I recently met a leading representative of the foreign ministry of Israel who acknowledged to me “off the record” that Israel had made a tremendous blunder in refusing to cooperate with the UN Commission led by Judge Richard Goldstone, which investigated the charges of Israeli and Palestinian war crimes in the invasion of Gaza last December and January. Judge Goldstone, an internationally respected jurist whose Zionist credentials include being a member of the governing board of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wanted to hear Israel’s account of what happened, but Israel blocked that inquiry so Goldstone could only report what the victims of Israel’s attacks sought to convey.
Unfortunately, Israel’s predictable choir of ethical cretins around the world have joined in condemning Goldstone and the UN instead of urging Israel to investigate the charges by creating an impartial, objective and open process in which the victims can testify and the perpetrators can be brought to justice. Instead of seeing this as “Israel’s crimes”, Israel would easily be able to show that it is concerned about these violations, punish appropriately those who violated international standards of human rights, and show that it is regretful about what those particular people did. Far from undermining Israel, such a course, if done in a way that human rights advocates around the world could recognise as meeting acceptable standards of impartiality and sensitivity to human rights norms, would go a long way to validate the humanity of the Israeli people in the eyes of all but the worst haters of Jews.
Harold Evans’ screed here yesterday sounds exactly the wrong note in this regard. Instead of providing us with any reason to doubt the legitimacy of the claims made by the Goldstone report, he instead attacks the messengers and those who have taken the report seriously. Had he, for example, presented Goldstone’s account of Israeli shelling of a mosque on a Friday when it could have easily predicted that it would be filled with Muslims and that its attack would cause the death of some 60 civilians, Evans instead tries to shift the focus to the fact that the world is filled with many other (and worse) human rights offenders.
For those of us who have publicly challenged the evils of human rights abuses in China, Russia, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the Congo, Pakistan, India and many other countries, the strategy Evans uses is quite familiar. In an interview I conducted with Judge Goldstone earlier this month he recounted when, as the first chief prosecutor of the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Serbian minister of justice used the same argument to accuse the UN of being unfair, pointing to the many other countries that are human rights violators. I suppose Britain used this same argument to defend its colonial regimes, as did other colonial powers; and while the US was conducting a war in Vietnam that killed some three million Vietnamese it too tried to hide behind the same illegitimate defence that others had engaged in worse crimes.
I share with Evans and with Goldstone the upset about the specific way that the UN has used the report on Israel while ignoring its call for investigation of the war crimes committed by Hamas. Yet the report itself is an important ethical challenge not only to Israel but to western countries that have empowered Israel and remain insensitive to the suffering caused by Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza. It is Israel’s continuing refusal to have an impartial and open investigation that has allowed the hypocritical violators of human rights in other countries to unfairly gang up on Israel in the UN, ignoring what the report itself called Hamas’s war crimes in shelling Israeli towns in southern Israel.
The occupation of the West Bank and the stranglehold on Gaza by Israel, and the suffering that results for both Israel and the Palestinian people, remains the central issue. No matter how often cheerleaders for the occupation claim that Israel is “the only democracy with an independent judiciary” in the area (while human rights advocates argue that Israel cannot be considered a democracy as long as it rules over two million Palestinians in the West Bank to whom it refuses to give either voting rights or self-determination, and the “independent” Israeli judiciary continues to support military actions that systematically destroy Palestinian homes and refuse to scrutinise the way the military kidnaps and holds without charges thousands of Palestinian in deplorable conditions), the sins of Israel’s current treatment of Palestinians will haunt the state that claims to represent the Jewish people worldwide.
We in the Jewish community who want Israel to be strong and secure know that the path must be through justice and generosity toward the Palestinian people, and a renewal of the ancient vision of the Torah that commands us to “love the Other” – and that it is this, rather than military domination, that will in the long run secure Israel’s safety.
Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine and chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives.