Powered byWebtrack Logo


Israel feels tarnished as critics apply apartheid tag

It might have seemed like just another United Nations report among the hundreds cranked out every year, and just another UN resolution from the international resolution factory.

But to some leading Israelis, including some in the Israeli Government, it has awakened fears of a new encirclement, a new isolation, a new kind of warfare.

The report? After enduring some 800 rocket attacks from Hamas militants in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, Israel sent its armed forces into Gaza last December to stop the firings at the source. It was named "Operation Cast Lead". The action left about 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

The UN appointed a South African judge, Richard Goldstone, to lead an investigation into "all violations of international human rights law" in the clash. The 575-page Goldstone report finds that serious war crimes were committed by both sides, by Israel and by the Palestinians. It finds against Israel that "statements by political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza leave little doubt that disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy". Israel was guilty of the "wilful killing" of civilians.

It cites Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, Eli Yishai, saying "It [should be] possible to destroy Gaza, so they will understand not to mess with us."

On the other hand, Goldstone found that "Palestinian armed groups were present in urban areas during the military operations and launched rockets from urban areas", and that "it may be that the Palestinian combatants did not at all times adequately distinguish themselves from the civilian population".

This was the whole point of the Hamas strategy. By deliberately positioning themselves in residential areas, the Hamas fighters were goading Israel to shoot back at civilians' homes. While Hamas is a political movement, it is also, after all, an Islamic terrorist group banned by the US, the EU and Australia, among others.

The UN resolution? The countries of the UN's General Assembly voted in overwhelming numbers two weeks ago to demand that Israel and Hamas conduct independent investigations into their own conduct.

The vote was 114 countries in favour. Only 18 stood against it, including Israel, the US and Australia, while another 44, mostly Europeans, abstained.

If either side fails to carry out an independent inquiry, the UN Security Council can refer the matter to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

"The Goldstone report was a huge shock," says Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University and the head of a think tank called NGO Watch.

"It shouldn't have been, but it was, because of the huge amount of unreasonableness" in the report, he said. "The Government was shocked, the military was most shocked of all.

"This is another kind of warfare - if you can't beat us on the battlefield, then you attack us somewhere else, and when we fight back, you attack the legitimacy of our response." Steinberg calls it "lawfare".

"It's an attempt to turn Israel into a new apartheid state, it's a major threat."

Under the racist policy of apartheid, of course, South Africa became a pariah state. It was widely regarded as an illegitimate regime. Australia's Isi Liebler, the businessman and former chairman of the World Jewish Congress who has now retired to live in Jerusalem, agrees: "Goldstone was the last straw, the straw that broke the camel's back."

But if Goldstone finds war crimes were committed by both sides, how can this be so shocking?

The Israeli objection is to the emphasis in the report. Goldstone directs the great bulk of his scrutiny and criticism to the Israeli side. He does not give weight to the fact that Israel was responding to hundreds of rocket attacks from Hamas.

This was also Australia's problem with Goldstone. As Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says: "We strongly share concerns expressed by other nations, such as Canada, New Zealand, the US and Netherlands, including on the lack of balance, scope and recommendations in the report.

"For example, an unbalanced focus on Israel, insufficient attention to Hamas' actions prior to the conflict, especially rocket attacks" and other matters.

Steinberg argues that international human rights law is a "new religion" that is being used against Israel.

And this view has support in the upper reaches of the Israeli Government. Goldstone has helped persuade Israel's leadership that it faces a gathering international effort to undermine its legitimacy.

Israel seems most unlikely to be abandoned by Australia, however.

Although the Rudd Government shifted emphasis somewhat in favour of the Palestinian cause - it doubled aid for the Palestinians and voted against Israel's position in two UN resolutions last year - Israel's Government is reassured that Canberra sided with Israel on this key vote.

Isi Leibler put it this way: "John Howard was instinctively, as a conservative, a friend of Israel. Kevin Rudd is a remarkable personality but I didn't think he would maintain the course as he has. I regard him as a Christian Zionist - he understands and has some sympathy for us. Australia gives me enormous pride."

Curiously, the head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, is also very pleased with Australia's overall stance: "I think it's good that Australia has good relations with Israel because it gives it a unique status where it can mediate in the conflict and be even-handed."

Addendum: A number of comments attach great significance to the fact that, as I pointed out at the end of the column, I travelled to Israel as a guest of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Some impute a hidden agenda. Earlier this year I wrote about the United Arab Emirates after travelling there as a guest of the Lowy Institute for International Policy. This attracted no comment. It is routine for journalists to accept paid travel. The question is not whether journalists take trips; it is whether they disclose them. Disclosure means that readers can take this into account in forming their views. This is the exact opposite of a hidden agenda.
Peter Hartcher is the Herald's international editor. He travelled to Israel as a guest of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

# reads: 1374

Original piece is

Printable version

Tell us what you think

Sent to Sydney Morning Herald, 18.11.09 Dear Editor, Peter Hartcher presents a very fair and balanced analysis of the Goldstone Report and does well to challenge claims that Israel is some sort of colonial enterprise and an apartheid state. (\"Israel feels tarnished as critics apply apartheid tag\", 17.11.09) The United Nations Human Rights Council report on alleged war crimes in the recent Gaza campaign, usually referred to as the \"Goldstone\" report after the South African jurist who led the reports \"expert\" panel, is simply the most recent attempt to castigate and demonise Israel. People reading this report should remember the intense - and for a time widely and enthusiastically accepted - charges made against Israel Defence Forces regarding the alleged mass slaughter of Palestinians at Jenin in April 2002 - the so called \"Massacre in Jenin\". These allegations were later proven by international investigations, including UN investigations, to be completely untrue - a fabrication. It is also worth noting that the Goldstone Report in fact condemned both sides for committing war crimes in the conflict in Gaza whereas the recent UN Human Rights Council resolution criticises only Israel. Goldstone himself has cast doubt on the veracity of the allegations in the report stating on 2 October that \"We had to do the best we could with the material we had ... If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven.\" He went on to admit that \"I wouldn\"t consider it in any way embarrassing if many of the allegations turn out to be disproved. That allegations of Israeli war crimes will ultimately prove to be baseless won\"t be at all \"embarrassing\" to the UN and the world-wide anti Israel lobby. They will simply move on to promoting further unsubstantiated anti-Israel allegations in the full knowledge that by the time the alleged \"war crimes\" are proven to be false the damage to Israel\"s reputation will already have been done - mission accomplished.

Posted by Dr Bill Anderson on 2009-11-18 22:18:16 GMT

: Fairfax reporter trying to appear unbiased, but too much stinging in the tale. Goldstone appeared biased against Israel, in spite of his protests, maybe hoping to get a UN job by obviously pleasing the disproportionate majority of members Version no : 5567

Posted by HS on 2009-11-18 22:16:53 GMT

Please click on original article and leave comment there.

Posted by ICJS Exec on 2009-11-18 09:04:24 GMT