Tag Archives: Richard Goldstone

An Open Letter to Ban Ki-moon

12 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The post that follows is a modified version of an opinion piece published by Middle East Eye on 6 February 2016. Its focus on the metaphor of ‘shooting the messenger’ has usually been reserved for critics of Israel, and it is only when high officials depart from their scripted roles as faithful servants of the established order that their behavior results in demeaning rebukes. Israel and its most ardent defenders have been repeatedly guilty of shooting the messenger, thereby diverting attention from the damaging message by defaming the agent who delivered the message. It is a tactic that works, partly because the media finds character assassination more marketable than substantive commentary of a controversial nature. In my case, being frequently a messenger due to my UN role for six years, the nastier side of the attack tactics was to describe me (and others) as ‘a self-hating Jew’ or ‘anti-Semite.’ I tried to stay on message, largely ignoring the attacks, especially within the UN itself, but media coverage was preoccupied with an assessment of the personal vendetta that was difficult to ignore altogether without seemingly to acquiesce in the allegations. I should add that my tormenters extended beyond Mr. Ban Ki-moon and included others on the UN Watch mailing list including Susan Rice, then U.S. Ambassador at the UN, and high officials from other white settler countries, including Canada and Australia. Even the supposedly liberal Samantha Power, although previously a friendly acquaintance, joined the party, calling me biased and ill-suited for the position in statements to the press. She based her attack on the harshness of my criticisms leveled at Israel in my reports that highlighted the mismatch between their policies and practices as the Occupying Power in Palestine with the standards, duties, and principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions.]

 

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Dear Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations:

 

Having read of the vicious attacks on you for venturing some moderate, incontestable criticisms of Israel’s behavior, I understand well the discomfort you clearly feel. Not since the Richard Goldstone chaired the group that released the report detailing apparent Israeli war crimes during its massive attack on Gaza at the end of 2008 have Israel’s big political guns responded with such unwarranted fury, magnified as usual by ultra-Zionist media commentary. Netanyahu has the audacity to claim that your acknowledgement that it is not unnatural for the Palestinians oppressed for half century to resist and resort to extremism is tantamount to the encouragement of terrorism, what he described as giving a “tailwind to terrorism.”

 

The fact your intention was quite the opposite hardly matters. Or your repeated denunciation of terrorism will be disregarded by these irresponsible critics whose sole objective is take attention away from the issues raised. Israel and its keenest supporters have found that there is no better way to do this than by defaming their critics, branding them as soft on terrorism or even as anti-Semites. And it makes no difference, whatsoever, that you have leaned over backwards during years as Secretary General, almost falling to the ground, to deflect even the most justifiable criticisms of Israel during your time as leader of the UN.

 

It is hardly surprising that you should respond to these attacks directed at you by way of a New York Times opinion piece that chides Israeli officials and Zionist zealots for ‘shooting the messenger’ and instead of heeding the message.[Ban Ki-moon, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Israel.” NY Times, Feb. 1, 2016] What both intrigues and appalls me is that while I was Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine during the period 2008-2014 you chose to attack me personally in public on several occasions, joining with U.S. and Israel diplomats calling for my dismissal and doing the utmost to undermine my credibility while I was working in this unpaid UN position under difficult conditions. At the time I was doing my best to bear witness to some of the same truths about Israel’s unlawful and immoral behavior that recently got you in similar hot water. My UN mandate was to report upon the reality of Israeli violations of international law while sustaining their apartheid regime of oppressive control over the Palestinian people. The Palestinians need and deserve such a voice as provided by the UN to make governments of the world more aware of their responsibility to take steps that will bring this unprecedented ordeal endured by the Palestinian people to an end. In carrying out these duties it is my hope that future UN Special Rapporteurs receive the support that they need from future Secretary Generals.

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In my case, hurt and offended by being so unfairly attacked by you, the highest UN official, I was encouraged by some highly placed officials in the UN Office of the High Commissioner in Geneva to seek some kind of explanation from you or your office, and hopefully even an apology. You never criticized my reports on Palestine or objected to my criticisms of Israel’s policies and practices, but rather focused your venomous remarks on some comments attributed to my views as expressed on my personal blog that were concerned with the 9/11 attacks and the Boston marathon bombings.

 

It was obvious to me from the content of your attack that you relied on a letter written by Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch, Israel’s faithful watchdog NGO in Geneva, that gave my rather carefully qualified blog comments deliberately inflammatory twists, but like you seemed wary of engaging in any debate about the substance of my criticisms of Israel’s polices and practices in my reports. I called your office, and was referred to your affable aide de camp. He seemed immediately apologetic even before I was even able to register my complaint and explain to him my actual position on these controversial issues. After listening to what I had to say, he obliquely accepted my concerns by admitting that ‘we didn’t do due diligence,’ by which he evidently meant that the SG and his advisors relied on Neuer’s letter rather than reading what I actually wrote on the blog, which was nuanced and moderate in tone and content. This UN official volunteered a further explanation to the effect that “we were under great pressure at the time from the U.S. Congress, and this was an opportunity to show that we were not anti-Israeli.” He ended the conversation with a promise to talk with you, and get back to me. I am sad to say, this never happened.

 

This incident occurred while you were campaigning successfully for a second term as SG, and apparently wanted to reassure Washington that you would not rock the boat if reelected. I venture to say that if you had back then voiced such strong criticisms of Israel’s settlement policy or indicated a similar empathetic understanding of Palestinian resistance, you would never have received Washington’s blessings for a second term as Secretary General. I understand that your reticence back then was prudential, even a sensible, although dispiriting, concession to the realities of UN leadership. What I have trouble to this day understanding is your willingness, in old Soviet style, to defame by name a lowly UN holding a position as appointed volunteer, so as to beef up your credentials as a team player when it came to Israel. You even relied through a spokesperson at a news briefing on my status as someone outside the UN civil service to explain why you lacked the authority to dismiss me. Without contacting me in advance for an explanation or afterwards for an apology seems to me to exhibit an extreme version of bureaucratic immorality.

 

In light of this experience, I felt at the time that you were joining with others in shooting a messenger, and invoked the metaphor, who was seeking to convey some inconvenient truths about Israel’s behavior. These truths are rather similar to your own recent comments about the denial of Palestinian rights, especially with respect to the right of self-determination. The folk wisdom of ‘what goes around comes around’ seems to fit your plight. You who expediently took shots at the messenger are now taking umbrage when the tactic is directed at you. This response is reasonable in this instance but awkwardly inconsistent with your own past behavior. You say, “..when heartfelt concerns about shortsighted or morally damaging policies emanate from so many sources, including Israel’s closest friends, it cannot be sustainable to keep lashing out at every well-intentioned critic.” True, of course, but why only now? And only you?

 

Actually, although your critical stress on settlements and resistance is welcome and significant, your overall stance still falls far short of adopting a helpful way forward. You continue to insist misleadingly that compromises are called for by both sides in pursuing the goal of reaching a sustainable peace based on the establishment of Palestinian state. I find puzzling the assertion in your article that “..I am so concerned that we are reaching a point of no return for the two-state solution.” In your statement of 26 January to the Security Council you urge Palestinian unity as necessary so that the Palestinians “can instead focus their energies on establishing a stable state as part of a negotiated two-state solution.” Have you forgotten that every step taken by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to establish unity has been opposed by anger, reinforced by punitive pushback on Israel’s part, a response endorsed by the United States? And wasn’t that ‘point of no return’ reached some time ago, and certainly after what the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, proclaimed as ‘the last chance’ negotiations broke down in the Spring of 2014 after a year of trading allegations and achieving not a single positive result? And how, Mr. Ban, is a two-state solution to be achieved over the opposition and resolve of more than 600,000 Israeli settlers, with more expansion underway and even more promised?

 

You acknowledge being “disturbed by statements from senior members of the Israeli’s government that the aim [of a Palestinian state] should be abandoned altogether.” What you fail to say is that these ‘senior members’ include Israel’s elected prime minister, its president, its current ambassador to the UN. In light of this unified opposition to a two-state approach by Israel’s highest governmental leaders, how can you encourage reliance on this discredited diplomatic path that has resulted in an ongoing process of severe territorial encroachment on occupied Palestine and subjection to a regime of intensified suffering for the Palestinian people? Clinging to the two-state mantra is not neutral. Delay benefits Israel, harms Palestine. There is every reason to believe that this pattern will continue as long as Israel is not seriously challenged diplomatically and by Palestinian resistance, as well as by the sorts of growing pressures mounted by the international solidarity movement and the BDS campaign.

 

More widely, and important to understand, shooting the messenger is part of a broader Israel strategy to minimize attention given to substantive criticisms of their behavior. You are merely the latest victim, and one of the most highly placed. The intensity of defamation seems to be roughly proportional to the perceived impact of your criticism. In this sense, Mr. Secretary General, you have scored highly, especially due to your reminder to the Security Council that the UN will “continue to uphold the right of Palestinians to self-determination.” This is not the language Israel’s leaders hoped to hear coming from your lips, and hardly consistent with earlier your record of steadfast support for Israel that included condemning even the Second Freedom Flotilla that sought to deliver humanitarian assistance to Gaza. To be meaningful beyond a ritual affirmation, self-determination must be understood, given present realities, as something more and other than another delusionary embrace of a diplomatically negotiated two-state solution. At the very least, you might have urged the Security Council to consider the applicability of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) norm to relieving the anguish of Gazan captivity, a timely move considering that Netanyahu has been warning of yet another massive attack, promising that it will be even more lethal than the earlier one-sided massacres.

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You also tell the Security Council that “incitement has no place, and that questioning Israel’s right to exist cannot be tolerated.” Fair enough, but challenging Israel’s postures, policies, and practices should be placed high on the UN agenda of unfinished business if what you propose on behalf of the Palestinian people is ever to have the slightest chance of being achieved. We need all to realize what else should not be tolerated: while the Palestinian flag flies outside UN Headquarters, the Palestinian people have lived for almost 70 years under the daily brutalities of occupation, refugee camps, Gazan captivity, and involuntary exile. Can you bring yourself to call this ordeal ‘intolerable’? Then at least you could leave your UN post with a feeling that when your career was no longer in jeopardy you spoke truth to power.

 

Sincerely,

 

Richard Falk

UN Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council for Occupied Palestine (2008-2014)

Professor of International Law

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Goldstone’s Folly: Disappointing and Perverse

4 Nov

This post is a slightly revised version of an online article published yesterday by Al jazeera English.

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            Surely, the New York Times would not dare turn down a piece from the new Richard Goldstone who had already recast himself as the self-appointed guardian of Israel’s world reputation even as he had earlier been anointed as the distinguished jurist who admirably put aside his ethnic identity and personal affiliations when it came to carrying out his professional work as a specialist in international criminal law or in carrying out high profile investigative and factfinding missions in the international arena. Goldstone was even seemingly willing to confront the Zionist furies of Israel when criticized by one of their own adherents in chairing the UN panel appointed to consider allegations of Israeli war crimes during the Gaza War of 2008-09 .

 

A few months ago Goldstone took the unseemly step of unilaterally retracting a central conclusion of the ‘Goldstone Report’ during those attacks on Gaza. The former judge wrote, then in a column in the Washington Post, that the Goldstone Report would have been different if he had known then what he came to know now, an arrogant assertion considering that he was but one of four panel members designated by the UN Human Rights Council, and considering that the other three publicly reaffirmed their confidence in the original conclusion as presented in the report written and released months earlier. What should have been discrediting of this earlier Goldstone effort to restore his tarnished Zionist credentials was this failure to consult with other members of the team before rushing into print with his seemingly opportunistic change of heart. It is also of interest that he chooses to exhibit this new role on the pages of the newspapers of record in the United States, and reportedly escalated the tone and substance of his retraction after the Times rejected the original version of the piece supposedly because it was too bland. To get into print with this wobbly change of position, Goldstone went to these extraordinary lengths.

 

            Now on the eve of the third session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine scheduled to be held in Cape Town between November 5-7 Goldstone has again come to the defense of Israel in a highly partisan manner that abandons any pretense of judicious respect for either the legal duties of those with power or the legal rights of those in vulnerable circumstances. Recourse to a quality tribunal of the people, in this instance constituted by and participated in by those with the highest moral authority and specialized knowledge, is a constructive and serious response to the failure of governments and international institutions to declare and implement international criminal law over the course of many years, and the unavailability of either the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court. Persons of good will should welcome these laudable efforts by the Russell NGO as overdue rather angrily dismiss them as Goldstone does because of their supposed interference with non-existent and long futile negotiations between the parties. Those who will sit as jurors to assess these charges of apartheid against Israel are world class moral authority figures whose response to the apartheid charge will be assisted by the testimony of experts on the conflict and by jurists of global stature. It should embarrass Goldstone to write derisively of such iconic South African personalities as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Ronnie Kasrils or internationally renowned figures such as the morally driven novelist Alice Walker, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, former member of the U.S. Congress Cynthia McKinney, the 93 year old Holocaust survivor and French ambassador, Stephane Hessel, as well as several other person of high repute.

 

A further imprimatur of respectability is given to the Russell Tribunal by the participation in the event of Goldstone’s once close colleague, John Dugard, who is internationally regarded as South Africa’s most trusted voice whenever legal comparisons are made between apartheid as practiced in South Africa and alleged in Palestine. Professor Dugard will play a leading role in the Russell proceedings by offering expert testimony in support of the legal argument for charging Israel with the crime of apartheid. Professor Dugard, a widely esteemed international lawyer and global public figure, who was scrupulous in his efforts to report truthfully on the situation of occupied Palestine while acting for seven years as Special Rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Council, which led him already in that role, despite his cautious legal temperament, to allege the apartheid character of the occupation in his formal reports submitted to the United Nations several years ago.

 

Goldstone condemns the venture before it begins without acknowledging the participation of these distinguished participants, scorning this inquiry into the injustice and criminality of Israeli discriminatory practices associated with its prolonged occupation of Palestine by contending that it is intended as an “assault” on Israel with the “aim to isolate, demonize and delegitimize” the country.  In the most aggressive prosecutorial style, Goldstone demonizes these unnamed Russell jurors as biased individuals who hold “harsh views of Israel.” The new Goldstone adopts the standard Israel practice of denigrating the auspices and by condemning any critical voices, however qualified and honest they may be, without bothering to take a serious look at the plausibility of the apartheid allegations. The fact that those familiar with the Israeli policies are sharp critics does not invalidate their observations but raises substantive challenges that can only be met by producing convincing countervailing evidence. Unbalanced realities can only be accurately portrayed by a one-sided assessment if truthfulness is to be the guide to decide whether bias is present or not. If the message contains unpleasant news then it deserves respect precisely because delivered by a trustworthy messenger. It should be reflected upon with respect rather than summarily dismissed because this particular messenger has the credibility associated with an impeccable professional reputation, and strengthened in the context of the Russell Tribunal by a wealth of prior experience that predisposed and prepared her or him to compose a message with a particular slant.

 

The central Goldstone contention is that to charge Israel with the crime of apartheid is a form of “slander” that in his words is not only “false and malicious” but also “precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.”

Of course, it is necessary to await the deliberations of the Russell Tribunal to determine whether allegations of apartheid are irresponsible accusations by hostile critics or are grounded, as I believe, in the reality of a systematic legal regime of discriminatory separation of privileged Israelis, especially several hundred thousand unlawful settlers, from rightless and often dispossessed Palestinians, who are indigenous to the land so long occupied by Israel. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court treats apartheid as one among several types of crime against humanity, and associates its commission with systematic and severe discrimination.

 

Although the crime derives its name from the South African experience that ended in 1994 it has now been generalized to refer to any condition that imposes an oppressive regime based on group identity and designed to benefit a dominating collectivity that coercively through its control of the legal system abuses a subjugated collectivity. It is true that ‘race’ is the basis for drawing the dividing line between the two collectivities, but the legal definition of race has been expanded to make it clear beyond reasonable doubt that the practice of apartheid can be properly associated with any form of group antagonism that is translated into a legal regime incorporating inequality as its core feature. This includes regimes that base their human classification of belonging to a group by reference to national and ethnic identity as is the case with regard to Israelis and Palestinians. The government of Israel has itself drawn attention to this ethno/religious divide by demanding that its Palestinian minority and the Palestinian Authority formally accept its character as ‘a Jewish state.’

 

The overwhelming evidence of systematic discrimination is impossible to overlook in any objective description of the Israel’s current occupation of the West Bank, and to a lesser degree, East Jerusalem. The pattern of establishing settlements for Israelis throughout the West Bank not only violates the prohibition in international humanitarian law against transferring members of the occupying population to an occupied territory. It also creates the operational rationalization by Israel for the establishment of a legal regime of separation and subjugation. From this settlement phenomenon follows an Israeli community protected by Israeli security forces, provided at great expense with a network of settler only roads, enjoying Israeli constitutional protection, and given direct unregulated access to Israel. What also follows is a Palestinian community subject to often abusive military administration without the protection of effective rights, living with great daily difficulty due to many burdensome restrictions on mobility, and subject to an array of humiliating and dangerous conditions that include frequent Israeli use of arbitrary and excessive force, house demolitions, nighttime arrests and detentions that subjects Palestinians as a whole to a lifetime ordeal of acute human insecurity. The contrast of these two sets of conditions, translated into operative legal regimes, for two peoples living side by side makes the allegations of apartheid seem persuasive, and if a slander is present then it attributed to those who like Goldstone seek to defame and discredit the Russell Tribunal’s heroic attempt to challenge the scandal of silence that has allowed Israel to perpetrate injustice without accountability.

 

Goldstone’s preemptive strike against the Russell Tribunal is hard to take seriously. It is formulated in such a way as to mislead and confuse a generally uninformed public. For instance, he devotes much space in the column to paint a generally rosy (and false) picture of recent conditions of life experienced by the Palestinian minority in Israel without even taking note of their historic experience of expulsion, the nakba. He dramatically understates the deplorable status of Palestinian Israelis who live as a discriminated minority despite enjoying some of the prerogatives of Israeli citizenship.  Goldstone’s main diversionary contention is that apartheid cannot be credibly alleged in such a constitutional setting where Palestinian are currently accorded citizenship rights, and he never dares to raise the question of what it means to ask Palestinian Muslims and Christians to pledge allegiance to ‘a Jewish state,’ by its nature as a fracturing of community based on racially based inequality. Few would argue that this pattern of unacceptable inequality adds up to an apartheid structure within Israel, and the Russell allegation does not so argue, and is likely to forego making the apartheid charge associated with the events surrounding the founding of Israel in the late 1940s because from an international law perspective they took place before apartheid was criminalized in the mid-1970s.

 

The Tribunal is focusing its attention on the situation existing in the West Bank that has been occupied since 1967. John Dugard has issued a statement to clear the air, indicating that his testimony will be devoted exclusively to the existence of conditions of apartheid obtaining in the occupied territories, which reflects his special competence. [See Statement of John Dugard, “Apartheid and the Occupation of Palestine,” Aljazeera, 4 Nov. 2011; ] That Dugard had to issue such a statement is a kind of backhanded tribute to the success of the Goldstone hasbara effort to divert and distort. For Goldstone to refute the apartheid contention by turning to the present situation within Israel itself, while at the same time virtually ignoring the allegation principally concerned with the occupation is a stunning display of bad faith. He knows better. Goldstone avoids any reference to the Israeli mass expulsion of Palestinians from their land in 1948 and the subsequent destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages when he attempts to refute the apartheid allegation, which would likely be viewed as legally dubious because of its retroactivity.

 

With shameless abandon Goldstone relies in his diatribe on another debater’s trick by insisting that apartheid is a narrowly circumscribed racial crime of the exact sort that existed in South Africa is certainly disingenuous. Goldstone takes scant account of the explicit legal intent, as embodied in the authoritative Rome Statute and in the International Convention on the Crime of Apartheid, to understand race in a much broader sense that applies to the Israeli/Palestine interaction if its systematic and legally encoded discriminatory character can be convincingly established as I believe is the case.

 

The sad saga of Richard Goldstone’s descent from pinnacles of respect and trust to this shabby role as legal gladiator recklessly jousting on behalf of Israel is as unbecoming as it is unpersuasive. It is undoubtedly a process more personal and complex than caving in to Zionist pressures, which were even nastier and more overt than usual, as well as being clearly defamatory, but what exactly has led to his radical shift in position remains a mystery. As yet there is neither an autobiographical account nor a convincing third party interpretation. Goldstone himself has been silent on this score, seeming to want us to believe that he is now as much a man of the law as ever, but only persisting in his impartial and lifelong attempt to allow the chips to fall where they may.  Given his polemical manipulation of the facts and arguments makes us doubt any such self-serving explanation based on the alleged continuities of professionalism. It is my judgment that enough is now known to acknowledge Goldstone’s justifiable fall from grace, and for his own sake it is unfortunate that Goldstone did not choose a silent retreat from the fray rather than to reinvent himself as a prominent Israeli apologist.

 

Palestinian suffering and denial of legal rights is sufficiently grounded in reality that the defection of such an influential witness amounts to a further assault not only on Palestinian wellbeing but also on the wider struggle to achieve justice, peace, and security for both peoples. Contrary to Goldstone protestations about the Russell Tribunal striking a blow against hopes for resolving the conflict, it is the Goldstones of this world that are producing the smokescreens behind which the very possibility of a two-state solution has been deliberately destroyed by Israel’s tactics of delay while accelerating its policies of expansion and encroachment.

 

In the end if there is ever to emerge a just and sustainable peace it will be thanks to many forms of Palestinian resistance and a related campaign of global solidarity of which the Russell Tribunal promises to make a notable contribution. We should all remember that it is hard to render the truth until we render the truth however ugly it may turn out to be!