Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some of the worst is right here in Boston

I promise that this will be my last post re: Richard Goldstein [I hope].  Just in case you'd like to think that we're not so bad here in liberal, progressive Boston, a letter from Barry Shrage, the head of Combined Jewish Philanthropies [CJP], greater Boston's Jewish Federation, was forward to me. It includes just about everything Bibi Netanyahu would like you to know about Israel: security, rockets into Israel, delegitimization, Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East, yada, yada, yada. And he even has the chutzpah to ask us to pass the letter on:
"Help get the word out regarding the Israel we know and love. Lies have now been unmasked and the truth seeks the light of day. As Israel fights for its life and reputation against a worldwide conspiracy of delegitimization, we can do no less. 

To me, Goldstone’s op-ed confirms what we’ve always known. In a region filled with the most murderous violence, Israel is among the world’s most moral nations. The IDF, while under constant threat from genocidal enemies, remains committed to a code of honor that distinguishes it from every other army on earth. . . . ."
And it gets worse. Read it if you have the stomach for it.

Where were you Richard Goldstone when we needed you?

This is an edited version of a post that I originally titled "Where are when we need you Richard Goldstone." In the middle of writing it I received an e-mail about Goldstone's interview with the AP which puts things in something - but only something - in a different light. If you don't have the stamina to read this long post, scroll down to the bottom an read Jessica Montel's [from B'Tselem] piece in today's Washington Post and take a look at the disturbing YouTube video about the Samouni family whose almost annihilation was apparently, says Goldstone, a "mistake".

In the last couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to attend a number of presentations which dealt all or in part on Justice Richard Goldstone and his famous/lauded/ condemn/disparaged report on “Operation Cast Lead,” the Israeli invasion of Gaza at the end of 2008/beginning of 2009.  At the Jewish Voice for Peace national membership meeting in Philadelphia I heard Phil Weiss and Adam Horowitz, two of the authors of the definitive book on the Goldstone Report, who gave a harrowing look into the reality of Cast Lead.  Last week Anat Biletsky, former chair of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and currently the Schweitzer Professor of Philosophy at Quinipiuac College, spoke at Boston College where she gave a self-described depressing view of the fascistic trends in Israel that she feels can be reckoned from Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report.  Then I heard Weiss and his other co-author, Lizzy Ratner, at Harvard underscore even more vividly what Weiss and Horowitz had said in Philadelphia. Finally, a few nights ago I heard and spoke with Danny Bar-Tal, a professor in the psychology department at Tel Aviv University who, if anything, was more depressing than Biletsky.

Then comes Justice Goldstones “reconsideration” in last Friday’s Washinton Post, of “his” report [more about the quotation marks around his in a moment]. I feel like I’m behind the curve on this, given how much has already been written about this. But I don’t want to critique what Goldstone did or didn’t say in his op-ed, lots of people have already done that. To read some of this just google Goldstone or check out a searing critique by Ilan Pappe or Alex Kane on Mondoweiss, or see Horowitz and Ratner talking about Goldstone’s article.

I want to address two things here: the Israeli response to Goldstone’s “reconsideration” and the absence of a credible statement from Goldstone himself.

Ever since the publication of the Goldstone Report the Israel right-or-wrongers have condemned it as biased and anti-Israel and have rejected it as totally illegitimate.  Worse, despite Goldstone’s sterling bona fides as a hardcore Zionist and supporter of Israel, they have vilified Goldstone personally as incompetent, untrustworthy, anti-Zionist and self-hating. The attacks were so disgusting that they included threats to demonstrate outside of Goldstone’s grandson’s Bar Mitzvah if he tried attend. Now, based on the Post op-ed, which repudiated very little, those who attacked Goldstone viciously are jumping on a "Goldstone has come home and vindicated us" kind of bandwagon, braying to the world that “we’re okay after all, it was all an awful anti-Semitic farce and look, even Goldstone himself admits it.” Author/journalist Jonathan Cook has a good look at the Israeli reaction on the Israeli Occupation Archive where he notes 
“Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, immediately called on the United Nations to shelve the Goldstone Report; Ehud Barak, the defence minister, demanded an apology; and Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, said Israel’s actions in Gaza had been “vindicated”.

My good friend, the late Hilda Silverman, was hyper-vigilant [but right] about fact checking. She alwys reminded us that if you say that there were about100 people at some action and it turns out that there were only 87 you can be sure that CAMERA, “Honest” Reporting and the Israeli government will not only point that out but use it as a way of [to use a phrase!] delegitimizing whatever else you’ve said. I remember talking to Hilda in 2002 when Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, the invasion of the refugee camp in Jenin in the West Bank. Over-anxious reporters spoke about a “massacre” with all kinds of numbers being thrown around. Eventually credible sources were talking about 75-80 Palestinians killed and finally there was general agreement that there was about 56 Palestinian deaths. The main story became “there was no massacre!” as if the 56 had not died and the IDF had not leveled a major part of Jenin.

Many people have pointed out that, in reality, Goldstone actually did not renounce very much but, by saying he was “rethinking” certain limited things – mostly that he now seems to think that the awful and illegal killing of civilians might not have been the result of Israeli military policy – although he does not question that there was awful, illegal killing – by saying even this the defenders of Cast Lead are already discrediting the entire UN report.  David Horowitz, in the Jerusalem Post, tells us:

“But the astounding piece in The Washington Post by the Jewish justice, who presided over the Goldstone Report that accused Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, represents nothing less than an apology to Israel.

“If I had known then what I know now,” he writes in the first extraordinary paragraph of his mea culpa, “the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

How dramatic the about-face. And how terrible that it was necessitated.

How tragic, that is, that Goldstone so misplaced his moral compass in the first place as to have produced a report that has caused such irreversible damage to Israel’s good name.”

[Read the rest of the article – it gets worse!]

And finally [and I’m rewriting this section having just seen that Goldstone clarified his position in an AP interview], where has Goldstone been in the last four or five days? How could he not have realized the way he would be used by the Israelis by even suggesting that maybe he needed to “reconsider” what the report says. “If I knew then” he says – well sure, whenever we learn new things it informs our previous ideas. But nowhere does Goldstone repudiate the basic truth of the report.  but now, despite good clarifications from people like Adam Horowitz, for much of the world, that doesn’t matter.  The story now is that the Goldstone report was wrong, Goldstone said so, Israel is vindicated. It would have been nice if he had never written the Post piece – but having written it he owed it to us to have clarified it immediately so that he couldn’t be used this way. Some have posited that Goldstone succumbed to the constant pressure and invective that he’s had to endure [See Ian Williams in Foreign Policy in Focus] and wanted, at least to some degree, get his detractors to see that he’s still the good Jew, the good Zionist he was before the report. Well, the reality is that it hasn’t really done anything to mollify those who have attacked him. Most, like Horowitz, are happy to use the Post article to vindicate Israel and the IDF, but they still think Goldstone has neither said nor atoned enough.

One last thought about speaking out. I said at the beginning that I’d explain why, when talking about Goldstone’s report I put quotation marks around “his” report. We tend to forget that there were four people responsible for writing it.  Where are the other members of the UN commission that wrote the report, Professor Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who was a member of the High Level Fact Finding Mission to Beit Hanoun (2008); Ms. Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and former Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, who was a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (2004); and Colonel Desmond Travers, a former officer in the Irish Armed Forces and member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IICI). A distinguished panel who all signed the final report. Will they say anything about this situation or will they be properly, diplomatically silent?

Two final notes:

If you want to see what really happened to the Samouni family [who was almost wiped out by "accident," click here

 And finally, probably the most reasoned piece about all of this is by B'Tselem's executive director, Jessica Montell in today's Washington Post. Check it out.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

What a difference a few decades makes

Shavua Tov.

This evening I had the problematic pleasure to hear a really nice concert.

Shir Appeal
Honorable Mention
For many years the social action committee at my synagogue, Congregation B'nai Brith in Somerville Massachusetts, has held a benefit for  a wonderful domestic violence program, Respond. This year we sponsored a concert featuring two very different - but each in their own way wonderful - Jewish a cappella groups. Shir Appeal [a wonderful pun: shir ha-piel literally means Song of the elephant] is "Tufts University's ONLY Co-ed, Jewish A Cappella group" and has tremendous energy and a wonderfully quirky take on Jewish/Hebrew songs.  Honorable Menschen [also a great pun] is "Boston's premiere semi-professional Jewish a cappella group" and is really polished with clever uses of a variety of musical styles.

The problem? Shir Appeal opened the evening with the iconic Naomi Shemer song, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav [Jerusalem of Gold].  Just a couple of years after living in Jerusalem I was part of a group that ran a Jewish educational program for teenagers where music played an important part of what we did. Songs like Yerushalayim Shel Zahav were at the heart of our groups' sense of who, as American Jews, we were and what we were connected to. Both the words ["Jerusalem of Gold, of bronze and of light"] and the underlying message [the rebirth of our Jewish homeland, the center of our religious identity] were inspiring, comforting and a sign of God's love and eternal commitment to us. For me personally it evoked the many hours I spent soaking up the grandeur of the Old City from the outside and the enormous sense of comforting spirituality I felt when meandering through the maze of narrow streets inside. I can remember, even decades later, passing the reassuring mixed salad of people: Orthodox Christians in their long black robes and high hats, Orthodox Jews and Hasidim in their black suits and hats and a variety of Arab types in the homes and shops that were packed into to such a physically limiting space.  I remember the feeling of comfort I derived from all of these disparate peoples sharing this palpably holy place. A place I thought of as Ir Shalom, the City of Peace.

Fast forward  more than three decades later. I've driven around the outskirts of the city and once again wondered at its amazing beauty: the gold of the Jews' Temple Mount which Muslims know as the Noble Sanctuary, the blinding sun reflected by the Dome of the Rock and on the ever-present Jerusalem stone, all enclosed within the seeming safety of the ancient walls.  Then I remember walking again through that same labyrinth I walked years ago. But now I can't escape the realization that all the old types - Hasidim, Christian priests, Arab shop keepers, etc. - are still there, except the sense of their moving through a shared, sacred place is gone and all I can see is a mass of people who, while packed together and bumping into one another, seem, in some surreal way, to be inhabiting totally different places simultaneously. Because of this I find that it is painful, almost impossible to go into holy places I was once so moved by. I'm not even able to go down to the plaza near what was once known as the "Wailing Wall" and is now, since 1967, the "Western Wall." I remember that on my last trip there I could only watch from the terrace overlooking the plaza, viewing the mostly black-garbed men [the women are separated by a barrier  into a contained, smaller area,  where they are forbidden to do certain rituals] in various forms of prayer, the golden-domed Mosque looking on over the wall, all "protected" by the always present uniformed, armed Israeli soldiers.

This evening these images forced themselves into my mind as I listened to the wonderful harmonies of Shir Appeal and flavored the rest of the concert for me. I wanted to let myself fully enjoy the music and the energy of the two talented groups but couldn't free myself of the words they sang, words that were once comforting, energizing and so much part of my Jewish being but now insist on reminding me of how the "conflict" has so drained the hopes of so many of those old songs.  James Carroll, the ex-priest who is now an insightful author and Boston Globe columnist, recently introduced his latest book, "Jerusalem Jerusalem." The double title reflects his sense of a city that is the most fully holy place on earth [shalom comes from a root meaning "whole-ness"] and, simultaneously the place that has engendered some of the disharmony between peoples.

Strange how symbols change over the years.