Last Words on The Goldstone Op-Ed Fiasco

Lots of words have now been spent on the op-ed by Richard Goldstone of last Friday, and I have been one of the worst consumers. I’m hoping this is the last of my spillage on a matter that does more to show how absurd the politics around Israel-Palestine are than anything else.

The Associated Press reported today of what some call Goldstone’s flip-flop of his flip-flop. But it was never so. As I pointed out, the Report overstated a case regarding Israeli intent to target civilians, Goldstone then stated that Israel’s investigations “indicate” that such was not the case, and now he’s saying that nothing in his current view

White phosphorous raining down in Gaza during Cast Lead. This is what need attention, not Richard Goldstone

means that the original report should be nullified, in part or whole.

In fact, all of that is internally consistent. But it doesn’t play that way in the heated realm of Israel-Palestine politics.

Human rights groups have already made their statements, including one by Human Rights Watch and another today in the same Washington Post as Goldstone by my former boss, Jessica Montell of B’Tselem.

I’m ending here with comments on two other pieces by two guys, both friends and colleagues.

The first is Jerry Haber at the Magnes Zionist. Jerry and I have had a bit of back and forth parsing words in the Goldstone report and the op-ed. I think we agree on the most essential point, though—that whatever the Report said or didn’t say or Goldstone said or didn’t say on the matter of intentionality, the level of destruction in Gaza, both of civilian lives and of homes and other civilian property, merits serious investigation. Even without intent to specifically target civilians (which Goldstone merely says is no longer “indicated” and that still means it should be investigated), the central question still is whether proper safeguards to prevent harming civilians were in place. I think Jerry agrees with me that such investigation is still lacking.

But Jerry also says this in his blog piece posted earlier today: Continue reading

Goldstone Op-Ed Shows Need For Deeper Look At Gaza And International Law

Quite frankly, the Goldstone Report on the Israeli devastation of the Gaza Strip and Hamas rocket firing during what was called Operation Cast Lead has been a fiasco of politicization from day one.

Back in November of 2009, I wrote a piece looking at some of the basic flaws with the Report, but also why it was so very important. Now, Richard Goldstone himself has written an op-ed in the Washington Post that seems to be a retreat from the Report he was the lead author of and that only serves to stir up the hornets’ nest even further.

The politicization has come from both sides, left and right. This is reflected in the responses to the report. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that in light of Goldstone’s op-ed the entire report should be scrapped. On the other side, Adam Horowitz, who recently co-edited a book on the Goldstone Report, says the UN report

Justice Richard Goldstone

which prompted Goldstone’s op-ed only proves that the issue needs to be brought before the International Criminal Court.

For me, the whole episode, from start to finish, simply shows the naiveté of the concept that somehow human rights and international law can be applied objectively and not subjected to political influences.

I had problems with all of this from the beginning. Israel’s constant framing of so many criticisms as anti-Semitism or at least anti-Israel bias has turned into a cry of wolf that only its passionate devotees treat with credibility these days. But when it comes to the UN Human Rights Council, the accusation not only has merit, but is absolutely spot-on.

The UNHRC has only one country, Israel, under permanent review, and as of 2010, almost half its resolutions had to do with Israel. Its rapporteur on the issue is charged only with reviewing Israeli human rights violations, not Palestinian ones. The mere fact that an international human rights body includes among its members such states as China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Thailand, and until just a few weeks ago, Libya (and the inclusion of the US, responsible for so many human rights violations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guantanamo Bay, which executes developmentally disabled people, and so many other stains on its human rights record that are ongoing hardly helps) already calls its legitimacy into question. Its record on Israel should have necessitated that another body be overseeing the volatile investigation into Operation Cast Lead.

The fact that Goldstone himself had to refuse the assignment unless the mandate for it was expanded to include all actors, not only Israel, not only reinforces the issue of anti-Israel bias at the UNHRC, but also the fact that these are not legal/criminal investigations, but political ones. Continue reading

How We Report On Human Rights Matters

It is not easy being the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza. It is impossible for them to issue any statement that doesn’t become instantly politicized. And, like many NGOs, their reports are often put in less than ideal contexts by the media.

Much like their counterparts — such as al-Haq in the West Bank and groups like B’Tselem and Gisha in Israel — their attempt to report on human rights and, to act as a watchdog on their own government while operating in an atmosphere where the Israeli occupation causes overarching human rights violations creates a difficult balancing act.

Logo of the Palestine Center for Human Rights, located in the Gaza Strip

But PCHR still is the best NGO source for the state of human rights in Gaza. True, it has little competition (though there is some, including B’Tselem’s fieldworkers in Gaza), but its reports have generally proven reliable—so much so, that their releases are often used by the Israeli right.

Today, the New York Times reported on a recent PCHR release, which criticized “members of the Palestinian resistance” for “stor[ing] explosives or to treat such explosives in locations close to populated areas.”

It is important to note that PCHR did not identify the “members of the resistance.” The Times, while scrupulously avoiding any statement that the PCHR statement is referring to Hamas, does say that “Israel has long accused Hamas and other groups of endangering Palestinian civilians by carrying out militant activities in densely populated areas.”

A PCHR spokesman also noted that the Hamas government tried to shift blame for injuries to Gazan civilians that were clearly caused by Palestinian rockets onto Israel.

An unwitting reader of the Times article might infer that PCHR was implicitly accusing Hamas of being responsible for the weapons storage. The distinction there is an important one.

Storing weapons in civilian areas, or dangerously near civilians, carries two threats, both of which the people of Gaza have become intimately familiar with. One is that the weapons will accidentally discharge or misfire when used. The second is that Israel will target the area. Continue reading

The Murders in Itamar Settlement, and the Cynical Government Response

When I read about the horrifying slaughter of five members of the Fogel family, who lived in the settlement of Itamar, I had to ask myself why I reacted the way I did.

Was the rage I felt, the intense moral revulsion, due in any way because these were fellow Jews? After all, I receive daily, often even more frequently, reports from NGOs, human rights groups, the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli and Palestinian governments and a wide variety of international sources, many of which describe horrible acts of violence and killing.

The IDF has increased its presence throughout the West Bank in the wake of the murders in Itamar

The answer is no, but let me explain why I wondered. My reaction to this event was strong, and not in the least tempered by the fact that these people were settlers living in one of the most ideologically-driven settlements, a frequent boiling pot for violence against Palestinians, as well as being one of the more frequent targets of Palestinian violence when it has occurred against settlers. Thankfully, Israeli civilian casualties have become much rarer in the last few years. But Palestinian civilians are killed much more frequently.

During Operation Cast Lead, Palestinian babies were also killed, as is not unusual in war. Given the general disregard the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) showed for civilian life during that onslaught, it cannot be known how accidental those deaths were, but the sheer number of them certainly leads to a reasonable assessment that there was, at the very least, reckless and criminal disregard.

The difference, for me, and the reason for my visceral reaction to these murders (and, like an incident I discussed last year, that’s just what this was—cold-blooded murder of the foulest kind. Such an act must not be confused in any way with resistance to the occupation) might be more of a personal difference than a moral one.

The inescapable image from this incident is of a cold-blooded killer stabbing to death a 3-year old toddler and an infant of only three months of life. One can’t help but wonder what kind of a monster, no matter how much injustice he may have suffered, could bring himself to do such a thing. Continue reading

More on the J Street BDS Panel

In my recent post on the J Street Conference panel on Boycotts/Divestment/Sanctions, I focused mainly on Rebecca Vilkomerson, whose support for BDS in a moderately left/liberal Jewish space was greeted with civility even by most of those who disagreed with her; and on Kenneth Bob of Ameinu who, though certainly a staunch advocate for peace, made sweeping and unfair generalizations about the BDS movement.

A wish to conserve space led me to say very little about the other two participants, and I’ll address half of that deficiency now.

Bernard Avishai’s stance on BDS largely mirrors my own, in that he supports economic action specifically targeting the settlements, but not Israel. On the other hand, his

Bernard Avishai

“offense” (his word) at those advocating something different is precisely what, on both sides, leads to the anger and useless fighting that student Simone Zimmerman of UC Berkeley (also a panelist at J Street) found so distressing about bringing up the BDS issue.

I offer here Avishai’s thinking on why he believes it is so important to resist all-out BDS against Israel, a point on which I agree with him. I include his full blog piece because it also reflects some of the condescension and hostility (which, to his credit, Avishai is trying very hard to tone down) that is present on both sides. Indeed, Avishai reacts to it and points it out himself as something he sees in “the other side.” I’m seeing it in both, and on both sides it needs to be done away with. As with so much else when dealing with this subject, we should all be taking every measure we can to keep things civilized and reasonable because we’ve seen for decades the result of letting emotions hold sway.

And without further ado, here is Avishai’s piece:

Last week, at the J Street Conference, I appeared on a panel considering BDS. I made the case I had made last spring in The Nation, that lumping the three together–boycott, divestment, and sanctions–was rash. Moreover, targeting West Bank settlements is not the same as targeting Israel more generally.

For my part, I said, I support a boycott of Ariel’s college and of products made in West Bank settlements. When James Baker, back in 1991, told the Israeli government that every dollar spent on settlements would be deducted from US loan guarantees, I supported that. So I could be said to have supported certain sanctions, and would again. At the same time I strongly oppose boycotting Israeli universities or companies or divesting from global companies that do business in Israel, even if some of their products might be used by occupation forces. Continue reading

An Update to the US Veto of UNSC Resolution on Settlements

The Obama Administration has tried to distinguish itself from its predecessor by seeking to work with the international community rather than outside of it. The problem it encounters, though, is that when it comes to Israel, the international community pulls in one direction and Congress, under pressure from pro-Israel PACs, pulls in the other.

So, in the matter of the upcoming UNSC resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the Obama administration will veto the resolution, but would very much prefer it doesn’t come to that. So, they’re making an offer to the Palestinians (at whose behest the resolution was brought and who, if they gavce the word, can easily have it withdrawn).

The offer was reported in Foreign Policy tonight: “Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the new U.S. offer in a closed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group, a bloc of Arab countries from North Africa and the Middle East. In exchange for scuttling the Palestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.”

The offer as presented is rather vague. The US would “consider” supporting a UNSC visit to the Mideast (which would be symbolic and accomplish nothing) and would commit to “strong language” from the Quartet on settlements, which could mean anything. Continue reading

The Gaza Flotilla Inquiry: Afloat in a sea of whitewash

Today, Israel’s Turkel Commission came out with its first report on its inquiry into the Gaza flotilla debacle. Their report stated that the IDF acted properly and legally. Roi Maor, over at 972mag.com, efficiently breaks down just how much of a sham the report is.

It would feel much better for me to report that Israel was capable of investigating itself; it has done so in the past, perhaps not to everyone’s satisfaction, but in a manner that I think put it, back then, ahead of most, maybe any other country in the world.

But a quarter century later, this is a very different Israel. And this particular outcome was predictable, not because of cynicism about Israel’s ability in this regard, but by the behavior of the commission itself. This is demonstrated in this piece, which I wrote back in October.

It really doesn’t make sense anymore to demand that Israel investigate itself. It rarely does so, and this sort of thing is the result when it does.