/ 19 September 2009

Israel shows innability to tolerate criticism

The despicable attacks on human rights organisations investigating Israel’s Gaza offensive in January confirm Churchill’s observation: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

The mission led by Richard Goldstone, established by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is the latest victim.
His investigation was dismissed before it had reported.

Goldstone could not defend it, so the smears and misrepresentation were left free to pollute public discourse.

The Goldstone mission was denied entry to Israel while the testimony of Gazans has been rubbished unless it supports Israel’s version of the offensive. Through such actions, as well as by allowing the army to investigate itself, Israel shows it cannot even tolerate reasonable criticism.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has assiduously responded to a deluge of scurrilous attacks on its credibility and staff, yet totally unfounded allegations — for example, about accepting Saudi government funding and failing to give a critical report to the Israel Defence Force before releasing it to the public — are constantly recycled.

HRW messed up by failing to see that the nerdy and, to most people, disturbing hobby of its weapons expert Marc Garlasco — he collects German and American World War 2 memorabilia — could be used to discredit his role as author of highly critical reports of Israel’s military conduct in Gaza. It finally suspended Garasco this week pending an investigation.

But when this story broke last week, the equation implied in some allegations — “Nazi” object-collector plus “Israel-basher” equals “anti-Semite” — was baseless and defamatory. That he also worked on reports critical of Hamas and Hezbollah was ignored. As another excuse to attack HRW, it was a gift.

The human rights world is not beyond reproach. UNHRC has hardly been impartial on Israel. Goldstone accepted his role only after the council president agreed to alter the mission’s mandate to cover all parties to the conflict. But this does not explain the extraordinary scale of the attacks on human rights organisations, including all Israeli ones.

The promoters of the concept of the “new anti-Semitism” — that Israel is the collective Jew persecuted by the international community — hold the international human rights movement largely responsible for it.

Unable to face the fact that occupation and increasingly extreme right-wing governments turned Israel into the neighbourhood bully, and misreading the fallout for Jewish communities as abandonment by progressive forces and governments, many Jewish leaders and opinion-formers have become the human rights movement’s fiercest critics. With anti-Semitism framing this attack, reasoned argument becomes nigh impossible.

By declaring the reports of human rights agencies biased, the attack dogs are reinforcing the damage Israel is doing to itself. They put Israel in the company of serial human rights abusers that make the same complaint.

Goldstone, meanwhile, has attracted extra venom from some who label him a traitorous Jew. Would they say the same about another Jew, Rene Cassin, one of the prime drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Cassin was deeply influenced by the Holocaust and the universal declaration was drawn up in direct response to it. It contains the bedrock principles upon which today’s human rights agencies base their work. Goldstone is heir to Cassin’s legacy.

We owe it to Palestinian and Israeli alike to listen to Goldstone with open minds — he might just bring us closer to the truth of what happened to human dignity in Gaza in January this year. —