A Little Perspective on the Goldstone Report

The UN is truly a unique kind of animal: part ferocious, man-eating beast, part wimpy, diplomatic fish flopping around on the beach. It is no mystery that it is obsessed by Israeli “war crimes” and “human rights violations” even in a part of the world where much, much worse is the norm. To the north you have Hezbollah, to the south Hamas, to the East a cold peace with Jordan and beyond…Iran, whose president has been constantly courted by the UN for years despite his genocidal rantings and the human rights “record” of his nation. Nobody on earth can feign ignorance about the nature of the Iranian dictatorship in the Age of Twitter. So where does the UN’s moral authority come from, you ask? Why is their record so bad?

From Ynet:

Goldstone explained in the interview that it is the obligation of the international community to hold sovereign states accountable of alleged human rights violations.

Of course, this is most ironic when the Human Rights Council that established Goldstone’s Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict is composed of countries that have frequently and freely violated international human rights laws, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria and Somalia.

Good question.

The Economist Weighs in on the Goldstone Report

It sounds (almost) as if The Economist was about to express a less than negative opinion of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. Almost. You can read the entire report here. UN Skeptics can have fun with this.

Two questions face countries that have gone to war. Was the cause just? And, where possible, did the troops do their utmost to spare civilians? It was over the second of those questions that Israel found itself under a cloud on September 15th, when a United Nations mission accused it of having deliberately committed war crimes during its three-week attack on Gaza that ended in January. Yet this week’s report was deeply flawed. In a conflict where missed opportunities are as common as Qassam rockets, the risk is that both sides will now conclude the wrong thing: Arabs that Israel has just been found guilty; and Israel that it will never get a fair hearing in a hostile world.

From the very start, this report had to overcome the taint of prejudice. It was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, an anti-Israeli outfit notorious for having congratulated Sri Lanka’s government on brutal conduct that led to appalling loss of life among Tamil civilians. Israel refused co-operation. But the mission was headed by a respected international jurist, Richard Goldstone. A Jew himself, Mr Goldstone insisted on scrutinising the conduct of Hamas as well as Israel. There was hope that he might wrestle the inquiry into balance.

Yet the report takes the very thing it is investigating as its central organising premise. Israeli policy in Gaza, it argues, was deliberately and systematically to inflict suffering on civilians, rather than Hamas fighters (see article). Israel’s assertions that, in the difficult circumstances of densely populated Gaza, it planned its military operations carefully and with constant legal advice are taken by the report as evidence not of a concern to uphold international law but of a culpable determination to flout it. Israel’s attempts to drop warning leaflets, direct civilians out of danger zones and call daily humanitarian pauses may well have been inadequate, but the report counts them for nought. As many as 1,400 people died in the fighting. It is a grisly thought, but if Israel really had wanted to make Palestinian civilians suffer, the toll could have been vastly higher.

Israel has argued that Hamas fighters endangered civilians by basing themselves around schools, mosques and hospitals. The mission had Hamas’s co-operation, but its fact-finders could detect little or no evidence for this—despite plenty of reports in the public domain to support it. The report does criticise Hamas for firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel and for using the conflict as cover to settle scores with its Palestinian rivals. But its seemingly wilful blindness to other evidence makes that look like a dash for political cover.

To some, Israel’s Gaza war will always be in principle unjust: a disproportionate response to Hamas’s rockets. Indeed, the suffering in Gaza, from war and the economic blockade, has been grievous. They may be tempted to applaud Mr Goldstone’s report for that reason alone. Yet if the mere fact of Israel’s attack were enough to condemn it then Mr Goldstone’s report was pointless all along. And there is a danger of double standards. American and European forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo also caused thousands of civilian deaths, without attracting a Goldstone.

The pity is that the report frustrates the objective that Israel should be striving for: to hold its politicians and soldiers to the highest standards of Israeli and international law. After its costly war in Lebanon in 2006, Israel plainly chose to minimise its own casualties by using massive firepower in Gaza. It went too far. There have been credible allegations that individual soldiers broke rules banning the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields sent first into properties where fighters may be holed up; that civilians known not to pose any military threat were killed in cold blood and that Israeli forces used white phosphorous over built-up areas. Israel is pursuing 23 criminal investigations so far into the Gaza operations. It must finish the job. Unlike Syria, say, Israel is a democracy that claims to live by the rule of law. It needs to make its case by moral force as well as by force of arms.

The UN report has not come at a good moment. Barack Obama is trying to restart direct talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The peace process was never going to be easy. With its thimbleful of poison, the Goldstone report has made the job all the harder.

 

A Nation Stricken with Grief

Asaf Ramon, the son of Ilan Ramon, was buried today next to his father in Israel’s Nahalal cemetery. Like his father, he was a captian in the IAF. Like his father, he wanted to be an astronaut. His father Ilan died in the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, which exploded upon re-entry.

Asaf’s fighter jet exploded during a routine training flight.

I’ve been working on and off on a poem about Ilan Ramon. After the explosion, scraps of his space diary were found on earth and pieced together by forensic scientists in Israel. It is an amazing story. I wonder how people can praise God in such situations, though.

You Don’t Need God To Be Jewish

Are you there, God? Its me, Yehudis.
Are you there, God? It's me, Yehudis.

This is the topic of much debate when Jews decide they don’t believe in God. Can’t Jews be atheists, non-theists or anti-theists? Is there a discriminatory principle according to which Jews cannot not believe in a supernatural power, just like Jews once could not own property or hold certain jobs? Don’t Jews have absolute liberty of thought like everyone else?

Most people would say yes, of course they do, but once they stop believing in God (if they ever did) they thereby stop being Jews. Baloney. Here’s an example of what I’m trying to convey:

I’m on vacation in Virginia, where I went to college. Whenever I’m in the States I watch a good amount of television in order to tap back into the lifeblood of my countrymen and women. My sister’s television has six-hundred channels, and when I get tired of giggling at Fox News and ogling the Food Network I go channel surfing until I hit the Good News stations. Every evening I watch as faith healers knock down their congregations in the spirit of Jesus, heal blindness, exorcise demons and rearrange human bones in living bodies–all on television. Of course, I don’t believe a word of it, and neither should you. Tonight I even heard a preacher tell the devil to leave his congregation’s bank accounts alone. No shit. This is unbelievable stuff–not the least bit supernatural, but still kind of incredible.

There’s even a Jewish life channel (called, imaginatively, Jewish Life). By the above-stated rule that Jews are defined by their belief in a supernatural God (curiously, not the same one that defines Christians and Muslims), one would expect Jewish Life to be full of programs about Hasidism, Kabbalah, Talmud-Torah, or whatever might interest Jewish believers. Well, tonight I jotted down what they broadcasted in the three-or-so hours I was watching while flipping back and forth between the televangelists. Here’s what I saw: a concert clip by Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi, a documentary on Birobidzhan, an endorsement for a Jewish outreach network, and some arbitrary footage of Israeli life: windsurfing on Lake Kinneret, Tel Aviv by night, Masada and people walking, praying and looking generally suspicious in Jerusalem. Add to this last night’s documentary on the Exodus (the ship, not the book), and so far not a measly mention of the man upstairs on an entirely Jewish television network.

I don’t wish to make prophecies. I don’t know if the Jewish people can survive the next three-thousand years if they were all miraculously to go secular. Then again, I don’t know if any of us will survive that long. I doubt such a scenario is possible–though it may be desirable. I am making a case in the here and now for the Jews as a people with a very complex historical identity, of which the Jewish religion plays a significant–but not dominant–role.

You don’t need God to be Jewish.

American So-Called Jews

The ambiguous title of this post is an example of the brilliant commenting that takes place on the web. The full comment reads:

This article is insane, as 79% of American so called Jews. -Yigal

Here’s the article, if you’re interested. From The Forward:

Alarm bells have been ringing around the neighborhood pretty much nonstop since July 13, when President Obama sat down to talk Middle East policy at the White House with a pack of leaders from a dozen American Jewish organizations.

The meeting was supposed to help buff up Obama’s relationship with the Jewish community, which is bubbling lately with resentment at the president’s aggressive peace-processing. By reaching out to the community’s customary spokesmen, he hoped to build rapport and perhaps recruit a few backers for his policies. Instead he unleashed a whirlwind of attacks against himself, his administration and the Jews who met with him.

The critics accuse Obama of unfairly singling out Israel by demanding a unilateral settlement freeze, without requiring reciprocal Palestinian concessions, and disregarding past American promises to permit some construction. They say he is trying to curry favor with the Arab world, breaking a long-standing presidential tradition of siding automatically with Israel. Some say he is threatening the important legacy of George W. Bush. I didn’t make that one up.

***

If there is a substantive argument in all this, it’s the claim that Israel is being pressured for concessions while the Arab side is not. Obama himself conceded the point at that meeting. He’s now pressing Arab states for gestures to help Israelis get the medicine down. But freezing settlements doesn’t depend on that. Jerusalem is already committed to “freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).” It’s written in black and white in President Bush’s road map, which Israel signed in 2003 — and which Avigdor Lieberman reaffirmed this past April 1 in his maiden Knesset speech as foreign minister. Israel was able to put off the freeze because the Palestinian Authority wasn’t honoring its commitment to crack down on terrorists. Now the Palestinians are cracking down, and Netanyahu is making up excuses.

As for Obama being the new Roosevelt, we should live so long. FDR, if memory serves, was the guy who defeated Hitler and saved the world, after the Japanese air force convinced congressional Republicans to let us join the war. If Obama has any tricks like that up his sleeve, bring ’em on.

In the Quagmire With Jeff and Mike

Today I’m linking to Michael Totten’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg called The Real Quagmire In the Middle East. Not only is this a conversation between two intelligent, well-informed journalists about the problems that obsess some of us, it is also remarkably free of hate-speech, proving once and for all that it is still possible to have a reasonable discussion about Israel and its enemies without falling headfirst down the rabbit-hole of loshn hora.

Here’s a choice excerpt to whet your whistle with:

Goldberg: I imagine that if this situation gets more dire, America will say to the Iranians, secretly, in no uncertain terms, that “if you do anything to Israel, we will destroy you.” That just seems prudent to do. “Go ahead and have your dreams and desires, but don’t even think about transferring your nuclear technology to attack Israel in some way, because we will wipe you out.”

Bring the Iranian ambassador to the Strategic Air Command and show him all the missiles that are pointing at Iran. “This one is going to go here, and this one is going to go there. You’re wiped out. You’re finished. You’re done. You are exterminated.”

It wouldn’t really matter, though, because the Israelis would already be dead.

Totten: They can retaliate themselves anyway. They have nuclear weapons in submarines out in the Mediterranean.

Goldberg: Jews are floating around in the Persian Gulf with nuclear weapons in German subs that are aimed at the new Hitler. If you step away from your personal feelings about it, it’s just fascinating.

Most fascinating indeed.

Michael Oren On Why Israel Matters

A great historian, Michael Oren is also Israel’s ambassador to the US. In this interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, he discusses why Israel matters and the meaning of Jewish history. As articulate as he is in his writing, he can’t seem to quite find the words to express his sense of wonder at the longevity of the Jewish people and the existence of the State of Israel. But he wrote the book on the Six Day War.

Marxist, Fascist, Muslim Obama

Here is a revealing comment to my recent post about anti-Obama hate speech. In fact, it is so perfectly blind in its sheer disgust of him that I felt it deserved a place of its own in a post instead of getting lost in the comments.The author calls herself The Mad Jewess, and mad she is. At what, it’s hard to say.

“I stood up to the excrement on Youtube, and advised them to REPENT: Rabbis4Obama, Jews4Obama, the list is ENDLESS of the sheep that voted in the Marxist, Fascist, Muslim Usurper in Chief..but remember, we dont make up a whole heckuva lot of the populace, and those that did NOT vote for the pig, NEED to get blogs and head almost far right, with a little balance.

As much as people dont want to admit it, MADOFF got rid of the JINOs; ACLU, and MANY, believe you me.”

Elsewhere, she decries feminism, blacks, abortion, divorce, the anti-christ, racism (against “white people”), Latinos, gun control, Bolsheviks…an this is all on the first page of her blog! If this is any indication of the general attitudes of the anti-Obama hate-clans, it’s a lethal cocktail of far-right xenophobia and the inability to distinguish one thing from another in order to make a cesspool of one’s personal hatreds. These people are not out to debate policy, they are out to offend by any means necessary.

Israelis need all the friends they can get to combat prejudice. But are Jewish xenophobes who court right-wing American bigots (the Left Behind people) the answer to Islamist death squads and anti-Zionist xenophobia on the far left?

The propaganda is essentially the same all around. Change the names, or melt them all together into a Zionist-Muslim-Commie-Fascist-Abortion-loving-Negro-hugging-Feminist hatefest to suit your own personal woes. There is nothing constructive about any of this, however. And it remains a mystery exactly why they think Obama’s policy on Israeli settlements is so unique. It may be ‘displacement’, but is is not really divergent or particularly original.

And Madoff is their hero.

Meanwhile, These People Are Insane

From The Jerusalem Post:

Thousands of haredim took to the streets of Jerusalem on Saturday evening, in violent protests against the Karta parking lot in the capital opening on Shabbat to accommodate Old City tourists.

According to initial reports, rocks were thrown and policemen trying to disperse crowds were pushed and shoved. Crowds of haredim also tried to break into the parking lot.

The protesters, demonstrating in the main haredi neighborhood of Jerusalem, Mea She’arim, claim to be pained by the desecration of Shabbat. Many of the ultra-orthodox Jews were apparently chanting, “Shabbat desecrators will die,” and vowed to hold further demonstrations next week.

Eyewitnesses said that protesters had formed a human chain to prevent police from dispersing crowds, while police set up road blocks around the area.

In similar protests last weekend, 57 haredim were arrested for disturbing the peace, according to Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby. The detainees were taken to the city’s Russian Compound jail, where they were held overnight until their remand hearing the following day.

I hope God doesn’t read my blog. It’s still shabbos in Rome.

p.s. It’s hard to tell from the article if “Saturday evening” is still technically shabbos.The article was updated at 8:05 (Israeli time) this evening, which is less than one hour ago by my watch.It’s still light out in Rome. So weren’t the haredi themselves desecrating the sanctity of shabbat with their inane rock-throwing? Or did they find some talmudic loophole through which to crawl?

Message to the Obama Blasters

The real enemy?
The real enemy?

Some 70% of American Jews voted for Barack Obama in the last elections. Now, we find out we voted for Hitler? This is something I can’t quite digest, this pro-Israeli Obama-bashing. How did the conservatives hijack Zionism?

“The dhimmi in the White House” has increasingly become a sort of anti-Obama rallying cry. The scope is not to discuss or criticize Obama’s ideas on Israel (entirely debatable,as ever) but to dirty him with the dhimmi brush. He has been tarred and feathered as an enemy of Israel and the Jewish people and a lackey of Islamic rejectionism. As my blogger friend Jew With a View posted recently (quoting Joseph Farah):

I hope my Jewish friends remember this well. Many of them voted for Barack Obama. Many of them voted for Hillary Clinton. These are not your friends. These are the same kinds of people who turned away ships of Jewish refugees from Germany in the 1940s. These are the same kinds of people who appeased Adolf Hitler at Munich. These are the same kinds of people who made the reformation of the modern state of Israel so difficult.

We have gone from understandable criticism of Obama-administration pressure on Israel to stop existing settlement growth to a mischaracterization of Obama as–what? Hitler? Ahmadinejad? Appeasement incarnate, apparently. Farah goes so far as to call this “ethnic cleansing”, perhaps borrowing his human-rights jargon from the anti-Zionist hard left. My baloney detector is going haywire.

Is Barack Obama a cosmically-charged enemy of the Jewish people? Was he sent by God (or the Adversary) to beguile and destroy Jewish continuity in the guise of the president of the USA? Is he, as we are expected to believe, completely subservient to the Islamist lobby? Is he ransoming the State of Israel to appease the likes of Osama bin Laden and the Iranian regime? Does any of this sound familiar?? It sounds like the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis turned on its head. If only everything in politics were so black and white.

I’m all for crticism where it is due, and Obama is no exception. I used to feel disgusted at the hatred against Dubya, though I’ve never felt close to the Republican party or kinship with American conservative causes. I even stood up to fellow liberals when they crossed the line from criticism to hate speech. And there was a lot of that back then. Now it’s back–with a vengeance.

Can’t we say shoyn genug* to conspiracy theories once and for all?

* “enough already!”