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Israel Crackdown Puts Liberal Jews on the Spot
Posted on Mar 15, 2010
By Chris Hedges
The Israeli government, its brutal war crimes in Gaza exposed in detail in the U.N. report by Justice Richard Goldstone, has implemented a series of draconian measures to silence and discredit dissidents, leading intellectuals and human rights organizations inside and outside Israel that are accused—often falsely—of assisting Goldstone’s U.N. investigators. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to shut down Israel’s premier human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, the New Israel Fund (NIF) and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. It is busy expelling or excluding peace activists and foreign nationals from the Palestinian territories. The campaign, if left unchecked, will be as catastrophic for Palestinians as it will be for Israel.
The Goldstone report, which is over 500 pages, investigated Israel’s 22-day air and ground assault on Gaza that took place from Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 18, 2009. The United Nations and the European Parliament have endorsed the report. The report found that Israel used disproportionate military force against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip while failing to take adequate precautions to protect the civilian population against the military assault. The Israeli attack killed 1,434 people, including 960 civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. More than 6,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, leaving behind some $3 billion in destruction in one of the poorest areas on Earth. No Israelis were killed by Hamas rockets fired into Israel during the assault. The report did not limit itself to the 22-day attack; rather, it went on to indict the occupation itself. It examines the beginning of the occupation and condemns Israel for the border closures, the blockade and for the wall or security barrier in the West Bank. It has two references to the right of return, investigates Israeli torture and criticizes the willful destruction of the Palestinian economy.
“Liberal has a distinct connotation,” Finkelstein went on. “It means to believe in the rule of law. It means to believe in international institutions. It means to believe in human rights. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are liberal organizations. What the Goldstone phenomenon registers and catalyzes is the fact that it is impossible to reconcile liberal convictions with Israel’s conduct; too much is now known about the history of the conflict and the human rights record and the so-called peace process. It is impossible to be both liberal and defend Israeli policy. That was the conflict that confronted Goldstone. I very much doubt he wanted to condemn Israel.”
“Israeli liberalism always had a function in Israeli society,” said Finkelstein, whose new book, “This Time We Went Too Far,” examines the Israeli attack a year ago on Gaza. “When I talk about liberals I mean people like A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman and Amos Oz. Their function was to issue these anguished criticisms of Israel which not only extenuated Israeli crimes but exalted Israeli crimes. ‘Isn’t it beautiful, the Israeli soul, how it is anguished over what it has done.’ It is the classic case of having your cake and eating it. Not only were any crimes being committed extenuated, but they were beautiful. And now something strange happened. Along comes a Jewish liberal and he says, ‘Spare me your tears. I am only interested in the law.’ ”
“Goldstone did not perform the role of the Jewish liberal,” Finkelstein said, “which is to be anguished, but no consequences. And all of a sudden Israeli liberal Jews are discovering, hey, there are consequences for committing war crimes. You don’t just get to walk into the sunset and look beautiful. They can’t believe it. They are genuinely shocked. ‘Aren’t our tears consequences enough?’ Aren’t our long eyes and broken hearts consequences enough?’ ‘No,” he said, ‘you have to go to the criminal court.’ ”
The campaign against Israeli dissidents has taken the form of venomous denunciations of activists and jurists, including Justice Goldstone. It includes a bill before the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, which will make it possible to imprison the leaders of Israeli human rights groups if they fail to comply with crippling new registration conditions. Human rights activists from outside Israel who work in the Palestinian territories are being rounded up and deported. The government is refusing to issue work visas to employees of 150 NGOs operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including Oxfam, Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). The new tourist visas effectively bar these employees from Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation. Professor Naomi Chazan, the Israeli head of the NIF, which has donors in the United States, is being publicly vilified by ultranationalist groups such as Im Tirzu. Foreign donors to the NIF, as well as other human rights groups, are being pressured by Israeli officials to halt contributions. Billboards have sprouted up around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a grotesque caricature of Chazan, who has been branded by groups such as Im Tirzu as an agent for Hamas and Iran, with a horn growing from her forehead. “Naomi-Goldstone-Chazan” the caption on the billboard reads. Im Tirzu, the front organization behind many of the attacks, includes among its financial backers the John Hagee Ministries and the New York Central Fund, which also support extremist settler organizations.
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