Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rule of the Jungle or the Rule of Law?


Yesterday the UN released the Goldstone Report. It is a 50o-plus page investigation of the recent Gaza War, - and it condemns both Israel and Hamas as having "probably" committed war crimes and "possibly" commited crimes against humanity. It further concludes, that if Israel and Hamas don't, within the next six months, take serious and thorough actions to criminally investigate these alleged crimes, then the International Criminal Court in the Hague (remember Milosovitch?) should take up that challenge.

You can read the full report here.

Predictably, Israel, and its uncritical supporters, have dismissed the report as biased.

"The same U.N. that allows the president of a country to announce on a podium its aspiration to destroy the State of Israel has no right to teach us about morality," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"This is a report born of bias," Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in describing the report. "What do you do with an initiative born of bigotry?"

I could go on with a dozen similar denunciations.

But, in fact, the report was produced by a commission headed by Richard Goldstone, a respected judge from South Africa: who is Jewish, calls himself a Zionist, and is a trustee of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – for God sake! Of course this has not stopped many of Israel’s more vociferous supporters from labelling him as an antisemite, and a self-hating Jew.

And those among the “Israel right or wrong crowd”, who are not accusing him of being biased or a race traitor, are calling him a “naïve dupe.”

But, again, Goldstone’s legal and investigative credentials are impeccable. He served as a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa from 1994 to 2003; he served as the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda from 15 August 1994 to September 1996; he was chairperson of the International Independent Inquiry on Kosovo from 1999 to 2001; and in 2004/2005 he served on the Independent International Committee, chaired by Paul Volcker, to investigate the Iraq Oil for Food program. In all these capacities, his opinions and decisions have been held in esteem, and had real consequences.

Of course his report on Gaza was less than complete – and Goldstone admits to that – because Israel refused to cooperate with it from the start. It chose not to present its side of the story. Goldstone did invite Israelis to testify, and some individuals did step forward – notably the family and supporters of Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit.

But even if you discount half of what the report finds – assuming that it was not able to find the whole truth because of Israeli non-cooperation and Hamas lies – the report is damning of both Israel and Hamas.

And this is what particularly gets the goat of some of the pro Israel critics:
How can you compare Israel to the terrorists? They deliberately target
civilians. We just kill them as collateral damage.

And anyway we are no worse than the Russians in Chechnya and the Americans in Afghanistan.



And here lies the crux of the matter!

As Amir Oren wrote in his attack on Goldstone in today’s Haaretz:


In the end, it is not about the law, but about power, military and political.
Goldstone is now free to go to Kunduz [in Afghanistan, site of the recent
killing if 18 civilians because of a NATO action], but American might means
there is no chance that he will.


It is true that other countries also commit war crimes. It is true that America, Russia, and China fix the system so that they are never in the docket.

But as Jews – especially before Rosh Hashanah – we have to ask ourselves: do we want to live in a world of law, or a world of raw power? Should might make right, or vis-versa? Should ethics and justice apply to the world of international relations and warfare – or is anything permissible? If we opt for the rule of law, then Israel and Hamas both stand accused? If we opt for the rule of the jungle, then how do we so smugly condemn Hamas?

Of course, we should not forget – certainly not at High Holiday time – that justice must be tempered by mercy. Even the most heinous crimes may become understandable and forgivable. Our tradition teaches that if God ruled by justice alone, the world would not survive for even a moment. But mercy requires contrition, an admission of fault, and at least some minimal attempt to atone and to do better in the future.

Instead, we get denial, denial, denial.

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