Goldstone’s remarkable about-face (& Jeremy Bowen: Mugged by reality)

April 03, 2011

* Is Richard Goldstone one of history’s biggest fools?

* Every foreign correspondent who subscribes to this list should try and make time to read Nick Cohen’s column, below.

 

CONTENTS

1. Goldstone: I was wrong to accuse Israel of intentionally killing civilians
2. NY Times today: “Head of U.N. Panel Regrets Saying Israel Intentionally Killed Gazans”
3. Is Richard Goldstone history’s biggest fool?
4. What is Goldstone talking about?
5. “HRW, other NGOs, must now consider their role in Goldstone’s wrongs”
6. Will J Street apologize too?
7. Update: BBC on Goldstone
8. Interesting tidbit of the week
9. “They missed the story” (By Nick Cohen, Standpoint magazine, April 2011)


GOLDSTONE: I WAS WRONG TO ACCUSE ISRAEL OF INTENTIONALLY KILLING CIVILIANS

By Tom Gross

For those who haven’t heard yet (and that probably means the thousands of subscribers to this list in Europe, where the media consistently refuses to run corrections when slanders they report about Israel are later proven to be fabrications), in an op-ed published yesterday in The Washington Post, Judge Richard Goldstone retracted his 2009 claims made in an official report on behalf of the UN, that Israel had committed “war crimes and possible crimes against humanity”.

At least The New York Times (to its credit) published a news story about Goldstone’s incredible about face in today’s edition (though on page 10, not on the front page, where Goldstone’s false allegations had been featured several times in the past). But don’t hold your breath for other prominent international media to inform their audience that they have been telling a pack of lies about Israel for the last two years. The BBC alone has referred to Goldstone literally thousands of times on its 24 hour radio and TV news channels in what appears to be an incessant campaign to smear Israel.

Judge Richard Goldstone

 

NY TIMES: HEAD OF U.N. PANEL REGRETS SAYING ISRAEL INTENTIONALLY KILLED GAZANS

Today’s New York Times story begins as follows:

Head of U.N. Panel Regrets Saying Israel Intentionally Killed Gazans
By Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
April 3, 2011

www.nytimes.com/2011/04/03/world/middleeast/03goldstone.html

JERUSALEM – The leader of a United Nations panel that investigated Israel’s invasion of Gaza two years ago has retracted the central and most explosive assertion of its report – that Israel intentionally killed Palestinian civilians there.

Richard Goldstone, an esteemed South African jurist who led the panel of experts that spent months examining the Gaza war, wrote in an opinion article in The Washington Post that Israeli investigations into the conflict “indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”

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

His article, which was posted on The Post’s Web site on Friday night, follows a report submitted two weeks ago by a committee of independent experts led by Mary McGowan Davis, a former New York judge, that said that Hamas had not conducted any internal investigations of its own but that Israel had devoted considerable resources in looking into more than 400 accusations of misconduct.

Mr. Goldstone’s article fell like a bomb in Israel, where many people considered the 2009 publication of the Goldstone report as one of the most harmful events in recent years. It was viewed as offering spurious justification for damaging accusations, which Israelis considered to be part of a campaign to delegitimize the state and label it as a war criminal.

“We face three major strategic challenges,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last year, “the Iranian nuclear program, rockets aimed at our citizens and Goldstone.”

On Saturday night, Mr. Netanyahu called on the United Nations to retract the entire Goldstone report. “Everything we said has proven to be true,” he said. “Israel did not intentionally harm civilians. Its institutions and investigative bodies are worthy, while Hamas intentionally fired upon innocent civilians and did not examine anything.”

“The fact that Goldstone backtracked,” Mr. Netanyahu added, “must lead to the shelving of this report once and for all.” The Goldstone report documented numerous examples of the mistreatment of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers, and he did not back away from those findings in his article in The Washington Post.

Efforts to reach Mr. Goldstone by telephone and e-mail on Saturday were unsuccessful. Farhan Haq, a deputy spokesman for the United Nations, said it was up to member nations to decide whether to re-evaluate the report.

 

IS RICHARD GOLDSTONE HISTORY’S BIGGEST FOOL?

Goldstone writing in The Washington Post, said:

“Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. ... In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise.”

As David Frum commented yesterday: “Ya think?”

 

WHAT IS GOLDSTONE TALKING ABOUT?

Goldstone in The Washington Post yesterday:

“We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

Tom Gross adds: For Goldstone to now suggest there is some new information or reasoning that made him retract accusations in his report, is disingenuous to say the least.

There is nothing that has been revealed since the publication of the report that wasn’t already known and well documented at the time.

 

“HRW, OTHER NGOS, MUST NOW CONSIDER THEIR ROLE IN GOLDSTONE’S WRONGS”

As past dispatches on this list have explained, in drafting his report, Goldstone relied heavily on partisan and highly selective information supplied by the George Soros-funded anti-Israel group, Human Rights Watch, and by the far leftist Israeli NGO, B’Tselem.

Today, in a press release, Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, called on “the NGOs that were Goldstone’s main sources to withdraw and revise their discredited claims. NGO Monitor also notes that the Goldstone Report, published under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2009, has been used to justify a widespread campaign of demonizing Israel with false accusations of ‘war crimes’ and demands for BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions).

“Goldstone was misled by an orchestrated campaign led by powerful NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and Al Haq. As NGO Monitor demonstrated when the report was released, the so-called ‘evidence’ provided by these groups was at the core of the political war against Israel. Goldstone was taken in by crude manipulation.

“Goldstone’s reversal is further evidence of the central role played by Human Rights Watch in the exploitation of human rights and in promoting the bogus conclusions of the Goldstone Report. HRW employed Marc Garlasco, an obsessive collector of Nazi memorabilia, as its ‘senior military analyst’ on the Gaza war. Officials also held a fundraiser with Saudi elites in Riyadh – not to expose the daily human rights violations in Saudi Arabia – but to bolster Garlasco’s ‘findings’ on the conflict. Similarly, HRW embraced the Gaddafi regime and its supposed ‘Tripoli spring.’

“HRW has been at the forefront of demonization and distortions since the infamous 2001 Durban conference, and used its influence to promote Goldstone, who was on HRW’s board. The leaders of this organization’s Middle East division have a long history of involvement in hard-core anti-Israel advocacy. This immoral behavior led HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, to denounce his own organization, presaging Richard Goldstone’s reconsideration.

“Israeli NGOs funded by European governments and the New Israel Fund have also played a central role in advancing the one-sided agenda of repressive regimes at the UN Human Rights Council. They have continued to lobby at the U.S. Congress, European Parliament, and the Knesset. Goldstone’s Washington Post article has exposed these campaigns as nothing more than anti-Israel propaganda.”

***

(By way of full disclosure, I serve on the advisory board of NGO monitor.)

 

WILL J STREET APOLOGIZE TOO?

Tom Gross adds: It will be interesting to see whether the left wing American lobby group J Street – which did so much to promote the fabrications of the Goldstone Report among members of the U.S. Congress and in the American media – might also want to now consider apologizing for trying to mislead so many people.

It will also be interesting to see what others who have been using the Goldstone report to smear Israel, such as Peter Beinart, will now have to say.

So far, the founder of Human Rights Watch has denounced his organization for spreading falsehoods about Israeli actions in the Gaza war, and the author of the UN report condemning Israel has now condemned his own work. Will J Street and others follow?

***

The Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv today termed Goldstone “a despicable and shameful” person.

And as Jeffrey Goldberg says of Goldstone in The Atlantic magazine: “Unfortunately, it is somewhat difficult to retract a blood libel, once it has been broadcast across the world.”

***

Among many previous dispatches on this weblist on the Goldstone report, please see:

Dachau survivor asks Goldstone: How dare you? (& Peres: Goldstone “legitimized terrorism”) (Sept. 21, 2009)

 

UPDATE: BBC ON GOLDSTONE

The BBC have now reported on their website about Goldstone’s retraction but they have used their new story to link back to their old coverage of his now discredited accusations against Israel: providing a link to an article on its “key findings” in order to re-promote what have now been admitted to be lies. Perhaps a new article with the same information recontextualized might have been more reasonable for the BBC, which styles itself as “the world’s largest news-gathering organization”.

 

INTERESTING TIDBIT OF THE WEEK

Yoram Cohen, the new head of Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, is an Afghan Jew.

The Shin Bet, also known as the Shabak, is one of three principal organizations of the Israeli Intelligence Community, alongside Aman (the military intelligence of the IDF) and the Mossad (responsible for overseas intelligence work).

 

“THEY MISSED THE STORY”

I attach the television column from this month’s Standpoint magazine in London. It should be required reading for everyone interested in the way the Western media covers and miscovers the Middle East.

(Incidentally, for those interested, the main editorial in this month’s Standpoint is about my father. )

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


Mugged by reality: Jeremy Bowen meets Colonel Gaddafi on an escorted press tour of Tripoli last month

They Missed the Story
By Nick Cohen
Television column
Standpoint magazine
April 2011

The former US Ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Patrick Moynihan composed an aphorism as he watched dictatorships pile opprobrium on democracies: “The amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there.” Journalists, lawyers, academics and opposition politicians can investigate the injustices of democracies, and because they can investigate, injustice is kept in check. They cannot expose the greater atrocities of dictatorships because there is no freedom to report, and hence their greater crimes pass unnoticed.

I have my doubts about the universal jurisdiction of Moynihan’s Law – America was responsible for many great crimes while he was its good and faithful servant. But his insight explains why Jeremy Bowen is blinking at his cameraman in Tripoli, like some startled, uncomprehending mammal who has been shaken by the convulsions around him from a hibernation that has lasted for most of his career.

The BBC’s Middle East editor is not the only expert whose expertise now looks spurious. The Arab uprising is annihilating the assumptions of foreign ministries, academia and human rights groups with true revolutionary élan. In journalistic language, it is showing they had committed the greatest blunder a reporter can commit: they missed the story. They thought that the problems of the Middle East were at root the fault of democratic Israel or more broadly the democratic West. They did not see and did not want to see that while Israelis are certainly the Palestinians’ problem – and vice versa – the problem of the subject millions of the Arab world was the tyranny, cruelty, corruption and inequality the Arab dictators enforced.

Put this starkly, it sounds as if the charges of double standards and anti-Semitism habitually directed at liberal Westerners are justified. But liberal prejudice – “anti-liberal prejudice” is a more accurate description – is a process as well as an ideology. Dictatorial states and movements shepherded liberal opinion into a one-way street by exploiting the logistics of news-gathering.

No news organisation in the West could base their main Middle Eastern bureau anywhere other than Israel, for the simple reason that it was the only free country with a free press, an independent judiciary and a constitution. Researchers and diplomats, as well as reporters, could phone or visit Palestinians in the occupied territories, as indeed could anyone else. Crucially, in an age dominated by images, television crews could get pictures. I am not saying that the authorities do not harass foreign or Israeli correspondents trying to report the undoubted violations of Palestinian rights, simply that they can report from Jerusalem but cannot from Damascus or Riyadh.

Even if the Baathists or Wahaabis let journalists in, they would place them under constant surveillance. Meanwhile any local invited to go on air to criticise his or her rulers would refuse because they knew that they would be running a terrible risk. Moynihan’s Law explains why you never hear a BBC or Sky anchor announce, “We are going live to hear our Saudi Arabian editor on the oppression of women in Mecca,” although if we are very lucky maybe we will soon.

At some level Westerners ought to have registered that millions of people must bite their tongues in the Middle East, and tempered their judgments accordingly. They mistook silence for compliance for a reason the late Fred Halliday, who never shirked from confronting the ugliness of the region, identified when he tried to stop his asinine colleagues at the London School of Economics endorsing the Libyan tyranny. Naturally, Saif Gaddafi could appear suave and at ease in Western circles after having unlimited amounts of stolen money lavished on his education. But, said Halliday, Westerners must realise that the function of plausible and well-groomed men from Libya, Egypt and Saudi Arabia was to impress foreigners by making “compromises with internal hardliners that serve to lessen external pressure”. Keep executions and police interrogations off YouTube and the prudent tyrant will be delighted by the readiness of Westerners to dismiss informed criticisms of his regime as neocon propaganda.

Instead of listening to Halliday, Anthony Giddens flew to meet Gaddafi and uttered the only remark anyone is likely to remember him for. Libya’s future was as a “Norway of North Africa: prosperous, democratic and free”. How the sight of the Saharan Scandinavians slaughtering their own civilians must perplex him.

Gaddafi was hardly an exception. From the moment he took power in Syria on the sole ground that he was his father’s son, Bashir al-Assad has heard politicians insist that he is a Baathist they can do business with. Only last month, Anna Wintour, a fashion magazine editor who could be a tenured LSE professor, allowed her Vogue staff to simper that Bashir’s wife was “the most magnetic of first ladies”. For all the Western fawning, the denial of Syrian liberty continued undiminished, but it could only be brought to the world by talking to exiles or explaining the totalitarian nature of the Baath Party, neither of which would have made good television.

Mohammed al-Jahmi, brother of the tortured Libyan dissident Fathi al-Jahmi, offered further explanation of fellow-travelling, after Human Rights Watch unctuously declared that Libya was advancing towards liberty under Gaddafi. Foreigners want access, he said, but the regime makes them wait for months for visas. When Human Rights Watch did gain entry, its emissaries were honoured guests, visiting an exotic country other journalists and campaigners could not enter. They were grateful, and psychologically dependent on their hosts. Everyone they met reinforced the regime’s message that life was good and getting better. “Somewhere along the way,” Mohammed said, “a fundamental truth gets lost: these dictators don’t change overnight.”

Logistics as much as infantile leftism produced the ideology of Middle Eastern commentary. Israel was the only story in the region journalists could cover daily. Rather than stop pretending to be omniscient and admit their limitations to the viewer, rather than show common human feeling and think of the silenced millions, journalists pretended that Israel was the region’s only story because it was the source of the region’s ills. The effect was anti-Semitic because the Jew once again was depicted as a supernatural figure with the diabolic power to create suffering on an epic scale. That narrow, prejudiced world of Middle Eastern commentary went up in flames when the Arab revolutionaries threw their first Molotovs. Whatever happens next, its loss will be no loss at all.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.