Wednesday, April 6, 2011

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.

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