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.




Freidenker85 said...

"I didn't kill her, and even if I did, she was asking for it!"

I find it quite amazing, every day, to see what my country and the army I served in has become. I live in a nation run by a handful of cynics who marshall multitudes of gullible idiots into either their death or their bankrupcy. Sometimes, I consider this and feel as though I should have nothing to do with this country or this organization called "Israel".

I want to fight, I want to make a difference,

I'm just sure I can't. The die has fallen. The game's rigged. The Israeli empire is now on its way down, and it's all because it is rotten to the core.

Devir said...

I agree with everything you say and I think it is mighty decent of you having ommited the fact that Judge Golstone is a jew himself. A white south african jew.
I am stressing it but I feel, as you certainly did, that his jewry is irrelevant for the report conclusions. Any honest human being would have done the same...

pabelmont said...

You write: The report claims that there is considerable evidence that Israel – not "Jews" – deliberately bombed civilian facilities.

This is an important point, but one lost on some people not educated to such a fine distinction. For such people, the fact that Israel claims (over and over) to be the State of the Jewish People is conclusive that the acts of Israel are acts of "the Jews".

I think that -- for this reason if not for other good and sufficient reasons -- all Jews should make and repeat the point that Israel does not act for the Jewish people, but acts only for itself, as all states do, and Jews should make this point even if they are Zionists and even if they are Israelis.

Not only will this tend to educate those who (like some enemies of Israel) are unclear on this point, but it will sharpen their own thinking about what, exactly, is done "for the Jews" or is "good" for "the Jews".

For myself. I take up whatever there is of Jewishness in me into my hands and, so armed, declare that Israel does not speak for me and does not act for me.

Bahlool said...

Hi i stumbled upon your blog through google and i have to admire your fairness. I enjoy your insight in the isuse through the eyes of jews who are not fanaticly defending Israels actions and i hope i see more jews who behave like this. I as muslim used to support a two state solution but after the gaza war and the increasing support for Israels wars amongst jews made me lose hope.

Keep it up.

Ibrahamav said...

Exactly which Islamic state speaks for all muslims?

Anonymous said...

This particular post seems to be an in-house sort of thing, but I'll add a non-Israeli and non-Jewish perspective. My comment belongs more on the previous thread, but that one seems to be dead, so here it is--

I think the Goldstone Report and the way people react to it is about more than just Israel or how Jews look at Israel. I think the US government doesn't want the precedent of a Western government (and a very close ally at that) being accused of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Those kinds of trials are supposed to be for our enemies, or maybe some Third World dictator who might have been our friend, but has outlived his usefulness. But if Israeli officials are held legally accountable for targeting civilian structures, what's next? Do American Presidents face trials for imposing draconian sanctions on an entire country, knowing that it might cause an increase in mortality rates? Are they to be tried for launching unnecessary wars or for instituting torture? Is everyone supposed to be under the rule of law now?

I sincerely hope so, but you can see that the mere possibility of war crimes trials for Israeli officials has more implications than just the ones for Israel. We in America spent the first few months of the Obama Administration wondering if there would be any serious legal investigation followed up by prosecutions of Bush war crimes. Apparently the answer is no, for obvious reasons. (Probably few if any who ever hope to hold high government office in the US wants that sort of precedent). Now Goldstone raises that whole issue all over again--are high ranking Western government officials to be held accountable for massive human rights violations in a court of law?

Interestingly, some Zionist rightwingers have raised the same issue, but from their morally bankrupt POV--they oppose any accountability for Western governments fighting "terror". But I think they're right that there is more at stake than just Israel.


Jerry Haber said...


As usual, we are in agreement.

Human rights are really opposed to states' rights, or at least, states and human rights folks have varying interests. Pity the Tibetans now that the US has real relations with China. Human rights violations are used by states to flail states they don't like.

That's why I can't criticize the US response to Goldstone, except to say that were the US acting in its own interest, it would use Goldstone to pressure the Israelis. Could the Goldstone precedent boomerang against the US? Does it really care? The new administration doesn't seem to be as bad as the old one in blatantly flouting international human rights law.

The point is not to awaken the government but to awaken civil society, to let the BDS movement gain steam, to cast Israel as the human rights violator so that sensible, moral people start asking foundational questions. Governments will make their own decisions according to their own interests.

Joachim Martillo said...

Whither After Goldstone? discusses some of the serious flaws of the Goldstone Report from the standpoint of International Law.