May 12, 2010

Goldstone reax

Here's a quick update on my post from yesterday with thoughts from around the web.

It seems to me that a judgment of the Goldstone Report is perfectly possible without an attempted character assassination of the author. But it is very telling that this tactic - a central one among those fanatically defending the policies of the Israeli government - is so swiftly deployed. One key weapon of those attempting to police and stifle debate on the Middle East is the personal smear. The sheer viciousness of the way in which the anti-Semite card is played is testimony to a position that endures in part by bullying - a sign of its essential weakness. But the Yediot Ahronoth smear of Richard Goldstone as some kind of racist Afrikaner really did up the ante. It was not news; and it is not in any way salient to the critique of Israel's and Hamas's war crimes in Gaza. But it is made especially absurd by the obvious fact that if one is going to judge people on the basis of their former positions on apartheid, Goldstone is a human rights icon compared with the state of Israel, which propped up the sanctioned racist regime with arms sales.
It is supposed to be some sort of contradiction that Goldstone upheld harsh laws as a judge then and now is trying to hold another government accountable for its military excesses against a civilian population, but at worst this shows a habit of judging actions according to the law that exists. It could just as easily show a desire to hold even powerful states accountable for their violations of international law. Goldstone has been criticized as a “man of double standards,” but if his record shows us anything it is that this is precisely what he is not. Indeed, the reason why he has been subjected to these attacks is that he is not applying one standard for one group and another for a different group. What drives his attackers crazy is that he has applied the law to both sides of the conflict. His attackers might insist that Israel be given on a pass on any excesses and crimes it commits because Israel is on “our side” or is “like us” or “shares our values,” or more basically because Israel has a “right to defend itself” (which some of them take to mean a license to do whatever it wants). If the judgment seems biased against the vastly more powerful side, that is mostly a function of the disparity of power between the two sides.
As I noted in my previous post on this controversy, I find it a bit curious that strident defenders of Israeli foreign policy take a harder line on Richard Goldstone’s apartheid-era conduct than does Nelson Mandela and the leadership of the African National Congress. It’s almost enough to make you think that some of these attacks on Goldstone are offered in bad faith, and are more motivated by dislike for his conclusions about Israeli conduct during the Gaza war than genuine concern about his past conduct.
I notice that Sasha Polakow-Suransky, the author of the Foreign Policy post from yesterday (see here also), has a book coming out soon called The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.

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