Monday, April 4, 2011

The Goldstone Retraction: What was He Thinking in the First Place?

Recently Judge Richard Goldstone has came out with the stunning retraction of his earlier report on potential war crimes during Israel's invasion of Gaza. According to Goldstone:

If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.


...



Our report found evidence of potential war crimes and “possibly crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.


The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.


This is the type of apology that one rarely sees in today's spin politics and Judge Goldstone deserves to be commended for his willingness to own up to his own mistakes. That being said, I must admit to being bothered by this whole piece in that it fails to confront the basic problem of the entire enterprise of the Goldstone report to begin with.

When I first heard about Goldstone's investigation my reaction was that it was flawed from its very conception in that it placed Israel on par with Hamas in terms of both sides being subjected to this investigation. Hamas is an institution devoted to the delegitimization of the Jewish people and ultimately the violent destruction of the State of Israel. As such it is impossible for Israel to ever engage in any form of official dialogue  with Hamas. To do so would be to admit that there is some validity to their claims to the extent that these claims deserve to be placed before the forum of polite society for consideration. If such a discussion were ever to occur Israel would automatically come out the loser simply in terms of the fact that it would mean that Israel, unlike other countries, would be placed in the subservient position of having to defend its own legitimacy. This would be the case even of Israel actually were to win this debate.

Goldstone, by inviting both Israel and Hamas to participate in his investigation was essentially asking Israel to participate in a discussion with Hamas and accept Hamas as a legitimate member of the brotherhood of civilized people with legitimate opinions to be discussed such as the State of Israel is a criminal enterprise to be put down. Whether or not any Israeli official ever officially sat down with a member of Hamas, Israel would still be accepting that Hamas was a legitimate discussion partner that other legitimate forces might wish to talk to. Thus Goldstone placed Israel in the bind of either accepting the legitimacy of Hamas, the equivalent of Israel putting a gun to its head and pulling the trigger, or of not accepting the legitimacy of the entire Goldstone investigation and not cooperating. Israel obviously chose the latter option and waged a campaign to delegitimize Goldstone, a response that for some reason seems to have caught Goldstone by surprise.

If Goldstone had come back with the most pro-Israel report in the world, nominating the entire country for sainthood, it would not have changed this basic fact and Israel would have needed to reject Goldstone and his investigation. Even now that Goldstone is saying all the right things, I cannot bring myself to support him even though, in terms of content, I agree with him.

Goldstone's retraction reminds me a lot of the comments made by President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University (formally of Michigan, a school that as an Ohio State person can never accept as legitimate) in introducing President Ahmadinejad of Iran when he came to speak at Columbia.





When I first heard that Ahmadinejad was going to speak at a university like Columbia I was horrified. After seeing Bollinger's performance I was even more disturbed. Not that I disagreed with anything Bollinger said, on the contrary he said everything I would have wanted to say in such a situation. Bollinger clearly had his mind in the right place. So why did he agree to grant Ahmadinejad the forum and the legitimacy in the first place? Either there not being gays in Iran and Israel should be destroyed are legitimate opinions to be discussed in polite society or Ahmadinejad is a rogue thug to be hunted down and shot like a rabid dog, not invited to speak at universities. Obviously Bollinger did not believe the former, but because he could not support the latter position, for all intents and purposes, it was the former that he was agreeing to invite into our public discourse.

I do not see either Goldstone or Bollinger as anti-Semites who wish to see Israel destroyed. I see them as simply modern liberals unable to resist granting legitimacy to radical Islam even as this means asking first Israel and eventually the rest of western civilization to write its suicide note. If we in the West, including liberals, are going to survive it will because we understand the difference between those ideas which we can respectfully disagree with and tolerate and those ideas which, by definition, are declarations of war to be fought at all costs.
 

11 comments:

Vox Populi said...

>Hamas is an institution devoted to the delegitimization of the Jewish people and ultimately the violent destruction of the State of Israel. As such it is impossible for Israel to ever engage in any form of official dialogue with Hamas.

I still don't get your whole legitimacy/dialogue connection that you made a while back.

Hamas does not recognize Israel. Okay. Why does this mean that Israel cannot talk to Hamas? If anything, Hamas should have trouble talking to Israel, although I don't think they should, and they in fact don't.

>To do so would be to admit that there is some validity to their claims to the extent that these claims deserve to be placed before the forum of polite society for consideration.

Again, why? Somebody makes a claim and I take the time to refute it, that means I have now granted the claim legitimacy? How so? Moreover, if somebody makes a claim that I have no right to exist, and then asks me the time, and I respond, this means I grant legitimacy to the claim that I don't exist? I'm not following the logic at all.

And what should parties that consider each other illegitimate do? Refuse to talk to each other? And then how do they resolve disputes? Force?

>Goldstone, by inviting both Israel and Hamas to participate in his investigation was essentially asking Israel to participate in a discussion with Hamas and accept Hamas as a legitimate member of the brotherhood of civilized people with legitimate opinions to be discussed such as the State of Israel is a criminal enterprise to be put down. Whether or not any Israeli official ever officially sat down with a member of Hamas, Israel would still be accepting that Hamas was a legitimate discussion partner that other legitimate forces might wish to talk to.

Again, huh? Hamas exists. It is comprised of people. Many of whom possess the faculty of speech. This cannot be denied or wished away. Similarly, there are things the Israelis talk about with Hamas, most notably ceasefires and Gilad Shalit. Refusing to exist in the same world as people you hate is the terrorists' game. It should not be ours.

Chris said...

My understanding is that Ahmadinejad's "Israel should be wiped off the map remark" was mistranslated. He actually said Israel's Zionist regime should be erased from the pages of history. Which is still pretty bad, but not quite as bad as the other.

E-Man said...

No, it is the state of Israel, I believe. Especially since I saw what happened when the Neturei Karta went and visited and they talked about how the holocaust was a zionist lie and how the state of Israel should be wiped off the map.

E-Man said...

Let me rephrase that, they equate the state of Israel and zionism as one thing. So, essentially, there is no difference in their eyes.

E-Man said...

Oh, and to rile up the crowds he screams death to Israel all the time.

E-Man said...

Here is just one example for you http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FckLO8HcNyo

Izgad said...

Vox

In human affairs it is inevitable that there arise some form of conflict, which can be resolved in one of two ways. Either the parties come to some sort of negotiated agreement, arising out of some agreed upon set of principles and an acknowledgement of the other as legitimate rational beings with whom one may negotiate or one of the parties attempts to coerce the other through physical force, a path that will inevitably lead to violence and death. Discussion is only meaningful with someone committed to the former. When confronted by someone who as a matter of principle does not view himself as bound by any agreement he might make for me, a discussion can only serve as cover for him to pursue his coercive goals. (I of course might choose to also use discussion as a cover, but again that would render the actual discussion meaningless.) A major part in confronting a coercive opponent is that you need it to be acknowledged that this opponent is committed to coercion so that when you inevitably turn to coercion in turn other parties do not see you as being committed to coercion and will therefor still be open to negotiation.
What would I do if someone who did not recognize my legitimacy came up to me and asked for the time? I would not allow such a person to get close enough to ask the question and would kill him first. That is unless he was my slave and wanted to know when his bathroom break was over.
The big difference between us is that I accept a tragic view of human affairs in which war, while unfortunate and should be avoided if at all possible, is often inevitable. Once this happens I am willing to accept it and pursue it to the fullest even if that requires engaging in actions that most people would normally find morally reprehensible. You have a fixed line of things you would never do. My political morality (personal morality is another matter) is based solely on negotiation and therefore my lines are dependent upon whatever lines the other party draws.

Vox Populi said...

Izgad,

I think you overlook several possibilities. Your frame is binary: Either my enemy agrees to a solution where he recognizes my equality, or one of us kills the other.

This is silly. It's possible that a party can start off not recognizing the other, but through engagement and negotiation eventually comes around to recognizing the other. Resorting to violence and only violence until a negotiated solution is agreed upon makes a negotiated solution practically impossible to achieve.

It also brings about logical absurdities. So, Hamas does not recognize Israel. What does that mean, practically? Is it actually committed to Israel's destruction, and possess a realistic chance of doing so? Given that it cannot, and practically speaking does recognize Israel, does negotiate with Israel, and does maintain ceasefires with Israel, your advice would still be for Israel to go about destroying Hamas-controlled Palestine with the complete intent of wiping it out, a task which Israel is fully capable of achieving. So now we have the incongruity of Israel responding to inflammatory press conferences and sporadic rocket attacks with genocide, because Hamas = enemy that does not recognize me = enemy that cannot recognize me = enemy committed to destroying me = enemy that must be immediately destroyed.

>A major part in confronting a coercive opponent is that you need it to be acknowledged that this opponent is committed to coercion so that when you inevitably turn to coercion in turn other parties do not see you as being committed to coercion and will therefor still be open to negotiation.

Which starkly presents the tension between your logical pragmatism and the actual world. The rest of the world does not look at rejectionist parties like you do. You can stand on a soapbox with your political equations all you like, but it won't fly. Goldstone making Hamas the equal subject of an investigation, or Israel negotiating with Hamas does nothing to change the calculus already embraced by the world; that Hamas exists, and that violence cannot be the sole method of engagement with them. Whether an alternative was ever possible is debatable, but it certainly is not now, nor was it at the time of the investigation.

Izgad said...

Vox

What I put before you are macro-categories. Each of these categories allows for multiple levels. For example a state of war could exist between countries, but people on both sides could still recognize that those on the other side are basically like them and that this is not a struggle between good and evil, but an unfortunate breakdown in the diplomatic process. Such a view allows for a sense of chivalry and rules for conducting warfare. On the flip side you can have people living side by side and doing business together all while muttering how the other is a greedy money lender and deicide. I like to place these categories in their most extreme out of a recognition that the process inevitably, barring outside interference, leads to those extremes as both parties eventually take their circumstances to their logical conclusions. The people who are respectfully shooting at each other will eventually come around to the realization that they have no reason not to go to the negotiation table. The people who do not respect each other will fall into a cycle of violence. If I honestly do not trust my neighbor I will have to assume that my neighbor will eventually come to plot to kill me, particularly once he even comes to suspect that I do not trust him and concludes that I will in turn come after him unless he gets me first. Killing is the inevitable end point of any coercive relationship as that is the only way the other person cannot strike back, which one has to expect as the inevitable response to any coercive relationship.
This is one of the problems with slavery. How can I sleep at night knowing that the person I forced to work for me at gunpoint probably wants to kill me in my bed? I might try to beat him to teach him a lesson but that will only make him more likely to come after me. In the end I will have no choice but to put this slave down. Of course since the slave is aware of this, he is all the more likely to try to kill me before I come to this inevitable conclusion.
Hamas is capable of killing Israeli citizens, which forces the Israeli government, if it desires to continue to be relevant, to come after members of Hamas. The fact that other Palestinians support Hamas and are likely to respond to attacks on Hamas with attacks on their own means that the Israeli government has to come after them as well. The moment any rational party has reason to believe that inflammatory statements will be met with mass bombings those inflammatory statements will stop. Those parties who are not rational need to be bombed out of existence anyway regardless of their statements.
Modern liberals do not think like I do. Any politician say in Napoleonic Europe would have understood me perfectly. Why don’t you execute prisoners of war? Because the other guy will do it to you. It is irrelevant to me what modern liberals think because I do not have to worry about them striking back at me. Those with an irrational commitment to coercion are also irrelevant to me. Since I recognize that I cannot negotiate with them and must fight them, I can stop worrying about what they think. That leaves those in the middle, perhaps including many “radical” Muslims, with whom I can try negotiating with as an alternative to violence.

Clarissa said...

"As such it is impossible for Israel to ever engage in any form of official dialogue with Hamas. To do so would be to admit that there is some validity to their claims to the extent that these claims deserve to be placed before the forum of polite society for consideration."

-Exactly!!! This is what so many people who talk about this issue fail to understand completely. If you don't mind, I will repost parts of this on my blog. (And link back to you, of course.) It is great to see such a logical, well-presented argument on this issue.

Vox Populi said...

>The people who are respectfully shooting at each other will eventually come around to the realization that they have no reason not to go to the negotiation table. The people who do not respect each other will fall into a cycle of violence.

Why would you assume that is true? History is full of wars that start out in the jolly old summer war in Europe tradition that devolve into existentialist grudge matches where unspeakable horrors are sanctioned as a matter of policy. And vice versa. You jump too quickly to conclusions. Also, I think you rely on the assumption that people think like robots, when they almost never do. Slippery slopes are rarely that slippery.

You start off with assumptions that may be plausible in their own right, and then state them as 100% truths which must be carried out to their logical conclusion, assumption 2, which also becomes 100% true, and so on and so forth. It drives all the uncertainty out of life. People are unpredictable, and very few people take the time to make sure their public statements are in line with with their beliefs or their actions, or that their actions are fully coherent with their philosophies, or that their philosophies are 100% coherent in and of themselves.