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Goldstone clarifications: Just another distraction

Shortly after the Goldstone Report was published, a wealthy American Jewish woman at a New York cocktail event leaned in to tell me how horrible the report is. Waving her jeweled hands, she keened: “We’re living in a nightmare!”

Israeli society seemed to feel the same. The Goldstone Report has been viewed as a turning point, when the whole world embarked on a coordinated campaign of something called “de-legitimization.” The threat is believed to be so real, that the report led some Israelis to viciously attack other Israelis who had provided information to the Goldstone Commission – branding them traitors.

The panic gave way to a bitter Israeli backlash against global criticism. Avigdor Lieberman’s appointment as Foreign Minister shortly after the Cast Lead operation was Netanyahu’s signal that he intended to fight, rather than cooperate with the international community. Lieberman is Israel’s weapon in the ring of international opinion, in this narrative. Give Israel the ridiculously biased UN Human Rights Council, and Israel will send Lieberman to the UN for a reprisal attack. Israel may be losing vital allies such as Turkey, but when Israel is under an image assault – with Goldstone at its helm – there will be necessary casualties.

So when Judge Goldstone’s Washington Post op ed appeared, Israeli politicians practically crowed. Prime Minister Netanyahu decided that this would be the occasion to suck public energy and attention into a diplomatic and political campaign to minimize the damage caused by the report, or to have it annulled.

The Ehuds, Defense Minister Barak and former PM Olmert, said “too little too late,” and Barak steadfastly justified Israel’s behavior throughout the whole Goldstone episode.

The nightmare must be over, right? Here’s the problem. It’s NOT Goldstone, stupid.

Any close observer already knew that the UN Human Rights Council was a farcical excuse for anti-Israel sentiment – giving it a more official stamp won’t change attitudes toward poor Israeli policy.

Israeli policy has been suffering international condemnation long before the last two years of Goldstone and de-legitimization.

And while we’re at it, “delegitimization,” is becoming a cheap catchword, wildly exaggerated to terrify and distract Israelis from real issues. Actual attempts to drive Jews out of this land (my understanding of delegitimization) are an infinitesimal phenomenon of marginal wackos. But Israel seems to prefer to cling to threats rather than solve problems.

President Peres’ response was striking. He said: “the fact-finding mission had ignored the central reason Israel had gone to war against the Hamas-ruled territory.”  But the problem is not that Goldstone ignored the reason for the war. The problem is that Israel ignored the reason for the war: the folly and hubris of Israel’s Gaza strategy that began at least two years earlier – closure in the hopes of political overthrow; the long-term failure to improve the situation of Palestinians that led to Hamas’ electoral success in the first place, the failure to reach a negotiated diplomatic solution to the conflict at all, and (at the time) 42 years of occupation. And yes, after all those things, Israeli citizens lived with intolerable rocket attacks. No, the fault for the long term situation is not all Israel’s. But Goldstone, or Israel’s image, just isn’t the problem.

Israelis will say that it’s easy to critique in hindsight, but there was no other solution to daily attacks on civilians. But the attitude that Israel can languish in its self-immolating short-term thinking ad absurdium, and forever claim that the immediate cancels out the future, is immoral and disingenuous. If we squander the ability to consider the results of our actions, Israel can give itself a carte blanche to conduct war after war, then spend all its creative energy crying about condemnation, forever.

But here’s the result: the conflict is a tangled mess of missing pieces preventing the achievement of a two-state solution before bilateralism runs out in September. The next generation of Palestinians has every reason to hate Israel for its manhandling of Palestinian lives.

Israelis continue to suffer from the conflict, not from Goldstone. Physical insecurity and rocket attacks continue. And there are psychological costs to the endless cycle of war: A recent study of Israeli youth I participated in showed that the 21-24 cohort were less likely to trust in state institutions, support democratic values, or believe in peace, than younger respondents. We don’ t know definitely why; but one possibility is that 21-24 year olds surveyed in the summer of 2010 might easily have been in active duty in the winter of 2009.

The fetishization of the Goldstone episode won’t help a single soldier who saw combat in Gaza erase what he did or saw.

Nor will Israel’s Goldstone obsession make the world any more sympathetic to its failed policies. Just as the report did not cause Hamas to become suddenly circumspect about its terrible civilian attacks, the reservations about the report will not suddenly whitewash Israel’s behavior.

But maybe this latest development will finally prove something Israelis keep missing: even the most vindicating “hasbara” in the world won’t end Israel’s international trouble. It’s the policy, stupid.

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    1. I find it interesting that you conveniently leave out the most important Israeli “policy” on Gaza. Israel withdrew all soldiers and settlers from the area. You on the left cannot have it both ways. We ended the occupation you decry. The blockade that you view as such a crime was a response to rocket attacks after the withdrawal. Should there be an open border with a land ruled by a hostile entity? Is Israel wrong for both occupation and ending occupation?

      Reply to Comment
      • Yarden – The purpose of Israel’s blockade was not to prevent rocket attacks. Since rockets are launched into the air from inside Gaza, preventing Gazans from leaving their territory is not going to stop the rockets.

        The government’s stated purpose was to bring down the Hamas government by making the people so miserable that they would overthrow it, and to force the release of Gilad Shalit. Obviously, that did not work.

        In addition, Dov Weisglass, then adviser to PM Olmert, said the purpose of the blockade was to ‘put Palestinians on a diet,’ by reducing the amount of UNRWA food permitted into Gaza.

        Israel withdrew from its settlements and army bases in Gaza, but it maintains control of Gaza’s borders and waters and it bombs Gaza regularly, frequently killing civilians. In other words, the occupation has not ended.

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    2. Yarden, I can’t in all honesty refer to the withdrawal of soldiers and settlers as ending the occupation. And the closure was not in response to rocket attacks, but to the political takeover of Hamas. We all hate Hamas, but the closure is a blatant – and failed – attempt to interfere in internal politics while re-imposing a situation of de facto occupation. The lack of a comprehensive solution completes the picture. Don’t get me wrong, i supported the withdrawal at the time, when I thought: a. that it would kick-start a comprehensive process b. that it would be a disengagement. In fact, it was dismantling, but not at all disengaging.

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    3. Jack

      Dahlia – a few points:

      The delegitimization of Israel is not a marginal phenomenon. Delegitimization does not mean just physically kicking Jews out of Israel -that is a red herring. Delegitimizing Israel is the idea that the entire premise of Zionism, the principle that Jews have a right to self determination is inherently racist. This notion is supported by everyone who signs on to the general BDS call which clearly states that BDS on israel will not cease (regardless of a palestinian state or not) unless it allows millions of palestinian refugee descendents into israel hence transforming israel into an arab state of palestine with a jewish minority living there and that no one in the international community should work with you once you start at Ben Gurion university until this happens. The fact that even some of your fellow writers at 972 support this should indicate that it is not a marginal phenomenon.

      2) I agree that the disengagement was a flawed policy that strengthened Hamas b/c it was not done in the context of a political process, however in 2007, when you started the problems began during the Hamas takeover, Olmert WAS in the process of intensive and earnest negotiations to end the conflict meeting with Abas in Jerusalem every other week and culminating in

      an offer of about 94% of the west bank with land swaps to make upfor the other 6% which the Palestinians refused. To at this point engage Hamas would have been political suicide for israels partners in the PA. To paint a picture of an israeli strategy soley focused on short term goals of repeatedly attackin palestinians is misleading. While it may not be true of the netanyahu government, the previous olmert and livni governments made earnest attempts to resolve the conflict.

      In any event the comments about whether there is an occupation in gaza now is besides the point as you seen to be implying that the rockets or attacks are in response to the closure or occupation or refusal of israel to engage hamas when in fact the opposite is true – Hamad violence increases when they think a political solution is on the horizon between israel and the PA that would peacefully end the occupation through a negotiated settlement. In any case israel offered to engage hamas and completely lift the blockade provided they did three simple things that were also demanded by the quartet if hamas wanted any international aid. 1) renounce violence 2) recognize israel 3) abide by prevously signed agreements. I suspect that even if they only renounced violence that might have sufficed but they refused and ismail haniyeh even shouted in response “wed rather live on zaatar and salt than recognize israel ever” regardless of whether gaza is occupied or not or there is a blockade or not, hamas will continue to want to wage war on israel.

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    4. Jack: the BDS movement as I understand it is fairly nuanced, calling for boycotting Israeli institutions, not Israeli individuals. So while if, in the scenario you present, Dahlia were to take part in some BGU-sponsored lecturing tour or panel, that event might be boycotted by BDSers, she certainly wouldn’t be boycotted if she was to launch her own speaking tour or event focused on speaking out about the occupation. Indeed, anything more stringent would be counterproductive from a BDS point of view: why waste solidarity wherever it can be found? (It’s not like Ilan Pappé is going to be boycotted as an individual speaker/lecturer just because he teaches in Israel.)

      As for the demon of “delegitimization”, only a nationstate with a heightened awareness of the perilous theoretical and historical foundations on which it rests would take such a threat so seriously. In practice, it seems to me that the claim “they’re trying to delegitimize us” amounts in practice to one or both of: 1) “they’re pointing out that there’s a fundamental and inescapable contradiction between claiming democracy and insisting on ensuring demographic supremacy”; 2) “they’re pointing out, as our own leading historians have for decades, that we were founded (contrary to our national origin-myths) on a clear-eyed policy of ethnic cleansing, and can only continue to maintain our current self-image and preferred structure by means of continued unsavory and illegal policies.” In both cases, it’s the threat that ideology is under threat from reality — and to paraphrase Stephen Colbert, reality has a well-known anti- (or at least post-) Zionist bias.

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    5. Jack

      Well there you have it Dahlia – if you thought the delegitimisation of Israel was a marginal phenomenon – Daniel Matte will be the first to tell you that there are many that think like he does –

      that the idea that because of their tragic history of persecution all over the world over thousands of years, the Jewish people should have their own nation-state the size of Maryland where they can have self-determination, is inherently racist. That given their tragic history and the record of how minority communities are treated in much of the Middle East, it’s racist and illegitimate for Jews in Israel not to want to take the chance of living under Prime Minister Yassir Arafat or PM Ismail Haniyeh and that the preferred solution to this Zionist racism is, not “2 nation states for 2 nations” as the much maligned liberal Zionists want, but rather subsuming Israel into a greater Arab state of Palestine where Jews will live as a minority community. Yes Dahlia – that view is not that marginal.

      If I said that Pakistanis should be be incorporated into greater India where they will inevitably be ruled by Hindus then I would be called a right wing Hindu nationalist. If I said that Palestinians have no right to their own nation state and the West Bank should be fine with being taken over and incorporated into the Jordanian Hashemite state then I would be called anti-Palestinian. Yet everyone who signs the greater call for BDS thinks that the nation of Israel should be incorporated into greater Arab Palestine. This is the big problem with both the Israeli right wing and the BDS anti-Zionists.

      As to Daniel – I’m willing to bet that you are typing your rant against Zionism from the comfort of a nation that was also founded on ethnic cleansing – in much more questionable circumstances than a war launched on a small community of holocaust survivors with the purpose of wiping them out – perhaps even with your country currently occupying a nation state across the world many many many times larger than the West Bank? Just some food for thought.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jack: nope, that’s not quite how I think. The “inherently racist” part comes not from the Jewish desire for or pursuit of self-determination, but in the notion that Palestinian Arabs should consent to live as second-class citizens in the land of their birth and heritage. Liberal Zionism — in which I was raised, by the way, as a proud Habonimnik — has never fully dealt with the disconnect between its noble, non-racist vision of how it would like things to be between Jews and Arabs, and the racist necessities imposed by keeping any part of that territory demographically Jewish-dominated. That said, I think people have a right to hold onto their Zionism for as long as they like (insofar as it pertains to Jewish national self-determination) — I just hope they can be supple of mind enough to realize that sooner or later, the “liberal” and the “Zionism-as-Jewish-State” are going to force upon them an unpleasant choice.

      And certainly, I’m writing from a country founded on ethnic cleansing — arguably a far more grievous, sustained, and murderous one than the one that transpired in 1948 — and enriched for centuries, into the present, by way of subjugation and occupation. (I’m actually a Canadian living in the USA, but not remotely off the hook for that.) No argument here. And if any of those oppressed or occupied populations had issued a broad-based popular call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions as a practical measure to end said occupations, I’d have to take it very seriously — more seriously, even, than my own treasured feelings about my country’s identity.

      And not everyone who signs the greater BDS call agrees with what you say they agree with — i.e. the subsuming of Israel into “greater Arab Palestine”. There are plenty of people who favor a two-state solution. They just think it’s inappropriate to prioritize endgame preferences over the legally enshrined rights and immediate needs of a people in their fifth decade of an illegal and very active occupation.

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    7. directrob

      I see about 10+ million persons living within the borders of “greater Israel” most of them born there. Is there any reason why those people cannot live peaceful together in a secular democratic state with equal rights to all and a firm protection of religious freedom? Is the current situation where 40% of the people live without democratic rights on a bit more than 10% of the land kosher?

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    8. Draper


      It wasn’t the political takeover by Hamas in 2005 that led to the blockade, but their overthrow of the PA in 2007. The PA had agreements with Israel. Hamas never has and has remained in a state of war vs. Israel. I’m wondering what you expected Israel to do once Hamas threw Fatah supporters off the rooftops, took over, and fired more missiles/rockets into Israel while holding Gilad Shalit. Should Israel have just BEGGED Hamas to stop?

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    9. Rysk

      ”Yarden – The purpose of Israel’s blockade was not to prevent rocket attacks. Since rockets are launched into the air from inside Gaza, preventing Gazans from leaving their territory is not going to stop the rockets.

      The government’s stated purpose was to bring down the Hamas government by making the people so miserable that they would overthrow it, and to force the release of Gilad Shalit. Obviously, that did not work.”

      Did the government ever state that as official policy Lisa?
      How about this for the purpose of the blockade – stopping Gaza from becoming an Iranian military outpost?

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    10. Jack

      Daniel – I do not believe Palestinians or arabs should be second class citizens in the land of their birth. I believe that the occupation should end immediately and a Palestinian state should arise where its inhabitants can have whatever rights they choose. I believe that Arabs within Israel should not be discriminated against in terms of government funding etc. and that israel should have civil marriage. What I can not accept is those, like most in the BDS movement, that the entire region should become an Arab state of Palestine with a minority community of Jews living there – this is a recipe for disaster and it is why the entire international community believes the solution is two states, not, one.

      Direct Rob: its very nice dream you have, of israelis and palestinians suddenly becoming integrated into one polity where they will suddenly become friends and sing kumbaya together but it is not going to happen. The clashes between Arab and Jew from 1920’s, culminating in 1948 war were essentially a civil war between Jewish and Arab communities in
      Palestine. Given the history of countries like Lebanon and what we’ve seen recently in Iraq and Egypt happen to ARAB christians, there is no reason to think that throwing Jews and Palestinians together will result in anything other than bloodshed. And for the record, BDS figurehead Omar Barghouti states he is in favor of a secular state, NOT binational because binational implies two equally valid nations whereas he believes that in Palestine there is one indigenous nation of Palrstinian Arabs and another nation of settlers (all israeli jews). When you sign the BDS call you are supporting this view and outcome.

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    11. directrob

      Maybe I was not clear enough. The current state of Israel is in fact a one state solution. One in which Jews are special and Palestinians have no rights and are treated like second class citizens enclosed in several shrinking Bantu states. Is it not selfish and even racist to be afraid to give Palestinians equal rights?

      Reply to Comment
    12. Jack

      DIRECTROB – Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to have the right of self-determination in their own state. That is why I, along with almost everyone in the international community, supports partitioning the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean sea into 2 states – the State of Israel and the State of Palestine roughly based on the borders that existed prior to the 1967 war. Hope that clears up my opinion for you.

      Reply to Comment
    13. max

      directrob, this is not an ingenuous comment when referring to the 1-state solution. Israel was created as a Jewish state, so obviously the only solution to ensure the continuation of both its Jewish and democratic character is to keep a Jewish majority. In such a state, non-Jews should have equal rights; in the other state, the non-Muslims should also have equal rights.
      BTW, within the borders of Greater Israel (traditional Palestine and then some) live many more than 10 million people, many of which are called Jordanians

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    14. Amin NUsseibeh

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    15. Amin Nusseibeh, your comment has been deleted for offensive content. I’m warning you that one more such comment and I’ll keep you off my channel entirely. Please keep your remarks substantive and note our comments policy.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Borg

      Dahlia, i dont think you should have deleted Amin’s comments. First, his is unfortunately not a fringe opinion, but shared by a significant number of people. Second, you are in large part responsible for his comments by his reference to “jeweled hands” which is a appeal to classic anti-Semitic stereotypes. If you engage in it, then certainly Amin can engage in it. Note that all Amin had to do is substitute one word in your first sentence to make it offensive. So I dont think Amin’s comments are any more offensive than yours. Perhaps you should give more thought to the fact that you encourage the Amins of this world, and if you are truly seeking peace, this might be a suboptimal approach

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    17. Daniel

      “Actual attempts to drive Jews out of this land (my understanding of delegitimization) are an infinitesimal phenomenon of marginal wackos”

      I have done a good amount of research on the BDS movement and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the hard core, the “intellectual” driving force behind BDS is openly anti-zionist and RoR. When reading the small print or, often more importantly what is NOT said on websites ( JVP ) you will find a clear understanding that 5 Million “refugees”, who do not exist, will return to Israel and that Zionism is inherently racist. Many movers and shakers of BDS across the globe are far leftist/Marxist, academic, openly anti-zionist, anti-globalisation, “feminist” and sometimes are part of the Pal diaspora.
      Here is Dr. Nada Elia a Palestinian “feminist” in a video speech explaining BDS. Dr. Elia is a leader of the BDS in the US North West.

      Dahlia, you underestimate the BDS movement at your own peril and out yourself as someone who has not done the needed back ground checks if you dismiss them.
      The BDS crowd is a catch basin for frustrated “human rightists” and the global left wing who have nothing to cling to after the fall of the USSR. The fascinating thing is of course that their focus is as always Israel (= Jewish Capital=USA=bad ) but when it comes to the Kurds in Turkey, Darfur, or the culture-cide in say Tibet nobody has a clue. This perceptual narrowing I find fascinating and worthy of some thought.

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    18. Daniel

      Pop quizz
      How does the latest find of 50t of war hardware with six sophisticated anti-ship missiles on the Victoria fit into the Aza blockade ? Do finds like these justify an embargo ? Or should the IDF have six ships sunk and thousands of 120mm mortar rounds rain down on the kibbutzim ?
      The weapons by the way came from Iran, itself under a UN arms embargo.
      Would love to hear some serious thoughts on these developments .

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    19. Daniel, re: your second point – I wonder if you missed the point of the article, which is not to dismiss real dangers, but rather to address them with real, sustainable, effective and ideally non-human rights violating policy. The current policy has obviously been a failure. Re: the BDS movement, i actually think you’re exposing some misunderstanding of your own. Being marxist, leftist and feminist really has nothing to do with denying the right of Jews to live in Israel. If you claim the 5 million refugees do not exist, how does advocating RoR really threaten Israel? I’m sure there are people within BDS who may indeed fit my definition of delegitimization (see the article) – but as I said, they are small in number, insignificant in terms of policy impact. A distraction.

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    20. Daniel

      The 5 million do not exist since refugee is not inherited, the exception being in Arab culture ( see UNRWA details ) . So in my world they do not exist. But in the BDS world ( see video above and most Arabs ) the children of the original 750.000 are still refugees and are waiting to return. I am sure you have heard this before. Poems are written about this and even US-Palestinians perform these at poetry slams, very touching stuff.
      Regarding the make up of BDS. Groups such as Marxists, third wave feminists ( Judith Butler ) , anti-globalisation people ( Naomi Klein, Chomsky ) most often have an inherent problem with Zionism due to their definition of racism, discrimination and colonialism=sexism=exploitation etc. I am surprised you have not familiarized yourself with the BDS language and writings, their phraseology, logical construction and world view. You are an academic, you need to get up to speed Dahlia! Speak the lingo, talk the talk.
      Even the new film Mistral is “tres bourgois”.

      As Jack writes above, all prominent websites mondoweiss, Omar Barghouti’s EI are clearly one state solution portals. The man even wrote a book on it! It is pure make belief in my mind that the BDS people are going for a democratic Jewish Israel.

      We will see. I am afraid I am not as optimistic about this as you are, since I have seen and read enough as to convince myself otherwise. Posters Amin and some other Palestinian’s on your thread are prove that there are many people out there who have no intention of letting Israel be Israel. You may, in your selected circles ( I am guessing ) only come in touch with moderates, but do some honest research on the BDS people, my video link is a start, and you will see better.

      Time will tell.

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    21. Daniel

      you should have been reading 972 before they got their comments policy in order. It was a hate-fest that would have made Philip Weiss, ISM & Co weep with joy.
      In a way it is a shame the hate posts get deleted, because it is a form of left wing self-censorship, which distorts the humanistic ideal so many think they are striving for. Underlining the point I am trying to make about BDS and the Goldstone report which was porn for so many out there. Mondoweiss even wrote a book about it.
      If you feel “hungry” just check out Max Blumenthal’s video editing skills in co-operation with another 972 pundit. Maybe Amin can by sound man on the next video shoot?
      Aaaaand Action!

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