Home > Bruce S. Ticker, Gaza, Israel, Palestinian Authority, United Nations, United States of America > The Goldstone-Gold debate at Brandeis University

The Goldstone-Gold debate at Brandeis University

November 15, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Bruce S. Ticker

20091022-bruce-tickerWALTHAM, Massachusetts–It was a rare opportunity. Not only did I visit Brandeis University for the first time, but I observed two of the world’s most respected Jewish figures review the severe accusations against Israel contained in the United Nations document known as the Goldstone report.

The speakers were South African Judge Richard Goldstone himself, who
headed the commission which produced the report, and Dore Gold, former
Israeli ambassador to the United States. Hundreds of students, faculty and
Boston-area residents comprised the heavily Jewish crowd that listened to
Goldstone and Gold on the same day as a United Nations vote on the report;
by coincidence, I was vacationing in the greater Boston area.

The experience of personally witnessing these two prominent figures laying
out their conflicting positions merely served to enhance my take on the
Goldstone report: It is a sideshow of an appalling, senseless 61-year-old
conflict that refuses to end.

The aftermath of Israel’s invasion of Gaza in late December and January
has endured so many contortions that it is impossible to take the
Goldstone report seriously. The United Nations Assembly voted 114-18 on
Nov. 5 to call for UN Security Council action if Israel and Hamas fail to
investigate alleged war crimes within three months. The United States is
expected to veto further movement in the Security Council.

The report singles out Israel to account for its actions in a military
strike that, overall, was necessary and justifiable. I recognize that the
report charges Hamas with war crimes, but the commission’s mission was
originally to investigate only Israel. Goldstone saw to it the commission
probed both parties, but critics in the U.N. focused on Israel’s role
and Israel responded with uneven defenses.

As for the Arabs, since when have they been concerned about deaths of
their own people? They have launched countless wars that placed Arab
civilians in the cross-fire, pressured their own to battle Israel and
murdered Arab leaders and individuals who sought peace.

There is only one significant consequence of the Goldstone report: In
pressing for action on these charges, Arab extremists admit that Israel
won this round and they can’t stand it. It is another Nakba’a — the
Arab world’s term describing their failure to destroy Israel in 1948.

Meanwhile, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are locked in gridlock
over a peace settlement, and Israel must deal with a nuclear threat from
Iran and potential aggression from Gaza and southern Lebanon. The UN
habitually ignores human rights abuses committed by Russia, China, Sudan,
Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Gold and other advocates for Israel repeatedly understate Israel’s
reason for invading Gaza in late December last year. Israel had every
right to attack Gaza after rockets were fired into Sderot and other parts
of southern Israel, which is the routine defense of Israel and its
supporters. If that is all of it, I would need to agree that the attack on
Gaza was, literally, a case of overkill.

However, Hamas – the force that controls Gaza – was clearly building a war
machine to cause far more damage to Israel. The Israel Defense Forces had
no other choice but to move in, and they were compelled to endanger
civilians in order to reach Hamas troops, supplies and facilities.
Israelis would sound far more reasonable and less flippant if they
employed this argument.

Both Goldstone and Gold were disingenuous in some of their assertions.
After cataloguing much of the destruction of Gaza, Goldstone declared:
“If that isn’t collective punishment, what is?”

Well, the planned destruction of a sovereign nation – namely, Israel –
might constitute “collective punishment,”a phrase beaten to death by
advocates for inhabitants of Israel’s territories. Could Goldstone have
discovered this term independently of this persistent mantra?

Goldstone even attributed the report’s blanket accusation that Israel
intentionally targeted civilians to past statements of high-level Israeli
officials who projected that attacks on Israel would instigate excessive
harm to the offending country or territory.

Such a prospect deserves serious consideration, but none of their
statements prove anything. It is not even direct evidence of formal policy
and it is my educated guess that these comments would be inadmissable as
evidence in court. Goldstone’s claim of evidence is loosely comparable
to introducing a suspect’s criminal record into a trial. Maybe they
allow that in South Africa, but not in American criminal courts.

The Israeli government complicated the conflict by refusing to cooperate
with the investigation. No question that the UN discriminates against
Israel, but Israel’s failure to participate leaves the impression that
it has something to hide.

The swiftest way to antagonize a prosecutor is to stonewall him. Israel
succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. Any self-important prosecutor will
slam the subject of his investigation if they refuse to cooperate. At
Brandeis, Goldstone made a point of Israel’s obstinence. His words were
civil and evenhanded, but his tone was sarcastic. Internally, Goldstone
was probably boiling.

Already, anything that Israel’s defenders would say is highly suspect.

Gold’s sleep-inducing rebuttal was flawed partly because he expended too
much time on details to bolster his position. That is fine for a book, as
demonstrated with one he authored, The Fight for Jerusalem, but not
a public discussion in which time is limited. He should have summarized
his arguments and complemented them with brief examples.

The effectiveness of Gold’s response – in part that ‘Hamas
deliberately embedded in the civilian population’ – recedes because the
Israeli government waited until after the investigation to defend itself.

We still cannot dismiss the question of whether Israel’s military
committed war crimes. My educated guess is that the truth lies somewhere
between the report’s accusations and Israel’s reaction.

It is possible that some commanders and soldiers at least acted
recklessly, without regard for the safety of civilians. The single
documented clue is that the 2006 two-front war with Lebanon and Gaza
exposed severe weaknesses in military prepardness. Reservist training was
inadequate and soldiers could not find weapons and other supplies. Prior
to the 2006 war, terrorists breached security three times at military
bases, which includes the kidnapping of Sgt. Gilad Shalit.

Not so clear is whether extremists belong to the IDF who ignore policies
and disregard the safety of Arab civilians. J. J. Goldberg, a respected
veteran of Jewish journalism, said in a commentary in the weekly <ins Forward that soldiers informally complain about fanatics in their ranks.

While Goldberg offers no hard evidence, this concern makes sense. There
are plenty of extremists in Israel, and nearly every Israeli is required
to serve in the IDF. It stands to reason that there could be an
overabundance of abuse on that basis.

If the IDF is burdened with serious shortcomings, it is long overdue to
clean up its act. Otherwise, the military will not only jeopardize the
lives of Arab civilians but its own troops, and the world will keep
demanding explanations.

One Goldstone report is one too many.

Ticker is a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist who has written for both secular and Jewish publications.

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