Richard Goldstone and I attended the same event last week – he as an honored guest, and I as an ordinary audience member. It was a debate on the Goldstone Report at Stanford University between two lawyers who had visited Gaza as part of a National Lawyers’ Guild Delegation, and two Zionist academics. In the course of the event, Peter Berkowitz and Abraham Bell, the Zionist academics, both put forward arguments based on logical fallacies (red herring, straw man, ad hominem attacks), contradicted themselves on numerous points, and were forced to make retractions of false statements. Although no one was keeping score, having been on my high school debate team, I think it was pretty clear that the Zionists, who argued against the Goldstone Report, lost that debate hands down.
Apparently Richard Goldstone didn’t take high school debate, or didn’t really care who based their arguments on lucid and verifiable facts, and who merely floated theories and generalizations followed by personal attacks, because it seems he let himself be convinced by Berkowitz and Bell’s spurious arguments. Just a few days after that debate, Goldstone published an op-ed in the Washington Post second guessing the conclusions of his own investigation and his commission’s report!
In his letter, Goldstone criticizes Hamas for failing to investigate and prosecute war crimes, while lauding Israel for doing so. In doing so, he falls prey to the ‘moral equivalence’ argument challenged by the debate moderator at last week’s event. Are Hamas and Israel morally equivalent? Well, let’s see,
a democratically-elected Hamas government that had managed to maintain a nearly year-long ceasefire (in 2008) in which cross-border shelling by Palestinian resistance groups dropped to virtually none, while Israeli violations continued. The ceasefire was broken by Israel in December with an extrajudicial assassination of six alleged members of Hamas’ armed wing.
On the other side, an Israeli army whose arsenal is the fourth-largest in the world, deciding to launch a massive invasion of a 15-mile wide strip of land that it had already laid siege to for three straight years, thereby weakening the population of 1.4 million and depriving them of their basic human needs. In that invasion, Israeli forces killed 1400 Palestinians, an estimated 80% of whom were civilians (although resistance against an invading military force is permissible under the internationally-recognized laws of warfare). And a jaw-dropping FOUR HUNDRED of these victims were children.
As Victor Kattan, one of the National Lawyers Guild lawyers who participated in last week’s debate, quietly interjected toward the end of the debate: There has been no justice for the deaths of these 400 children, and Israel has announced no plan to pursue justice for the families of those who lost their children to the Israeli invasion of 2008-9 that Israeli officials smirkingly refer to as “Operation Cast Lead”.
Goldstone sat quietly throughout the debate, listening politely, and obviously sucking up all the wild generalizations and racist rhetoric used by Bell and Berkowitz. At one point, Abraham Bell, a former clerk for the Israeli Chief Justice, made the incredibly racist statement that he and Noura Erekat (the lawyer on the other side of the debate table) would never be able to walk down the streets of Gaza City together, because “If the moral police didn’t get us, then someone more sinister would”. Erekat countered that she had, in fact, walked in Gaza City with American Jewish men like himself without any problem. One audience member commented to me afterward that Bell’s statement had been equivalent to saying, “If I were to walk into the streets of Harlem as a white man, they’d surely kill me” – a statement that Americans would recognize as a racist one, that generalizes and stereotypes about black people, and something that would not be acceptable in US culture. But when a similar statement is made about Palestinians in a supposedly ‘academic’ debate, it is allowed to pass.
Bell also made the absurd claim that he and Erekat would be able to walk down the streets of Tel Aviv without any problem. Why is this absurd? Because Erekat, being of Palestinian origin, would not be allowed into Tel Aviv due to Israeli policies.
But despite the absurdities and fallacies laid out by the two Zionist academics in the debate, it seems that Goldstone was convinced, because less than a week later here he is in the Washington Post spilling his guts about his internal conflicts and personal allegiance to Israel, and cheering Israel for investigating one of the murders of children in Gaza. But what about the hundreds of other children killed by invading tanks and raining missiles? What about the 800 adult civilians, whose deaths are every bit as morally despicable as the killing of the children?
Yes, it’s true, 5 Israeli civilians were killed by erratic, un-aimed homemade shells fired from Gaza. And 9 Israeli soldiers were killed while invading Gaza – at least three of whom were hit by ‘friendly fire’. But how is that morally equivalent to invading another people’s land, dropping bombs on crowded civilian areas and shooting unarmed civilians, which is what Israeli forces did in this case? It seems that Richard Goldstone now sees these two sides as morally equivalent – essentially equating colonizer and colonized, victimizer and victim, invading army and besieged civilian population.
How ironic that Richard Goldstone published his letter in the Washington Post on April Fool’s Day, as he has proven by it that he has let himself become one.