The Magazine

Blaming Israel First

Business as usual at the U.N.

Jan 18, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 17 • By PETER BERKOWITZ
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With the possible exception of the U.S. armed forces, no military in the history of warfare has made greater efforts in the face of grave national security threats to avoid the use of force or has tried harder, when obliged to fight, to protect noncombatants than the Israel Defense Forces. With the possible exception of the U.S. armed forces, no military has investigated itself as rigorously as the IDF. With the possible exception of the U.S. judiciary, no courts have done more to hold their military accountable than Israel’s. And with the possible exception of America, no democracy has gone further in wartime to legitimize dissent than Israel.

It is therefore a bitter irony, fraught with consequences for the legitimacy of international law, that—with the same possible exception—no country’s military, judiciary, and democracy have been the target of greater vilification for alleged human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity than Israel’s.

The continuing controversy over the Goldstone Report is a case in point.

In April 2009, the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council appointed Richard Goldstone, judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to head a mission

to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.

 On September 15, the mission released its 575-page report. The bulk was devoted to alleged Israeli misconduct in Operation Cast Lead, which aimed to stop the more than 12,000 rockets and mortars fired over eight years by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups at civilian targets in southern Israel. The report firmly and in vivid detail accused the Jewish state of human rights violations, war crimes, and “actions” that “might justify a competent court finding that crimes against humanity have been committed.” Tentatively and briefly, the report also found that “it may be that the Palestinian combatants did not at all times adequately distinguish themselves from the civilian population” and that Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians “would constitute war crimes, and may amount to crimes against humanity.”

The document recommended that the Security Council require Israel and Palestinian authorities to report, within six months, on the investigations and prosecutions international law obliged them to carry out. Should Israel fail to make good progress, the report recommended that the Security Council refer the mission’s allegations to the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court. The report’s recommendations concerning the Palestinian authorities were decidedly more tepid.

On November 3, the U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 344-36, passed a nonbinding resolution rejecting the report as “irredeemably biased.” Two days later, the U.N. General Assembly, by a vote of 114-18, adopted the report and sent it to the Security Council.

The Security Council has declined to take action. But damage has been done. By pervasively insinuating that Israel is no better than, and in some respects worse than, the terrorists it battles, the Goldstone Report hands Islamic extremists another propaganda victory. Credulous European and American intellectual and political elites have already casually imbibed the opinion that Israel deliberately attacked civilian targets to terrorize Palestinians and destroy the foundations of civilian life in Gaza.

Goldstone’s mission was suspect in Israel’s eyes from the outset. The Human Rights Council that commissioned it is disreputable. It includes among its 48 members China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia; notwithstanding the gross violations of human rights of which many of its members are guilty, it has made a priority of condemning Israel. In addition, statements about Operation Cast Lead and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made before their appointments by two of Goldstone’s three mission colleagues—Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, and Hina Jilani, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan—could reasonably be seen as prejudging Israel’s guilt. And from the General Assembly’s 1975 resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism to the International Court of Justice’s 2004 ruling that Israel’s security barrier violated international law and must be dismantled, Israel has learned to expect from international bodies hypocrisy, slander, and scorn for its security.

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