Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fighting the Goldstone Report

P. David Hornik

“There are three primary threats facing us today: the nuclear threat, the missile threat and what I call the Goldstone threat.”

So said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech last month to the Knesset. In bracketing the “Goldstone threat” with two military threats, at least one of them existential, Netanyahu was not exaggerating. The report of the Goldstone Commission, led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone under the auspices of the notoriously anti-Israeli UN Human Rights Commission, was published in September 2009 and accuses Israel of committing war crimes in its January 2009 military campaign against Hamas in Gaza. The report thereby hands a major propaganda victory to Hamas and vindicates the terrorists’ strategy of using whole populations as human shields.
Among the best rebuttals to the report that have been published are those by Trevor Norwitz, a New York lawyer, who called it “an abominable travesty of justice,” and a much briefer one by Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of South Africa, who called it “a disgrace to the most basic notions of justice, equality and the rule of law.”

But the report’s grim impact continues. On the legal front, the UN General Assembly endorsed it in November (though democratic states either voted against or abstained), and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is set to refer it to the Security Council. On the terror front, the fact that Hezbollah is now storing weapons in 160 Shiite villages in southern Lebanon shows how effective the human-shield strategy has become, and how hamstrung Israel will be in future antiterrorist warfare, if it fails to overcome the Goldstone libel.

The New York Times reports this week that the Israeli army is now preparing its own rebuttal to the report, and that “its central aim is to dispel the report’s harsh conclusion—that the death of noncombatants and destruction of civilian infrastructure were part of an official plan to terrorize the Palestinian population.” Although the rebuttal, which is soon to be submitted to UN officials, is supposed to be under wraps until then, correspondent Ethan Bronner quotes some statements by “officers involved in writing the report.”

One concerns a flour mill that, according to the Goldstone Report, “was hit by an airstrike, possibly by an F-16…for the purpose of denying sustenance to the civilian population.” But “the Israeli investigators say they have photographic proof that this is false, that the mill was accidentally hit by artillery in the course of a firefight with Hamas militiamen.”

Then there was a wastewater plant that, in the Goldstone Report’s telling, Israel subjected to a missile strike that was “deliberate and premeditated,” causing an inundation of raw sewage. Contrary to that charge, “the Israelis say they had nothing to do with that plant’s collapse and suggest that it may have been the result of Hamas explosives.”

More broadly, the Goldstone document states that Israel conducted “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population….” Israel’s military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, told Bronner that “I have read every report, from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Arab League…. It is when you read these other reports and complaints that you realize how truly vicious the Goldstone report is. He made it look like we set out to go after the economic infrastructure and civilians, that it was intentional. It’s a vicious lie.”

Many things made the Goldstone Report possible: the UN’s Muslim/Third World majority that produces grotesque bodies like the Human Rights Commission (which sponsored the report); Goldstone’s own blindness or—since blindness is hard to believe as an explanation—cynical opportunism; and of course, decades of Western mainstream-media portrayals of Israel as an aggressor and Palestinians as victims.

On the plus side, the United States and other democracies have at least quietly supported Israel in resisting the report—which, they realize, is a victory for terror—and its implications. Israel’s chances of successfully making its case are not hopeless, but it will have to work hard.

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