Judge Goldstone Shouldn't Be the Only One to Reconsider / David Harris

April 17, 2011
Lots of attention has deservedly been paid to Judge Richard Goldstone's "aha moment," when he realized that he hadn't quite got his damning UN report on Gaza right.

Of course, the damage to Israel's good name had already been done many times over, so the jurist's words in the Washington Post, however welcome, were far too late to put the anti-Israel genie back in the bottle.

But Goldstone shouldn't be the only one looking at himself in the mirror and asking how he managed to get it so wrong and at such cost.

Take the upheaval in the Arab world. Many so-called experts didn't begin to see it coming, not even close.

Why? For many, like Goldstone, they were looking in the wrong direction. What should have been quite obvious -- namely, the societal conditions breeding growing discontent over many years -- was anything but.

Yet, unlike Goldstone, they haven't even attempted an apology, at least so far. To the contrary, they continue to appear on the talk shows, at the lecterns, in the editorial and op-ed pages, and throughout the blogosphere with their "expert" views, though they were totally blindsided by the dramatic developments.

Their single-minded obsession has been Israel and all its alleged transgressions. They've woven a tale that attributes all the region's woes to the Jewish state. Were it not for Israel, they've suggested, paradise lost would have become paradise found. But those Israelis and their purported militarism, colonialism, expansionism, and whatever other "ism" could be concocted were the one-size-fits-all explanation for every problem in the Middle East. Nothing else really mattered. Nothing else even counted.

So, those of us who dared to suggest there were other ways of looking at the region were simply dismissed as pro-Israel stooges and apologists. That we might have done so out of a genuine belief that only a hard-headed assessment could help move things in the right direction -- i.e., lifting the Middle East out of its stasis and into a new era of peace and prosperity -- was viewed as nothing more than a diversionary ruse by that, you know, "lobby."

Look at the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Over a span of two decades, hundreds of thousands of Jews were compelled to leave their ancestral lands because of violence and discrimination, yet there was hardly a peep from the international community.

The UN kept silent. Most governments looked the other way. Editorial writers and news reporters wasted little time on the subject. And few scholars rushed to their usual intellectual outlets to speak out.

But it should have been clear that this mass exodus was not just about the Jews. In fact, it was about the intolerance of societies that rejected basic notions of pluralism and respect for minorities.

Well, no one said anything and then what happened? Without Jews to target, those very same societies began to focus on other communities, especially Christians, but also minority Muslim sects.

But again, the very same universe that looked the other way when it came to the Jews didn't acquit itself any better when it came to Copts in Egypt or Chaldeans in Iraq.

After all, if it couldn't be pinned on Israel, why bother?

Or look at the annual UN Arab Human Development Report. It unblinkingly identifies the three overarching deficits -- freedom, gender, and knowledge -- that plague the Arab world. The facts and figures tell a depressing story of a region falling farther and farther behind the rest of the developing world on just about every key index.

But those of us who've pointed to the report as a key diagnostic tool to understand what's going on were pooh-poohed.

The same with the annual Freedom House survey of the world's countries, divided into three categories -- free, partially free, and not free. That, too, tells a powerful tale of an Arab world where "free" countries don't exist.

No, instead of seeing the problems as they are, this community of "experts" chose to focus all their considerable energy on Israel as the core of the Middle East problem.

That's why the UN member states could set up an elaborate permanent apparatus to scrutinize and pillory Israel, while doing no such thing for any other country in the region -- or beyond.

And that's why the UN Human Rights Council created a separate and permanent agenda item to assail Israel, while voting into its ranks such human-rights stalwarts as Libya and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Gaddafi's Libya served as Chair of the Council for a year, while also presiding over the UN General Assembly for a year.

That's why the global media set up shop in Israel, knowing Israel's democracy would protect it, while microscopically examining every alleged Israeli misdeed, yet largely ignored or just plain missed the unfolding stories in the Arab world that culminated with the current upheaval.

And that's why an important segment of the academic community brought itself no honor by allowing its study of the Middle East to become so politicized, so obsessed with Israel, that it, too, offered no hint of coming attractions in the region, when Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians, Libyans, Yemenis, and others took to the streets not to denounce Israel, but their own repressive, retrograde governments.

Here are just a few samples of the kind of "wisdom" I'm talking about.

Turkish foreign minister, Ali Babacan, said in 2007, in what's been a rather typical formulation: "The Palestinian question is at the epicenter of all problems in the Middle East."


You see, it's not about the freedom deficit, gender deficit, or knowledge deficit, as the UN Arab Human Development Report revealed. It's not about cronyism and corruption. It's not about intolerance of minorities. It's not about the absence of jobs and investments. It's not about those who turn faith into fanaticism. No, it's not about any of those things. There's only one problem in the Middle East, said the Turkish official, in a view echoed by his prime minister, and that's the "Palestinian question," which, of course, means Israel.

In a similar vein, the former U.S. national security adviser, James Jones, asserted that:

"I'm of the belief that had God appeared in front of President Obama in 2009 and said if he could do one thing on the face of the planet, and one thing only, to make the world a better place and give people more hope and opportunity for the future, I would venture that it would have something to do with finding the two-state solution to the Middle East."

Could he be serious? Heaven knows that many of us would love to see a two-state solution to a conflict that has gone on too long and proved so costly. But to suggest that this is the world's central problem and the greatest barrier to "hope and opportunity" simply beggars belief and reveals the myopic mindset we're dealing with.

It's as if the Iran nuclear problem doesn't exist, nor al-Qaeda's ambitions, nor nuclear-armed Pakistan's precarious future, nor the despotic dynasties in the Middle East that deny human freedom and human rights, nor the aspirations of those who wish to restore the caliphate - not to mention problems of a more global scale from poverty to disease. No, once again, it's all back to Israel.

Not to be outdone, the financier George Soros wrote earlier this year, in the Washington Post, that the "main stumbling block" to advancing freedom in Egypt and beyond is -- you guessed it -- Israel. It's not, you see, damaged political cultures and ossified economies, but rather, of course, the long tentacles of Israel.

And the beleaguered Yemeni president conspiratorially chimed in that all the protests in the Arab world, for which many have already given their lives, including in his battered country, were actually orchestrated by "an operations room in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world" and aided, naturally, by Israel's erstwhile ally, the United States.

Well, no one expected Judge Goldstone to acknowledge that he made some pretty grievous mistakes in his assessment of the Gaza war, the nature of Hamas, the Israel army's efforts to avoid targeting civilians, and the body count. But eventually he did.

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for all those who've made a cottage industry out of blaming the Middle East's ills on Israel to start recanting, even in the face of pretty obvious facts from Misurata to Latakia, from the Arab Human Development Report to Freedom House.

But I do hope the editors at the Washington Post will make room for any of them that do.

David Harris, AJC Executive Director


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