I don’t know what it’s been like in the rest of the world for the past few weeks, but it seems like every day here in Israel there is talk about the Goldstone Report, a 575-page report submitted to the UN Council for Human Rights by a committee headed by Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist (who also happens to be Jewish), in which Israel is accused of war crimes in Operation Cast Lead, aka the Gaza War of December 2008-January 2009.
The remarks about the report include the fact that Goldstone, in choosing to chair this committee and sign his name to the scurrilous report they produced, has given it weight and credence because of his stature as a prominent member of South Africa’s Jewish community. They include the fact that he could have recused himself from that particularly onerous job, but didn’t. (Although Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and nowadays an international political player with no great love of Israel, could smell a stinky job a mile away and turned it down.) They include the fact that he’ll never eat lunch in the South African Jewish community again. And they include the fact that in an international landscape in which Israel is routinely vilified, represented most publicly by the UN, this report is another assault not only on the Jews, but on the truth.
Recent articles about Goldstone include observations that he’s backpedaling to the Jewish world about the report, softening his criticisms of Israel to Jewish audiences, while standing staunchly by the report in front of international listeners. In a conference call with US rabbis last week, Goldstone is said to have urged Israel to carry out an independent investigation of its military prosecution of the war, saying “If the Israeli government set up an appropriate, open investigation, that would really be the end of the matter,” as far as Israel is concerned.
Perhaps I’m jaded, but I’m not terribly shocked to see a Jew signing off on such a report against Israel. While his daughter claims that Goldstone “is a Zionist and loves Israel,” there are many Diaspora Jews like him out there who say they feel an attachment to Israel, but who nonetheless find it irresistible, expedient, or therapeutic to accuse Israel of atrocities while overlooking the violent, civilian-targeting behavior of Israel’s terrorist enemies. Many Jews are uncomfortable with the power that Israel possesses to defend itself, embarrassed to see it in conflict with poor, oppressed-looking dark-skinned people, preferring instead to see the Jewish people (and Israel as the international, public face of the Jewish people) as pacifists, victims of others’ violent attacks, and committed to turning the other cheek (a Christian notion). Many Jews find themselves exhausted emotionally and unable to maintain a front of support for Israel, in effect “losing their love for Israel.” (See also Daniel Gordis’s response to the author of the previous article.)
Many such Jews in the world have lost their feeling of the Jews as a people. (Daniel Gordis’s piece in Friday’s Jerusalem Post describes this well.) Such Jews have come to see Judaism as a Western, liberal, democratic tradition. Such Jews labor under the impression that Judaism is a religion of individuals in a multi-cultural society. Such Jews have apparently lost the sense of Jews as a community and a nation which is not only permitted, but obligated, to defend itself from enemies who seek to destroy it. Such Jews are half-blind to their own tradition.
They are right that Judaism values the life of each and every person, regardless of whether that person is Jewish or not. This is why the IDF in Operation Cast Lead did everything within its power to limit the damage to life and property of non-combatants in Gaza. They are right that abuses of power are wrong on the part of a military force. This is why the IDF investigates each individual complaint of abuse on the part of its soldiers, even in combat situations. They are right to believe that when the IDF or the Jewish State commit errors or abuses, those errors or abuses should be pointed out, investigated, and dealt with.
Where they are wrong, however, is to think that jumping on the bandwagon of Israel-bashing (i.e. calling Israel a “fascist” or “racist” state, or accusing the IDF of “disproportionate force” or “collective punishment”) is an appropriate response. There may be very smart people doing this—academics in the UK, Swedish journalists and newspapers, European diplomats, not to mention the many smart Arabs who claim to care about the Palestinian Arab “refugees”—but this does not make it right. Were these intelligent entities to apply the same standard of behavior to Hamas and other terrorists, they would be quoting the Geneva Conventions, criticizing Hamas for using the Gazan population as human shields, dressing combatants in street clothes to make them indistinguishable from civilians, using ambulances to transport weapons and mosques to stash explosives, and firing rockets from the basements of office buildings and hospitals.
By the same token, it would praise Israel for voluntarily ceasing hostilities for hours every day to allow humanitarian supplies into the enemy zone. It would laud the IDF for dropping countless fliers and sending thousands of text messages to Gaza residents urging them to flee the area before sorties were carried out. It would acknowledge that Israel’s military did its best to execute surgical strikes, to avoid harming civilians, and to heal the hurts of those hit by building a hospital at the Erez border crossing to provide free medical care to Gaza residents.
But we don’t live in a world where those who decide what’s moral and ethical can see such things. We live in a world where such people have selective hearing, see what they want to see, and have their minds made up before the facts are ever presented. I don’t like to raise the nasty issue of anti-Semitism, but if someone can provide me with a different explanation for why Israel is subjected to standards not applied to any other country in any other situation at any other time in history, I’d be glad to hear it. Goldstone’s report is a juicy steak thrown to slavering hellhounds hungry for fresh meat. His may not be the only offering, but it’s definitely one the dogs will find hard to resist.
In the meantime, Goldstone urges Israel to conduct an open investigation of its own into its behavior during Operation Cast Lead, claiming that were it to do so, “That would be the end of the matter.”