When stupids collide


I listened in on the Ta’anit Tzedek/Fast for Gaza conference call Sunday night with Richard Goldstone.

He is by no means the monster some purported defenders of Israel would have it, but he does appear to me to have been driven reckless by his own love of his abundant good intentions.

He claims he could not "live with my own conscience" if he turned down the opportunity to investigate last winter’s Gaza war because he was Jewish; this suggests a mild self-obsession — what did his Jewishness matter? Why should he not have turned down the opportunity, as Mary Robinson had, simply because the U.N. Human Rights Council mandate was so blessedly political and biased? Robinson, lucky her, is a Catholic and her faith did not drive her into unforgiving territory. This time, at least.

The rabbis on the call, by the way, were deferential, polite — and asked devastating questions. Which goes to show that one does not have to behave like a lout to extract the truth. One of these questions had to do with how Goldstone was able to leap from an examination of physical evidence to conclusions, based on 36 cases, that Israel had intended to target civilians.

Goldstone’s response veered a little into bluster. His defense was that Israel’s equipment is so advanced, it precludes error: "The Israeli Defense Forces don’t do those things by error." This is an infantile conclusion, as anyone who has chopped off Aunt Frieda’s head with the latest state of the art digital camera will attest. Human error is always, always a possibility. Goldstone also kept citing the destruction of the American School in Gaza as evidence of Israel’s intent, but admitted he did not closely examine the school site, and drew his impressions while being driven past it.

Goldstone might have made his case had he offered a statistical analysis of the likelihood of human error against the instances in which Israel sought to protect civilian life; his report does not do this. He says he lacked the means to address the entirety of the war, in part because Israel would not cooperate — a decision that does appear buttheaded in retrospect — but all this means is that in good conscience, he should have stopped short of drawing concusions about intent.

I agree with Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress that there’s enough evidence in the report of the targeting of civilians to merit further Israeli investigation. Goldstone says as much, and suggests that if Israel wants the report to go away, it should launch an open inquiry. We live, though, in a can’t-chew-gum-and-walk kind of world: The Netanyahu government is perpetuating a bizarre standard of either abasing the report or embracing it in its entirety.

I’m not sure this is a wise strategy in any case, but its latest development dumbfounded me: the prime minister, reacting explicitly to the Goldstone report, thinks international laws about fighting terrorism should change.

No, really. Some proposals are so profoundly dumb they literally cry out for grown-up intervention: Batteries of smart American, Jewish and Israeli lawyers  — see Marc Stern, above — are making persuasive arguments that Goldstone gets the law wrong and Bibi, in his infinite wisdom, implicitly suggests Goldstone gets the law right by saying that he thinks the law should change.

Goldstone is lucky in his enemies.

More evidence of this in Ha’aretz today: prosecutors in Israel won’t charge a border policeman filmed smashing his truncheon into a Palestinian’s head because "the beating was extremely slight."

How brilliant: We’ve reduced ourselves to the "We don’t beat our wife too much" standard just when about every human rights flack with a Blackberry is saying Israel can’t investigate itself.

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