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Goldstone's shameful U-turn

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Judge Richard Goldstone in the Gaza Strip, June 2009. [UN Photo]Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada,

"If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone report would have been a different document." Thus opens Judge Richard Goldstone's much-discussed op-ed in The Washington Post. I have a strong feeling that the editor might have tampered with the text and that the original sentence ought to have read something like: "If I had known then that the report would turn me into a self-hating Jew in the eyes of my beloved Israel and my own Jewish community in South Africa, the Goldstone report would never have been written at all." And if that wasn't the original sentence, it is certainly the subtext of Goldstone's article.

This shameful U-turn did not happen this week. It comes after more than a year and a half of a sustained campaign of intimidation and character assassination against the judge, a campaign whose like in the past destroyed mighty people such as US Senator William Fulbright who was shot down politically for his brave attempt to disclose AIPAC's illegal dealings with the State of Israel.

Already In October 2009, Goldstone told CNN, "I've got a great love for Israel" and "I've worked for many Israeli causes and continue to do so" (Video: "Fareed Zakaria GPS," 4 October 2009).

Given the fact that at the time he made this declaration of love he did not have any new evidence, as he claims now, one may wonder how could this love could not be at least weakened by what he discovered when writing, along with other members of the UN commission, his original report.

But worse was to come and exactly a year ago, in April 2010, the campaign against him reached new heights, or rather, lows. It was led by the chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, Avrom Krengel, who tried to prevent Goldstone from participating in his grandson's bar mitzvah in Johannesburg since "Goldstone caused irreparable damage to the Jewish people as a whole."

The South African Zionist Federation threatened to picket outside the synagogue during the ceremony. Worse was the interference of South Africa's Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, who chastised Goldstone for "doing greater damage to the State of Israel." Last February, Goldstone said that "Hamas perpetrated war crimes, but Israel did not," in an interview that was not broadcast, according to a 3 April report the website of Israel's Channel 2. It was not enough: the Israelis demanded much more.

Readers might ask "so what?" and "why could Goldstone not withstand the heat?" Good questions, but alas the Zionization of Jewish communities and the false identification of Jewishness with Zionism is still a powerful disincentive that prevents liberal Jews from boldly facing Israel and its crimes.

Every now and again many liberal Jews seem to liberate themselves and allow their conscience, rather than their fear, to lead them. However, many seem unable stick to their more universalist inclinations for too long where Israel is concerned. The risk of being defined as a "self-hating Jew" with all the ramifications of such an accusation is a real and frightening prospect for them. You have to be in this position to understand the power of this terror.

Just weeks ago, Israeli military intelligence announced it had created a special unit to monitor, confront, and possibly hunt down, individuals and bodies suspected of "delegitimizing" Israel abroad. In light of this, perhaps quite a few of the faint-hearted felt standing up to Israel was not worth it.

We should have recognized that Goldstone was one of them when he stated that, despite his report, he remains a Zionist. This adjective, "Zionist," is far more meaningful and charged than is usually assumed. You cannot claim to be one if you oppose the ideology of the apartheid State of Israel. You can remain one if you just rebuke the state for a certain criminal policy and fail to see the connection between the ideology and that policy. "I am a Zionist" is a declaration of loyalty to a frame of mind that cannot accept the 2009 Goldstone Report. You can either be a Zionist or blame Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity -- if you do both, you will crack sooner rather than later.

That this mea culpa has nothing to do with new facts is clear when one examines the "evidence" brought by Goldstone to explain his retraction. To be honest, one should say that one did not have to be the world expert on international law to know that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza in 2009. The reports of bodies such as Breaking the Silence and the UN representatives on the ground attested to it, before and after the Goldstone report. It was also not the only evidence.

The pictures and images we saw on our screens and those we saw on the ground told only one story of a criminal policy intending to kill, wound and maim as a collective punishment. "The Palestinians are going to bring upon themselves a Holocaust," promised Matan Vilnai, Israel's deputy minister of defense to the people of Gaza on 29 February 2008.

There is only one new piece of evidence Goldstone brings and this is an internal Israeli army investigation that explains that one of the cases suspected as a war crime was due to a mistake by the Israeli army that is still being investigated. This must be a winning card: a claim by the Israeli army that massive killings by Palestinians were a "mistake."

Ever since the creation of the State of Israel, the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed by Israel were either terrorists or killed by "mistake." So 29 out of 1,400 deaths were killed by an unfortunate mistake? Only ideological commitment could base a revision of the report on an internal inquiry of the Israeli army focusing only on one of dozens of instances of unlawful killing and massacring. So it cannot be new evidence that caused Goldstone to write this article. Rather, it is his wish to return to the Zionist comfort zone that propelled this bizarre and faulty article.

This is also clear from the way he escalates his language against Hamas in the article and de-escalates his words toward Israel. And he hopes that this would absolve him of Israel's righteous fury. But he is wrong, very wrong. Only a few hours passed from the publication of the article until Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and of course the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President Shimon Peres commissioned Goldstone with a new role in life: he is expected to move from one campus to the other and hop from one public venue to the next in the service of a new and pious Israel. He may choose not to do it; but then again he might not be allowed to attend his grandson's bar mitzvah as a retaliation.

Goldstone and his colleagues wrote a very detailed report, but they were quite reserved in their conclusions. The picture unfolding from Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations was far more horrendous and was described less in the clinical and legal language that quite often fails to convey the magnitude of the horror. It was first western public opinion that understood better than Goldstone the implications of his report. Israel's international legitimacy has suffered an unprecedented blow. He was genuinely shocked to learn that this was the result.

We have been there before. In the late 1980s, Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote a similar, sterile, account of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Palestinian academics such as Edward Said, Nur Masalha and Walid Khalidi were the ones who pointed to the significant implications for Israel's identity and self-image, and nature of the archival material he unearthed.

Morris too cowered under pressure and asked to be re-admitted to the tribe. He went very far with his mea culpa and re-emerged as an extreme anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racist: suggesting putting the Arabs in cages and promoting the idea of another ethnic cleansing. Goldstone can go in that direction too; or at least this is what the Israelis expect him to do now.

Professionally, both Morris and Goldstone tried to retreat to a position that claimed, as Goldstone does in The Washington Post article, that Israel can only be judged by its intentions not the consequences of its deeds. Therefore only the Israeli army, in both cases, can be a reliable source for knowing what these intentions were. Very few decent and intelligent people in the world would accept such a bizarre analysis and explanation.

Goldstone has not entered as yet the lunatic fringe of ultra-Zionism as Morris did. But if he is not careful the future promises to be a pleasant journey with the likes of Morris, Alan Dershowitz (who already said that Goldstone is a "repentant Jew") between annual meetings of the AIPAC rottweilers and the wacky conventions of the Christian Zionists. He would soon find out that once you cower in the face of Zionism -- you are expected to go all the way or be at the very same spot you thought you had successfully left behind you.

Winning Zionist love in the short-term is far less important than losing the world's respect in the long-run. Palestine should choose its friends with care: they cannot be faint-hearted nor can they claim to be Zionists as well as champions of peace, justice and human rights in Palestine.

Ilan Pappe is Professor of History and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. His most recent book is Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (Pluto Press, 2010).


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