Shades of Gaza and Goldstone’s recantation

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On April fool’s day, Judge Richard Goldstone penned an op-ed in The Washington Post, sheepishly retracting the UN-sponsored Goldstone Report investigating Israel’s war crimes during the 2008–”2009 Gaza Massacre. Goldstone, a self-identified Zionist and a respected anti-apartheid judge in South Africa, found that Israel was guilty of “possible crimes of humanity” in the report, gingerly using language reminiscent of the Nuremburg Trials of the Nazi Party. In the April 2010 op-ed, however, he declares that “[i]f I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” The sea of print unleashed.

The UN Human Rights Commission’s decision to choose Richard Goldstone for its fact finding mission on Palestine was driven by a number of political considerations. Goldstone’s reputation as an anti-apartheid warrior, combined with his affiliations with Israel (his daughter Nicole is also a Zionist and once made aliya to Israel), would avert the charge of anti-Semitism that Israel would undoubtedly fire at the UN. In short, the rotund, grandfatherly man was seen as the most impartial choice in a political climate dominated by AIPAC, J-Street, and the World Zionist Organization. It is true that these considerations compounded in making the Goldstone Report a major PR-disaster for Israel. Israel drew international censure from governments who used the UN umbrella to express the opinions of their populations. Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fond of the verbal hyperbole he polished in his previous career as a furniture salesman, even equated the Goldstone Report with Iran’s nuclear program in listing the biggest threats facing Israel in 2010.

But on another level, the Goldstone Report was as critically significant as a dead duck floating in the water. Unfortunately UN pronouncements are not tied to moral action and the mobilization of political will, especially if they happen to rub the Security Council members the wrong way. American congressmen, who are kinetically tied to the AIPAC braintrust the way the Energizer Bunny is tied to a battery, unleashed a storm of indignation on Goldstone and the United Nations. The Congress rejected the Report wholesale, ensuring that the United States’ umbrella of impunity would hold for Israel against the rain of censure. The US Senate even called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “to do all in his power to redress the damage to Israel’s reputation.”

The Goldstone Report is also significant in that the United Nations was merely responding to a global groundswell of horror. Not to acknowledge the gruesome starvation of Gaza’s civilians, and the death by indiscriminate carpet-bombing and white phosphorous imposed on them by the Israeli forces would have struck a mortal blow on the tattered remnants of UN prestige. Even with the muffling of mainstream media outlets in the US and Europe, the catholic web of the electronic media beamed up irrefutable images of mass horror ploughed into the flesh of school children, hospital patients, women, and worshippers at masjids. The Gaza Massacre set off pilgrimages by concerned activists, independent reporters, and ordinary citizens to take down the oral history of the massacre. Relatives of the deceased settled in various countries spread their stories in their own communities, swelling the sea of human sympathy. Everyone knew what happened, and knew that they were somehow implicated as witnesses to the crime.

It is a taxing job to lift the curtain on a massacre, but some facts seem in order here. During Operation Cast Lead, 1,400 civilians lost their lives. The Goldstone Report itself takes note of missile strikes on civilian homes, including the al-Sinha home in which 29 family members were killed. It tabulates attacks on civilians raising white flags and orphanages; white phosphorous showered on hospitals and ambulances; tank fire on women. It does not take the IQ of an al-Ghazali or Socrates to figure out that this scale of civilian death does not simply happen without a solid intent. However, in his recantation, Goldstone hedges by using an interpretation of intent lifted straight from Zionist mythology –” despite the most flagrant bloodletting, Israelis are fundamentally innocent because they say so, and Hamas or anyone else deemed a security threat is fundamentally guilty no matter what they say in their defense. Judge Goldstone found that his sophisticated legal expertise was not required after all –” the primitive logic of tribal solidarity fit the bill.

But what exactly was it that Goldstone didn’t know back then, as he plaintively states in his retraction? He was ignorant of the collective fury that was to be visited upon his head for breaking ranks with Judaism’s consolidation into Judeo-Zionism and challenging the myth of Zionist exceptionalism. Goldstone didn’t know before his Orwellian capitulation that the path of a Norman Finklestein does not come strewn with the accolades, laurel leaves, and blue ribbons that he was accustomed to. As Lawerence Swaim writes in his Counterpunch op-ed, “[through] the campaign against Judge Goldstone [that] swung into high gear around the world, the public was given a fascinating insight into the peculiarly toxic nature of Zionist persuasion, and its highly calibrated use of organizations and kinship groups to manipulate and exploit Jewish suffering and fear.”

In the logic that transforms principled opposition to Zionism into betrayal, the Jew that “breaks ranks” with the State of Israel is treated by the global network of Jewish political, professional and kinship groups as a pariah. This is seen as a matter of the tribe’s survival, reflective of the Ashkenazi ghetto mentality honed for over a thousand years in a hostile Europe. After a year of veritable excommunication that included hostile Jewish college kids firing questions at him as if he was King Herrod, to being very nearly banned from his own grandson’s bar mitzvah in South Africa, Goldstone finally cracked. The half-hearted objections to his own report that he raises in the Washington Post op-ed was spun by Israeli and US media groups as a complete recantation of the report.

The judge’s turn-about rocketed Netanyahu into nirvana. “Goldstone himself said that all of the things that we have been saying all along are correct –” that Israel never intentionally fired at civilians and that our inquiries operated according to the highest international standards,” he declared in a cabinet meeting. “Of course, this is in complete contrast to Hamas, which intentionally attacked and murdered civilians and, naturally, never carried out any sort of inquiry.” But “Goldstone must have known it would play that way,” writes Swaim, “the poor man was clearly counting on minor recantations to be enough to allow him to grovel back into the good graces of the rightwing Israeli political class.”

However, Judge Goldstone’s recantation may prove to be a pyrrhic victory of sorts. Since the urgency for the Goldstone Report was a popular groundswell rather than an imperial mandate a la the UN resolutions on Iraq, this will prove two things. One is that the political elites of the United States and Israel have completely lost their grip on reality. It drives the final nail in the coffin for the US’s previous gestures toward normalizing relations with the Muslim world, made on occasions such as Barack Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech. This accelerates the US’s declining ability to manage the Muslim world for its own interests. Goldstone’s recantation also highlights the disconnect between the US political class recklessly pursuing its international power holdings, and an American public that wants nothing more than to disengage from war.

Also, the Gaza Massacre fatally cracked Israel’s facade as a legitimate state. The no-brainer “victory” that Israeli politicians, generals, and state rabbis were looking for in response to the 2006 defeat at the hands of Hizbullah is turning into a moral defeat of epic proportions. This is thrown into sharp relief by the recent op-ed pieces of Israel’s liberal Haaretz paper –” their trademark leftist sympathy for Palestinian suffering is dissipating as they increasingly close ranks with the right wing Jerusalem Post on Goldstone and other issues. Since the demographic numbers bolstering the State of Israel’s Jewish identity are markedly insufficient, Zionism has always relied on internationally exporting the Jewish narrative of suffering to win popular support. However, the tide of global sympathy is running against Israel, marked by the flotillas, caravans, and other aid initiatives being organized by civilians around the world to challenge what their governments are unable to confront –” the Israeli siege of Gaza. The pressures imposed by the changing barometer of international support seems to be reflected in the gruesome murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni, who lived in Gaza to express solidarity with the people’s suffering.

While the Zionist PR machine has a penchant for Islamicizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict –” propagating fantasies of a democratic, enlightened Israel besieged by rabid Muslim extremists –” even Alan Dershowitz couldn’t deny the secular credentials of the three co-authors of the Goldstone Report. Hina Jilani, Christine Chinkin and Desmond Travers had strong words for Judge Goldstone’s change of heart. In their statement to The Guardian on April 14, they stand by their document, stating “there is no justification for any demand or expectation for reconsideration of the report.” They dismiss Goldstone’s testimony to Israel’s good faith in carrying out investigations of the military personnel involved in Operation Cast Lead, noting that Israel has yet to open a serious inquiry.

The three also chastise Goldstone for buckling under pressure. “Had we given in to pressures from any quarter to sanitise our conclusions,” they write, “we would be doing a serious injustice to the hundreds of innocent civilians killed during the Gaza conflict, the thousands injured, and the hundreds of thousands whose lives continue to be deeply affected by the conflict and the blockade.” Hina Jilani is a well-known Pakistani human rights advocate who has, in fact, loudly spoken out against the Hudood Ordinances and other legislative attempts to introduce the Shari’ah in Pakistan. Christine Chinkin is a professor of international law at the London School of Economics who works on feminist legal issues, and Desmond Travers is an Irish soldier who has been involved in EU missions to Lebanon, Croatia and Sarajevo. You certainly wouldn’t find any of them at an ISNA conference.

Gaza’s cause has gained momentum as a universal issue of justice, an urgent act of witnessing invoking human conscience. It is an issue of Muslim resistance, but also a global platform of solidarity. The Goldstone Report’s findings are obvious because Israel was trying to send a blatant message about its power. As for the debris, Israel evidently trusted in the power of its spin agencies to silence condemnation and bury the issue. It may have always worked before but as the great showman P.T. Barnum once said, you can’t fool ’em all the time. For Israel to find an array of feminists, constitutional lawyers, professors, and secular professionals of all persuasions ranged against it, is a nightmare. In Theodore Herzl’s original fantasy described in his novel The Old New Land, Israel was to be a haven of secular civilization, a Camelot with palm-trees. But in the eyes of the world, Israel is fitting into the suit of clothes that it had measured out for Hamas –” the crazed aggressor that seems hell-bent on sowing chaos.

Goldstone recanted because the cost became too high for a member of the political class to admit to clear and evident truth on the ground. This shows that Zionism has resorted to an either-or mind frame justified because Israel’s survival is falling under question. However, since the momentum for the report came from the ground and not from the gaseous sphere of political power, getting Goldstone to deny it will do nothing. It will only serve to prove that the UN is an ineffective vehicle for moral dramas that come stamped with the approval of Israel and the US. The UN is only worthwhile for tasks like mounting invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps it is no longer even good for that, as seen in the chaotic invasion of Libya conducted by France, Italy and the US like sharks jumping on a bleeding prey. The stage for political action has undergone a shift in gravity from the politicians to the masses. Gaza’s martyrdom is proof of this, unraveling the seemingly iron-clad narrative of Israel’s divine right to Palestine and revealing it to be as ephemeral as air.

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