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The Guardian re Goldstone and pollution of argument

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Below is a submission sent to the Guardian in response to the  article reproduced in the right hand column below.
Question. Will the Guardian respect the right of reply? 

 

Click here for more on the Goldstone report

Lerman and the pollution of argument

By Maurice Ostroff

Antony Lerman's article "Judge Goldstone and the pollution of argument" copied in the adjacent column, cannot be allowed to go unanswered.

 

It is not clear what Mr. Lerman means by the "pollution of argument", but if he is referring to uncivil discourse, his article is a classic example.  In civil discourse emotional descriptions are kept to a minimum, but Lerman uses them liberally. He describes attacks on human rights groups as an insult to reasonable public debate although it would be more respectful of the reader's intelligence if he simply told us about these attacks and allowed us, the readers  to decide whether or not they insult public debate.

 

Similarly he describes attacks on human rights organisations as despicable and he tells us that knives that have been out for Goldstone's mission for months are being plunged into him and his colleagues. He leaves no doubt about who are the angels and who the devils. HRW's  responses are described as assiduous but its critics are attack dogs who engage in a deluge of scurrilous attacks

 

Wow! How does one deal rationally with this type of rhetoric?

 

I will try. First of all I would respectfully suggest that in a democratic society the UN Fact-finding mission should not be considered above legitimate criticism and that there is much to criticize in the recently published report without using any emotional adjectives.  For example it ignored completely highly relevant information that it received in two video clips available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rx-CW3UKoIg&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLFAJK5LtwY

 

I will address two further issues.

 

1. Dehumanization. Paragraph 1689 of the Goldstone report refers to graffiti on the walls, obscenities and racist slogans left by Israeli soldiers, actions that I consider deplorable and punishable. While the report justifiably describes these actions as humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population, the entire 575 page report fails to even mention the continuing incitement against, and dehumanization of, Jews in mosques, schools and in official media that is the primary cause of the conflict. Three year old infants are taught that Jews are descendants of apes and pigs and school kids are taught to aspire to martyrdom by killing as many Jews as possible so as to achieve happiness in after life. It can safely be reasoned that in the absence of this incitement there would have been no Kasam rockets and no necessity for the Gaza operation. I expect Mr. Lerman will agree that failure to address this serious issue most certainly calls for criticism of the report.  

 

2. Gilad Shalit. The most disappointing aspect of this mission, particularly in view of its creation by the UN Human Rights Council, was its failure to do something practical for human rights when it had the unique opportunity to do so while conversing amiably with Shalit's captors in Gaza. While it would be too much to expect the Mission to emulate former President Clinton's rescue of the journalists in N. Korea, the very least it should have done was  obtain some concrete sign of Shali's condition so as to relive the agony his family have been enduring for over three years.

 

Parag 1749 of the report states mildly that the Mission finds that Shalit meets the requirements for prisoner-of-war status under the Third Geneva Convention and  should be protected, treated humanely and be allowed external communication as appropriate according to that Convention and in paragraph 1770,  the Mission recommends that Palestinian armed groups who hold him, release him on humanitarian grounds. Pending such release they should recognize his status as prisoner of war, treat him as such, and allow him ICRC visits. 

 

But there were no strong demands that this be done – nor even a condemnation of the continuing violation of humanitarian law by disallowing ICRC visits and letters.

 

Paragraph 1334 is very puzzling. It states that the Mission asked the Gaza authorities to confirm the status of Gilad Shalit. In their reply, which the Mission considered to be unsatisfactory, but made no effort to clarify, the Gaza authorities denied being involved in any way with the capture and detention of Gilad Shalit and stated that they are not in possession of any information regarding his current status. One must ask how this reconciles with the negotiations we read about.

 

Disappointingly there was no word of censure of the deliberate tormenting of Shalit's parents with 24/7 anxiety for over three years by withholding all communication with their son. By way of contrast, Palestinian prisoners in Israel enjoy visitation rights, including conjugal visits, access to telephones, newspapers, television and radio broadcasts, lawyers' visits and even academic studies at state expense.

 

 

 

The Guardian, Tuesday 15 September 2009

 

Judge Goldstone and the pollution of argument

 

Attacks on human rights groups that probe Israel's Gaza offensive are an insult to reasonable public debate

 By Antony Lerman

         

The despicable attacks on human rights organisations investigating Israel's Gaza offensive in January confirm Churchill's observation: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." The mission led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone to investigate international human rights and international humanitarian law violations during Israel's offensive, established by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is the latest victim. His findings are about to be made public. The knives have been out for the mission for months. Now they are being plunged into him and his colleagues. Until the report is out Goldstone can't defend it. So the smears and misrepresentation are left free to pollute public discourse.

 

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has assiduously responded to a deluge of scurrilous attacks on its credibility and staff, yet totally unfounded allegations – for example, about accepting Saudi government funding and failing to give a critical report to the Israel Defence Forces before releasing it to the public – are constantly being recycled. HRW messed up by failing to see that the nerdy and, to most people, disturbing hobby of its weapons expert Marc Garlasco (he collects German and American second world war memorabilia) could be used to discredit his role as author of highly critical reports of Israel's military conduct in Gaza. But when this story broke last week, the equation implied in some allegations – "Nazi" object-collector plus "Israel-basher" equals "antisemite" – was baseless and defamatory. That he also worked on reports critical of Hamas and Hezbollah was ignored. As another excuse to attack HRW, and deflect attention from its reports' findings, the Garlasco affair was a gift.

 

The human rights world is not beyond reproach. UNHRC has hardly been impartial on Israel. Goldstone accepted his role only after the council president agreed to the alteration of the mission's mandate to cover all parties to the conflict, not just Israel. But mistrust alone does not explain the extraordinary scale of the attacks on human rights organisations, including all Israeli ones, for their reports on Israel.

 

In the 1970s, Jewish groups pressing the Soviets to allow Jews the right to leave the USSR worked with the human rights movement and based their arguments on human rights principles. But now the promoters of the concept of the "new antisemitism" – that Israel is the collective Jew persecuted by the international community – hold the international human rights movement largely responsible for it. Unable to face the fact that occupation and increasingly extreme rightwing governments turned Israel into the neighbourhood bully, and misreading the fallout for Jewish communities as abandonment by progressive forces and governments, many Jewish leaders and opinion-formers have become the human rights movement's fiercest critics. With antisemitism framing this attack, reasoned argument becomes nigh on impossible.

 

Does it then come down to a matter of whose reputation you trust? If so would it be critics of human rights agencies like Alan Dershowitz, the prominent American lawyer who thinks torture could be legalised or Melanie Phillips, a columnist who calls Jewish critics of Israel "Jews for genocide", and Gerald Steinberg, who runs NGO Monitor? Or Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, who is putting his considerable reputation on the line in taking the UNHRC assignment? Frankly, I don't think there is a contest.

 

By declaring the reports of human rights agencies biased, the attack dogs are reinforcing the damage Israel is doing to itself. They put Israel in the company of serial human rights abusers that make the same complaint. And by refusing to respond to letters from HRW, denying the Goldstone mission entry to Israel, rubbishing testimony from Gazans unless it supports Israel's version of the offensive, and allowing the army to investigate itself, Israel merely shows it cannot even tolerate reasonable criticism. This is a sign of weakness, not strength.

 

Goldstone, meanwhile, has attracted extra venom from some who label him a traitorous Jew. Would they say the same about another Jew, René Cassin, one of the prime drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Cassin was deeply influenced by the Holocaust, and the universal declaration was drawn up in direct response to it. It contains the bedrock principles upon which today's human rights agencies base their work. Judge Goldstone is heir to Cassin's legacy.

 

For NGO Monitor, Netanyahu and others attempting to discredit human rights agencies, Palestinian and Israeli human rights are in conflict. For Cassin, human rights were about morality; respect for the inherent dignity of all men and women. His vision, promoted by human rights bodies, offers hope for human progress. We owe it to Palestinian and Israeli alike to listen to Judge Goldstone with open minds – he might just bring us closer to the truth of what happened to human dignity in Gaza in January 2009.

 

Editor's note: This article was amended at 17.00 BST on 15 September to correct the name of NGO Monitor and to delete the reference to Gerald Steinberg's role as advisor to the Lieberman foreign ministry, since this is incorrect.

 

 

 

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