the report is that these attacks constituted serious war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

Whereas clause #4: "Whereas the `fact-finding mission' included a member who, before joining the mission, had already declared Israel guilty of committing atrocities in Operation Cast Lead by signing a public letter on January 11, 2009, published in the Sunday Times, that called Israel's actions `war crimes';"

This whereas clause is misleading. It overlooks, or neglects to mention, that the member concerned, Professor Christine Chinkin of the London School of Economics, in the same letter, together with other leading international lawyers, also condemned as war crimes the Hamas rockets fired into Israel.

Whereas clause 5: "Whereas the mission's flawed and biased mandate gave serious concern to many United Nations Human Rights Council Member States which refused to support it, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the Republic ofKorea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;"

This whereas clause is factually incorrect. The mandate that was given to the Mission was certainly not opposed by all or even a majority of the States to which reference is made. I am happy to provide further details if necessary.

Whereas clause #6: "Whereas the mission's flawed and biased mandate troubled many distinguished individuals who refused invitations to head the mission;"

This whereas clause is factually incorrect. The initial mandate that was rejected by others who were invited to head the mission was the same one that I rejected. The mandate I accepted was expanded by the President of the Human Rights Council as a result of conditions I made.

Whereas clause #8: "Whereas the report repeatedly made sweeping and unsubstantiated determinations that the Israeli military had deliberately attacked civilians during Operation Cast Lead;"

This whereas clause is factually incorrect. The findings included in the report are neither "sweeping" nor "unsubstantiated" and in effect reflect 188 individual interviews, review of more than 300 reports, 30 videos and 1200 photographs. Additionally, the body of the report contains a plethora of references to the information upon which the Commission relied for our findings.

Whereas clause #9: "Whereas the authors of the report, in the body of the report itself, admit that `we did not deal with the issues ... regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas and second-guessing decisions made by soldiers and their commanding officers `in the fog of war. '

This whereas clause is misleading. The words quoted relate to the decision we made that it would have been unfair to investigate and make finding on situations where decisions had been made by Israeli soldiers "in the fog of battle". This was a decision made in favor of, and not against, the interests of Israel.

Whereas clause #10: 'Whereas in the October 16th edition of the Jewish Daily Forward, Richard Goldstone, the head of the `United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict', is quoted as saying, with respect to the mission's evidence-collection methods, `If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven.'"

The remark as quoted is both inaccurate and taken completely out of context. What I had explained to The Forward was that the Report itself would not constitute evidence admissible in court of law. It is my view, as jurist, that investigators would have to investigate which allegations they considered relevant. That, too, was why we recommended domestic investigations into the allegations.

Whereas clause #11: "Whereas the report, in effect, denied the State ofIsrael the right to self- defense, and never noted the fact that Israel had the right to defend its citizens from the repeated violent attacks committed against civilian targets in southern Israel by Hamas and other Foreign Terrorist Organizations operating from Gaza;"

It is factually incorrect to state that the Report denied Israel the right of self-defense. The report examined how that right was implemented by the standards of international law. What is commonly called ius ad bellum, the right to use military force was not considered to fall within our mandate. Israel's right to use military force was not questioned.

Whereas clause #12: "Whereas the report largely ignored the culpability of the Government of Iran and the Government ofSyria, both of whom sponsor Hamas and other Foreign Terrorist Organizations;"

This whereas clause is misleading. Nowhere that I know of has it ever been suggested that the Mission should have investigated the provenance of the rockets. Such an investigation was never on the agenda, and in any event, we would not have had the facilities or capability of investigating these allegations. If the Government of Israel has requested us to investigate that issue I have no doubt that we have done our best to do so.

Whereas clause #14: "Whereas, notwithstanding a great body of evidence that Hamas and other violent Islamist groups committed war crimes by using civilians and civilian institutions, such as mosques, schools, and hospitals, as shields, the report repeatedly downplayed or cast doubt upon that claim;"

This is a sweeping and unfair characterization of the Report. I hope that the Report will be read by those tasked with considering the resolution.

I note that the House resolution fails to mention that notwithstanding my repeated personal pleas to the Government of Israel, Israel refused all cooperation with the Mission. Among other things, I requested the views of Israel with regard to the implementation of the mandate and details of any issues that the Government of Israel might wish us to investigate.

This refusal meant that Israel did not offer any information or evidence it may have collected regarding actions by Hamas or other Palestinian groups in Gaza. Any omission of such information and evidence in the report is regrettable, but is the result of Israel's decision not to cooperate with the Fact-Finding mission, not a decision by the mission to downplay or cast doubt on such information and evidence.

Whereas clause #15: "Whereas in one notable instance, the report stated that it did not consider the admission of a Hamas official that Hamas often `created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the mujahideen, against [the Israeli military]'specifically to `constitute evidence that Hamas forced Palestinian civilians to shield military objectives against attack. '• "

This whereas clause is misleading, since the quotation is taken out of context. The quotation is part of a section of the report dealing with the very narrow allegation that Hamas compelled civilians, against their will, to act as human shields. The statement by the Hamas official is repugnant and demonstrates an apparent disregard for the safety of civilians, but it is not evidence that Hamas forced civilians to remain in their homes in order to act as human shields. Indeed, while the Government of Israel has alleged publicly that Hamas used Palestinian civilians as human shields, it has not identified any cases where it claims that civilians were doing so under threat of force by Hamas or any other party.

Whereas clause #16: "Whereas Hamas was able to significantly shape the findings of the investigation mission's report by selecting and prescreening some of the witnesses and intimidating others, as the report acknowledges when it notes that `those interviewed in Gaza appeared reluctant to speak about the presence of or conduct of hostilities by the Palestinian armed groups ... from a fear of reprisals '• "

The allegation that Hamas was able to shape the findings of my report or that it pre-screened the witnesses is devoid of truth. I challenge anyone to produce evidence in support of it.


Justice Richard J. Goldstone

The Goldstone Report and Jewish Law

In "The Goldstone Report and Jewish Law", Rabbi Ido Rechnitz, Director of the Mishpetei Eretz Institute, displays his unfamiliarity with the Law of War that underlies the Goldstone Report. Some of what he proposes as Jewish law is no different from the Law of War, such as the permissibility of killing civilians where there is military necessity ("collateral damage") and the demand to reduce civilian casualties. He misreads the Law of War as based on the distinction between individual and collective responsibility, and argues that Gaza should be treated as a collective entity under the rule of Hamas. Again, this assertion is perfectly compatible with the Goldstone report, which does not argue that Israeli should treat Hamas combatants as criminals, and Gazans as innocent bystanders.

Where Rabbi Rechnitz gets it right, and where Jewish law does indeed differ from contemporary Law of War, is his claim that wars are fought between collectives. According to Jewish law, there is no fundamental distinction between combatants and non-combatants, although in the Bible there is occasionally a distinction drawn between potential combatants on the one hand, and women and children on the other. The Law of War, on the other hand, draws a sharp line between combatants and non-combatants, and for good reason: the genocides and war crimes of the twentieth century, including the Holocaust, were predicated on the notion that peoples must suffer along with their combatants because they are collectively responsible for their leaders' actions. According to postwar law and conventions of war, wars are, or should be, fought between armies and not between peoples.

There are some collectivist approaches in recent discussion of just war theory – I will elaborate next week – but not in the manner that Rabbi Rechnitz mentions.

On Rabbi Rechnitz's reading of Jewish law, it would be perfectly permissible for Syria to bomb Tel Aviv and kill thousands of Jewish civilians in a war. The Syrian army would not have to risk its soldiers life in order to avoid harm to Israeli civilians; it could bomb yeshivot and synagogues. It couldn't do so only for the sake of killing, but would need some cause, such as punishing Israel for its aggression. Perhaps Rabbi Rechnitz assumes that civilians can be killed with impunity only when the war is just. So let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Syria is fighting a just war against Israeli aggression, and let us assume further, for the sake of Rabbi Rechnitz, that the government of Israel is run by pork-eating heretics. On his view of the Jewish ethics of war, if the Syrian army could bomb a girls' seminary and thereby achieve a military objective, without risking its own soldiers, then that would be permissible.

The Goldstone Report does not criticize Israel for harming Palestinians where there was military necessity. The Goldstone Report argues that for many operations it examined there was no military necessity; and in some cases where there was military necessity, the damage was disproportionate (another term apparently unfamiliar to Rabbi Rechnitz) to the military objective. If securing a position can be achieved by killing 50 civilians, it is wrong and illegal to kill 500. It is also wrong and illegal to destroy civilian installations, even if one recognizes some sort of collective responsibility. That is because the whole thrust of the laws of war after WWII is to ensure that civilians are removed from the picture.

That Rabbi Rechnitz and Hamas want to return civilians to the picture shouldn't surprise anybody who knows how much political-fundamentalist Judaism and Islam share in common

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Does Criticism of the Goldstone Report Pass the “NGO Monitor Test”

Torrents of criticism have rained down upon the Goldstone Report. Some are by enthusiastic bloggers and journalists; others by law professors; even some of them expert on international law.

What's a fair-minded individual, who is no expert in international law, to think?

Well, I suggest that we judge the critics of the Goldstone Report by using the same methodology that NGO Monitor uses to judge the reports of the human rights NGO's. That is to say, we examine the authors of the criticisms, find out their ideological leanings, and, without actually analyzing the content of their criticism, dismiss them as hopelessly biased.

What follows is a partial list of the critics, according to a list provided by NGO Monitor here.

Ed Morgan, Yisrael Medad, Aharon Leshno Ya'ar, Alan Dershowitz, Benjamin Pogrund, Ben-Dror Yemini, E. B. Solomon, Harold Evans, Melanie Phillips, Robert O. Freedman, John Bolton, Haviv Rettig Gur, RW Johnson, Yisrael Harel, Irwin Cotler, Hillel Neuer

Almost all Jews, almost all Zionists, almost all center right, and in some cases, famous for having moved to the right. Centrist Zionists like Cotler and Pogrund have increasingly been spending their time defending Israel and avoiding criticism. Why can't they be like Michael Walzer, another liberal Zionist, and avoid the fray?

Where are the non-Zionist writers who sharply critique the Goldstone Report? Is the world really divisible into sonei yisrael (anti-Semites) and pro-Israeli apologists? Surely Gerald Steinberg and Co. could find unbiased critics of Goldstone, those without solidly center-right Zionist credentials?

Since these are precisely the folks we would have expected to blast the report, the NGO Monitor test says that there is no reason to take their criticism seriously.

I am still waiting for the law professors who couldn't care less about Israel and Gaza to weigh in. NGO Monitor cannot cite as evidence Jessica Montell's criticism of the Goldstone Report here. After all, she is the Executive Director of B'Tselem.

And, NGO Monitor never tires of telling us, we surely can't take B'Tselem seriously.

Of course, using NGO Monitor's methodology, we can't take it seriously, either.





Monday, October 26, 2009

Blogging from the J-Street Conference

I will not rain on the parade, I will not rain on the parade, I will not rain on the parade….

So last night I was at the J Street opening, and it was deeply gratifying to be with the liberal-Zionist-peace crowd. Yes, there were many moments when I thought that we had not moved much further than the peace discourse that led to Oslo, and, yes, there was no grappling with what I consider to be the real issues, either of the conflict or of the Jewish state. But how can one not be pleased to see more than 1200 people who care about Israel, and who are not satisfied with the status quo. And who can't stand AIPAC.

Of course, one has to be impressed with how a few people put together such an organization that has received such media and government attention in such a short time.

Still, last night was mostly smoke and lights, and so there was not much to comment about, except that I heard some interesting remarks about the future of the American Jewish community, and, mostly American Judaism (I seldom venture out of my orthodox Jewish enclave; I haven't seen so many non-orthodox Jewish Jews in one place in years.)

It seems that out there in America, we have developing, possibly, a non-ethnic Judaism, a Judaism that is being formed by intermarriage and conversion. The lost of ethnicity will mean a loss of connection with the center of Jewish ethnicity, Israel. The liberal rabbi who communicated this news seemed alarmed; I, actually, thought, "Wallah, that sounds promising." What this means for American Jewry and Israel is not clear. Will it mean that the Israel Lobby will end up being an orthodox enclave, an NRA with kippot? Will it mean that Israel will continue to lose relevance for American Jews? Is that a bad thing? Who knows? I would like to hope that with an American Jewry that is increasingly distanced from Israel, the Israel Lobby will shrink to the republican rightwing. I can live with that.

But we are not there yet, and maybe we won't get there.

I am now listening to a power-point presentation by Akiva Eldar, which is taken from the updated version of his book (with Idit Zertal). The room, one of the largest for the individual sessions, is packed. We are talking about the easiest issue for the liberal Zionists, the West Bank settlements. He gave background and came up with the standard line about the settlements – that they are undermining the viability of a two-state solution.

Now, Hagit Ofran is pointing out that 60% of the settlers on the West Bank (I don't know if that includes East Jerusalem) arrived after Oslo, and that is why there is a Palestinian insistence on freezing totally the settlements. She hopes that the Obama administration will hang tough, and she reports (as good news) the increased building prior to a feared freeze, which she believes is around the corner. And now, Jerusalem

Have you learned anything that you didn't know? Well, of course, you haven't. And neither have many of the people sitting in the room. So what are they doing here?

Well, at the end of the session, people will ask what they always ask, and what they have always asked: What can be done? And the answer will be, get active and get other active.

But does anybody really think there can be change? With an American Jewish community that is becoming distant from Israel, with an Israel that is increasingly ethnonationalist and orthodox?

I will not rain on the parade, I will not rain on the parade, I will not rain on the parade….

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Passion of Richard Goldstone

It is truly sad, though hardly surprising, how a Goldstone-basher coalition has emerged in the last week, a coalition made up of Israeli war crimes apologists, states opposed to international humanitarian law (except when it serves their own interest), and ultra-nationalists everywhere. Now the Obama Administration and the Congress, for reasons of political expediency , or because of a naïve confidence in the so-called peace process, have jumped on the bandwagon.

On human rights, the message of folks like Robert Bernstein, Natan Scharansky Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz, is clear: My side has human rights; the other side, my enemy, does not. That was the message of Helsinki Watch, the predecessor of Human Rights Watch, which as Helena Cobban has pointed out here, originated not out of a concern for the rights of humans everywhere, but in order to open another front in the Cold War. The Jews in the Soviet Union did not suffer a tenth of what the Gazans have suffered and continue to suffer in terms of the infringement of their basic rights to life, liberty, employment, movement, etc. But for these gentlemen, all men are created equal -- provided they are on our side.

And so it is not surprising that Elie Wiesel, who has repeatedly criticized the world for its silence during the Holocaust, and American Jews for not heeding the suffering of Soviet Jewry , has publicly attacked Human Rights Watch in a letter to the New York Times, which contains the following vicious lie:

In a region dominated by regimes that violate human rights in horrendous ways, Human Rights Watch has instead chosen to single out Israel for condemnation, often using highly unreliable witnesses to do so

It is a vicious lie because anyone with even a superficial knowledge of HRW knows that it focuses precisely on the Middle East regimes that violate human rights in horrendous ways, and devotes much more energy in reporting about them than it does about Israel, which for the most part violates human rights in less horrendous -- though still horrendous -- ways. Wiesel and his co-author Alan Dershowitz lob their kassams indiscriminately at Human Rights Watch, when they really want to hit the UN Human Rights Council.

But while the Israel Lobby is up in arms about Goldstone, and while sane voices from Israeli liberals and conservatives have called for an independent investigation, the best person to listen to is Goldstone himself, in this interview with Bill Moyers. Bill Moyers asks Goldstone sensible question and presses him when he should be pressed. Goldstone responds as one would expect a man of his stature, intelligence, experience, and character to respond.

How sad that one of the great men of our time, and certainly one of the great Jews, is maligned by such tiny men, who chucked their moral compasses long ago so that their tribe could survive.

Part One of the interview is here

Part Two of the interview is here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Progressive Bloggers Lunch Held at Hotel Where J-Street Conference Will be Held

WARNING What you are about to be invited to is neither sponsored, nor supported, nor endorsed by J-Street. There may be left over food from the morning sessions, maybe not. And J-Street is not insisting on rent from the bloggers for the hotel room. In fact, the bloggers have absolutely nothing to do with J-Street, officially or unofficially.

When in DC on Monday come hear progressive I/P blogger/journalists speak briefly about the issues of the hour. I mean quite literally "the hour" since lunch at the second day of the J-Street Conference is from 12:30-1:30.

Here is some of the line-up

Phil Weiss (Mondoweiss)
Jerry Haber (Magnes Zionist)
Richard Silverstein (Tikun Olam)
Dan Sieradski (formerly of Jewschool)
Helena Cobban (Just World News)
Max Blumenthal (Daily Beast)
Laila el Haddad (Gaza Mom)
Matt Duss (Think Progress)
Joseph Dana (Ibn Ezra)
Ray Hanania
Jesse Hochheiser (Across the Border)

I am not entirely sure that all of the above will show; there has been extraordinary pressure from the far right for them to cancel their participation at the lunch.

(That was a joke.)

In fact, there has been a lot of pressure on Congresspeople not to show, and a lot of hot air about J-Street. And you know what? It doesn't seem to be working. After an initial minyan of folks dropped out, nothing new to report…except the good news that the smears against J-Street are from the usual smearers: ZOA, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, and assorted West Bank settlers. Even the Jewish liberal hawks have been cutting the new kid on the block some slack.

And that's the way it should be. Because after the J-Street conference next week, AIPAC will be indelibly identified with the hard-core "pumped-by-Sarah-Palin-and-Rush-Limbaugh" right. If you are a liberal democrat, you shouldn't be backing AIPAC, or for that matter, the right-wing Netanyahu government.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jonathan Sarna on Why Young American Jews Distance Themselves from Israel

In a recent op-ed in the Forward, Prof. Jonathan Sarna, the foremost historian of American Jewry, attempts to explain why American Jews, especially the young and non-orthodox, continue to distance themselves from Israel. In a nutshell, his answer is that many American Jews are disappointed that Israel has not fulfilled the utopian dreams of its founders and their parents' generation. Failing to understand that Israel's actions are necessary in order to survive in a dangerous neighborhood, American Jews hold Israel to an unreasonable, higher standard than any other state, including America.

Amicus Johannis vero, but I find his explanation unconvincing – and, surprisingly, anti-Zionist.

Why anti-Zionist? Because a central tenet of statist Zionism was that the Jews in the Diaspora were powerless, and that only in a Jewish state, would Jews become – collectively -- actors on the stage of history. The Zionist philosopher Emil Fackenheim called the establishment of the State of Israel, "the Jewish return to History". No longer would Jews sit around passively and wait for things to happen to them; they would act, for better or for worse, and their actions would have consequences.

But for Prof. Sarna, Israel is not really responsible for its actions, nor should it bear the consequences of its decisions. It is compelled to act in the way it does, because of self-defense, because it is in a bad neighborhood, because of Arab terrorism, and the collective Arab failure to accept as just the dispossession, or the partition, of their homeland. So the establishment of the Jewish State in the way that it was established, hastily and unilaterally, and culminating in Israel's refusal to let around 700,000 Palestinian Arabs return to their lands, which they later expropriated, along with the thousands of dunams of Arab citizens of the Jewish state, for the purpose of Jewish growth and settlement -- none of this, it seems, has an effect on Palestinian Arabs' attitudes towards Israeli Jews. The same can be said for the occupation and siege of the West Bank and Gaza -- the longest occupation in modern history. Millions of Palestinians are governed without their consent while their lands are confiscated in the name of Israel's security, or the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, or both.

Is it any surprise that Israeli and American Jews are starting to wonder whether the continued existence of the state set up in 1948 under these conditions is worth it? After all, no advocate for Zionism ever made the argument to the world that in order for there to be a secure, Jewish state, most of the Palestinian inhabitants would have to leave their homes, or that millions would have to be governed against their consent.

According to Prof. Sarna, Israel is acting the way any normal state would act under such difficult conditions. And so, idealistic young people with higher standards, are tired and upset with Israel.

Yet a closer look at his argument shows that Prof. Sarna is not describing the younger generation, but his own.

In place of the utopia that we had hoped Israel might become, young Jews today often view Israel through the eyes of contemporary media: They fixate upon its unloveliest warts.

Why should the younger generation, who did not have their consciousness seared by the movie Exodus, the Six Day War, and Jewish Federation "Missions," who have seen only a tiny bit of what Israel does in the Occupied Territories on the mainstream American media (was the Goldstone report even mentioned in the liberal MSNBC evening lineup?)—why should it feel disillusionment or disappointment that the Zionist dream has not come true? That may indeed by the case for those who were exposed to that dream, and disillusionment may indeed characterize the boomer generation of 67.

But what the younger generation has seen is a never ending cycle of "peace-processes," Jewish settlement, and suffering, both Israeli Jewish and Palestinian, but mostly Palestinian. And a gross imbalance and exercise of power which is as old as the State of Israel itself. Is it any wonder that, unlike thirty years ago, the young supporters of Israel today in the US are overwhelmingly Jewish orthodox or Christian fundamentalist, Republican, and neocon?

The same young progressive Jews who campaigned passionately for Obama, opposed the war in Iraq, and fight hard for civil liberty and equality, do not view Israel as a failed utopia. Rather, they view Israel as a failing state, one that offers to the Palestinians the shards of a state, a truncated, demilitarized, and powerless entity.

With Israel's Zionist left in disarray, and with a rightwing chauvinistic national consensus that is bolstered by religious fundamentalists and ethnonationalists from the former Soviet Union, who has distanced itself from whom? American Jews from Israel, or Israel from American Jews?

Still, while Prof. Sarna's explanation is not convincing, his call to action is:

The deepest and most meaningful of relationships, however, survive disappointments. By focusing upon all that they nevertheless share in common, and all that they might yet accomplish together in the future, American Jews and Israelis can move past this crisis in their relationship and settle in, as partners, for the long haul ahead.

Amen to that. The wrong thing for liberal Jews to do is to turn their back on Israel, to give up hope, to lose interest. On the contrary, liberal American Jews should apply at least the same energies to working for justice in Israel-Palestine, as they do in America. That means engaging with Israel, helping to transform the 1948 ethnocracy into a liberal democracy of all its citizens, fighting for justice for the Palestinian Israelis, the foreign workers, political refugees, and othe disadvantaged groups. Let there be a Birthright Human Rights, in which Jewish college kids join Israeli-Palestinian human rights groups like Ta'ayush, Yesh Din, B'tselem, and many others. There is so much that liberal American Jews can and should do. It is immaterial to me that they do it as Jews or simply as decent human beings, as yidden or as mentshen.

Who knows? Perhaps not only Zion, but also Zionism, can be redeemed through justice.

Friday, October 16, 2009

J-Street Strikes Back at the Smearers

A smear campaign against J-Street has been launched by – who else? The Weekly Standard, Commentary and the Standwithus crowd. They are telling their supporters to hound the members of Congress who are part of the J-Street Gala's Honorary Host Committee and get them to withdraw. So why not? Hey, it's a free country, isn't it?

Sure, and if they played by the rules, that would be fine. But their rules include smearing and guilt-by-association. Remember how they went after Obama? Now they are saying that because one of the many speakers at the J-Street Conference, Salam al-Marayati, made a remark on radio suggesting that Israel should be on the lists of suspects for the 9/11 attack. He did this on September 11, and then immediately apologized for it the next day and on the same radio show.

So why is Salam al-Marayati speaking at J-Street? Because of something which he does not apologize for – his support of the two-state solution. In an op-ed he wrote for JTA

"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key issue of U.S.-Muslim world relations. My position on the conflict -- and that of MPAC -- centers on the two-state solution whereby Israel and Palestine exist side by side with security and opportunity. I believe also that the injustices that the Palestinian people have endured for more than 60 years, as well as the ongoing occupation that started in 1967, must be addressed and rectified through negotiation, not violence. Middle East wars have not resolved anything in the 20th century or in the first decade of this century"

In other words, the man is as extreme as…Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyahu!

Oh, did I tell you that al-Marayati's support for the two-state solution is not mentioned in the smear campaign.

Please read the appeal below, and contact the congresspeople. I am sick of the McCarthyite tactics of those who still worship at the feet of Joe McCarthy. You don't like al-Marayati? Don't go to hear him speak. Attack him publicly. But withdraw from the conference because of that?

Only a neocon could sink so low.

Yesterday, in a classic "Swift Boat" move, the Weekly Standard magazine - dubbed the "neocon bible" by The Economist - launched an attack on our conference and the whole pro-Israel, pro-peace movement. [1]

They're working the phones - calling the offices of every one of the 150-plus members of Congress on our Gala's Honorary Host Committee to frighten them away from associating with J Street. The most infuriating part is that their thuggish smear tactics are having an impact -- already 5 members of Congress have pulled off of our Host Committee.

This is exactly how the neoconservative far-right of the pro-Israel community has - for decades - imposed strict boundaries of acceptable political conversation on Israel in this country. Cross them and prepare to feel the full effect of their smear machine.

Enough. Not this time. Today, the mainstream majority goes on offense.

If you're getting this email, you've got a Senator or Representative on our Honorary Host Committee. Will you call them right now to thank them for signing on to our Host Committee before the Weekly Standard guys get to them?

Click here to call your member(s) of Congress using our easy-to-use call-in tool. We'll connect your phone directly for no hassle and no extra cost.

So what's causing our political opponents to become so totally unhinged?

It's the whole pro-Israel, pro-peace movement's growing influence.

We've got an exciting conference planned that starts in just 9 days, and over 1,000 people are slated to attend.

The New York Times Magazine published a lengthy profile on us, showing that even top national media outlets are recognizing the change that's coming to our issue. [2]

We're showing Congress that political support exists from those of us that believe supporting Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic homeland means supporting President Obama's balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Don't let these neoconservatives and their Swift Boat tactics win the day. Call your representative today and make sure they hear from the mainstream majority.

Click here to call your member(s) of Congress right now. Our easy-to-use tool will connect your phone directly for no hassle and no extra cost.

Thanks so much for all you do.


Isaac Luria

Campaigns Director

J Street

October 16, 2009

[1] "The Neocon Bible, The Weekly Standard." The Economist, September 2005.

[2] "The New Israel Lobby," by James Traub. The New York Times Magazine, September 9, 2009.


The Goldstone Report is Accepted by the UN Human Rights Council

When Stephen Sondheim wrote "Have an eggroll, Mr. Goldstone" for the musical Gypsy, he was prescient. The Goldstone Report has now been formally accepted by the UN Human Rights Council, and will be referred to the UN Security Council. The report's recommendations were approved by a vote of 23 including China (hence the nod to Sondheim) to six, with 11 abstentions. Read about it here.

The Israeli knee-jerk response will be to talk about the "automatic anti-Israel majority" and the states in the majority that are human rights violators. Well, I guess it takes one to know one. Let's not forget that two weeks ago Israel was crowing about how it had buried the report with the help of the Palestinians. Israel was only able to get six states to side with it – and only two Western European states, Italy and the Netherlands. France and England did not vote. This is an achievement for the Palestinians, because what state interest is served by adopting a human rights report that limits the power of states?

The US rejected the report on three grounds: a) the resolution included matters not in the Goldstone report; b) adopting the report would hurt the Peace Process; c) "The report failed to deal adequately with the asymmetrical nature of the confrontation." This last one is disturbing because it smacks of the Bush-Cheney doctrine that says that when engaged in a asymmetric "war on terror" the enemy combatants (and those surrounding them) are not protected under the laws and conventions of war. And who gets to determine what is a war on terror and who are enemy combatants? You guessed it, the state that is at war.

But Gaza is not ruled by al-Qaeda or the Bader-Meinhof gang. Gaza is ruled by a Palestinian political party, Hamas, which Israel treats as the governing authority when it suits it and as a terrorist organization when it suits it. The only asymmetry is that Israel has virtually all the effective weapons – and the Gazans barely fought the IDF in the Gaza Op. Were the report to deal adequately with the asymmetrical nature of the confrontation, it would condemn Israel not only for the conduct of the war but for its decision to go to war – since other less belligerent options were open to it, given the nature of the Hamas threat to its own citizens.

This is not the US's finest hour. If it had not voted, the peace process would not have been affected at all.

When human rights become hostage to a nonexistent (or, for that matter, existent) "peace process," I say, "Enough of the carrot. Bring on the stick."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Beyond Chutzpah – Jewish Responses to the Goldstone Report

Jews worldwide are on the eve of the holiday celebrating the completion of the public reading of the Torah in synagogue. It is a lovely holiday, the Rejoicing of the Torah, and Jews are to supposed to be happy (whether they actually are happy while waiting for all the dancing to stop is something else.)

But I am writing these words on Hoshana Rabbah, the last day of the festival of Sukkot, which, according to tradition, is the last opportunity for Jews to repent their sins of the past year and make amends for it.

When it comes to Israel and its Jewish supporters, we are not in a repentance mode. On the contrary, self-righteousness , moral superiority, smugness, and condescension are the order of the days.

It used to be that the classic example of chutzpah was the man who murders his parents and then pleads for clemency on the grounds that he is an orphan.

Now the example of chutzpah should be the state that refuses to cooperate with the human rights committee and then criticizes its report as "one-sided" and "biased".

Is the Goldstone Report one-sided? Not as much as one would expect, given that Judge Goldstone was barred from entering Israel, not allowed to interview Israelis in Sderot, not allowed to speak with the Israel Defense Forces. That the investigating panel paid for Israelis to fly to Geneva to give testimony to his committee has not been mentioned in the hysterical Jewish reaction to the report. Or that the report was based also on the Israeli human rights organizations, and even on the testimony of Israeli soldiers who supported the operation. We hear a lot about the bias of the report of its original mandate, or that it took testimony from (gasp) Palestinians (and we all know how much Arabs exaggerate, right?)

I have not, I confess, read through all of the report. As I wrote before, what I read of it did not strike me as new; the incidents described were already described in real time, and we have had further confirmation of incidents from Palestinians and Israelis and foreign aid workers. I assume that there are errors, only because testimonies contain errors. The report called for both sides to do a serious investigation (and no military investigation can be a serious one), and that call has been echoed by voices of civil society. No doubt a sober examination of some parts of the report – as any report – would raise further questions. Nobody is perfect. But there is condemnation of Hamas rocket fire, and there is considerable examination of the destruction in Southern Israel (including the psychological trauma) that followed in its wake. And, of course, the report condemns Hamas and finds no justification for its actions.

So I am at a loss to explain the hysterical reaction of Israelis and American Jews who – I thought – were a tad more intelligent than ZOA and the Standwithus crowd.

Let's begin with Ambassador Michael Oren's hatchet job in the New Republic, "Deep Denial: Why the Holocaust Still Matters". After explaining the relevance of the references to the Holocaust by the Israeli Prime Minister (when will the Holocaust never be relevant to an Israeli prime minister?) he writes that the Goldstone Report portrays Israel as a Nazi state, and that it "takes up where Ahmadinejad leaves off"!

The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves. If a country can be pummeled by thousands of rockets and still not be justified in protecting its inhabitants, then at issue is not the methods by which that country survives but whether it can survive at all. But more insidiously, the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents--as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed

Ribono shel olam! Oy to the ears that hear such shtuyot (imbecilities)! This man is supposed to be representing the Jewish State in America? My God, I don't hear such narrishkeit in my shul; no, wait, that is unfair to my shul, I don't even hear it among the Hebron settlers!

I see nothing in the Goldstone Report that criticizes Israel for its decision to go to war, or that even hints that the military option was not justifiable. Everything that the report discusses with respect to Israel has to do with the IDF's conduct of the operation. So Oren is dead wrong on that point.

As for the report portraying "Jews as the deliberate murder of innocents," that is also a libel. The report claims that there is considerable evidence that Israel – not "Jews" – deliberately bombed civilian facilities. And Israel admits to this; it only claims that the civilian facilities were, in some cases, harboring terrorists or weapons, and thus proper targets. So the question is, did the IDF deliberately bomb such facilities, and if so, what was their justification for doing so? I would like to remind my dear readers that the IDF routinely impresses upon Palestinians its power. It is called "le-hafgin nokhekhut", to demonstrate the army's presence. In the Gaza Op we had the phrase, "baal-habayit hishtagea'", "the boss has gone berserk." There are times when the military can't pull its punches. It is called harta'a 'deterrence'.

Now it is perfectly legitimate for the IDF to dispute this or that incident; it has the obligation to do so. But who says that Israel or the IDF are immune from such criticism?

And as for the Nazi comparison… Puhleese. I guess Oren thinks that the Allies were Nazis when they carpet bombed Dresden.

So you think it is only Oren? Let's go to his neocon Israeli buddy, Haaretz's Ari Shavit. In this op-ed Goldstone isn't just accusing the Israelis of being Nazis, he is bringing about their destruction through the next war, the "Goldstone War"

Nobody knows yet when the next war will break out. Maybe in a decade, maybe in a year, or maybe even next month. It is also not clear where the next war will erupt - perhaps on the Gaza border, perhaps the West Bank, or maybe in Jerusalem.

But it is already clear what the next war's name will be - the Goldstone War. It will be the war brought upon us by the Goldstone report, Judge Goldstone and his Goldstoner followers

Now, let's follow Shavit's line of thought, which Is truly "Orenian." It goes like this: Israel, in the absence of peace, has to beat up the Palestinians every once in a while. The moral cost is "intolerable" but what to do, somebody has to teach those guys a lesson in deterrence (the magic word) and hope that the moderates will emerge.

But then comes along Goldstone and the human-righters and out goes the deterrence. Because – and here's the kicker – the Gazans know that after they are bombed to smithereens, they will be defended by the UN! And while this may be cold comfort to rational people, those terrorists might actually think that future Goldstoners will protect them. So they will terrorize Israel knowing that – even though they are condemned by the human rights people, at least the adversary Israel will also be condemned!

One wonders whether mainland China's newspapers has a spot reserved for Shavit?

And finally, let's not forget the liberal-minded American Jewish newspaper the Forward. Here, at least, you would expect less hysteria, maybe, even fair-mindedness?

Think again. Although it is the first in-depth Jewish journalistic account to actually look at the report, it is more one-sided than the report itself. At least Goldstone's committee took testimony from Israelis, and not just "Goldstoners" like the human rights organizations. And the committee was boycotted by Israel, as I mentioned above.

But, aside from getting reactions from Goldstone, the Forward's article bases itself entirely on Israeli sources, some of which are associated with the ultra rightwing think-tank, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, none of which are on the left of the spectrum. Not a single Palestinian is interviewed, nor are reactions to specific claims solicited from Israeli human rights groups.

But worse, the Forward (and most Israelis) seems to assume that it is permitted to kill summarily members of the Hamas organization because it is considered to be a terrorist organization. But in a war, there is immunity for fighters who are not actively contributing to the war effort, much less simply members of a militant organization. The fact that Hamas websites, for its own propaganda purposes, claims certain people to proud fighters in their organization (remember the competition between Hamas and Fatah over the suicide bombers?) does not mean that they can be killed with impunity.

For if you think it does, then you are justifying the murder of the Israeli soldiers at the Beit Lid intersection, when they were waiting for a bus.

From a moral point of view, merely putting on a uniform doesn't mean that you are a legitimate target. And if you don't put on a uniform, and simply join an organization, even a military one, then you are certainly not a legitimate target.

And of course, there is no mention in the Forward of the white phosphorus use, the killing of civilians reported by Israeli soldiers in the Breaking the Silence testimonies.

From Gal Beckerman's article, it seems that the real problem of the Goldstone panel was that that it did not listen to all the evidence from Israel but rushed to judgment.

And that, considering Israel's boycott of the committee, is beyond chutzpah.



Friday, October 2, 2009

Throwing Judge Goldstone (and the Gazans) Under the Bus – Who Won and Who Lost

It took about a week to finish off Richard Goldstone and his Gaza Report. You have to give a lot of credit to the Netanyahu government. They get better at killing the messenger each time they do it. This time a few days of Israeli phone calls to the European capitals, intensive public relations, and a lot of help from the US government, did the trick. Hillary bought the Israeli line that acting upon the Goldstone Report would damage a (non-existent) peace process. As if the war crimes in Gaza had anything to do with any sort of peace process.

But an honorable mention and a big yashar koah goes to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, which buckled under "intense pressure" from the US, and agreed to delay deliberations on the report until March.

So who are the winners and losers in l'affaire Goldstone?

Well, the winners in no special order are the rightwing Israeli government and its rightwing supporters, the American administration, and Hamas. The first two are obvious; for Bibi and Hillary (and her boss), the Goldstone Report was a "distraction" from the main issue, which is how to pretend there is a peace process and to juggle at the same time.

And why Hamas? Because at the same time that the PA was capitulating to the Israelis and the Americans, much to the crowing of the Israelis, Hamas managed to exchange a videotape of Gilad Shalit for Palestinian prisoners. Moral of the story: kidnap Israeli soldiers, and you get a prisoner release. (It didn't take Khaled Mashal a long time to figure that out.) Collaborate with the Israelis, and you get bubkes, although I would like to think that at least some people of Ramallah will be well-rewarded for their efforts.

And how is this going to play in the Palestinian street? Do I need to spell that out for you? Just read the wise analysis by Amjad Atallah here.

The big losers, again in no special order, are Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which have been quick to spin their decision as only a delaying tactic. Believe that, and I have a security fence you may be interested in.

Of course, their patrons, the Israelis Dons, spun the Palestinian surrender their own way. According to Haaretz

The Palestinian decision not to push the report was "proof that Israel was right not to cooperate with the investigation and that it was a political tool that can be blocked through diplomatic activity," a source said.

Good to see that the PA has joined the Coalition Forces.

Other big losers are the human rights organizations, the folks who care about little things like the death, dismemberment, and trauma of innocent civilians, and the destruction of their lives and property. What Israel, the US, and the PA proved today was that power trumps justice, that war criminals are held to account when and only when they are not friends of the big boys.

But the biggest losers, aside from the Gazans, are good people everywhere. We are taught that crime doesn't pay, that the bad guys will be punished, that pride goeth before a fall. It's doesn't get easier to learn that the bullies often get their way.

Of course, Torah teaches that the ledger is open, and that there is a hand that records the deeds and misdeeds. The ray of hope in all this is that nobody opposed to the Goldstone report, or for that matter, any of the human rights reports, disputed the facts therein. (I exclude the hardcore right-wingers and the Israeli government, which always dispute the facts.) The claims have been that the original mandate was biased, that the report lacked context, that its conclusions were over the top, that the UN hates Israel, yada, yada, yada. Discrediting the messenger is a good short-term tactic, but a lousy long-term one. So while I don't share the optimism of the last optimist in Israel, Gideon Levy, who thinks that the Goldstone report will affect future Israeli behavior, I am hopeful that a lot of people out there know a rat when they smell one.

And let's not forget a VERY BIG winner of throwing Judge Goldstone under the bus – the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions people. For we now know that the way to get results out of the Israeli government is through public action – and that action cannot be left to government actions, especially when the governments are serial human-rights violators such as the US, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority.