[UPDATE: After hearing from Jeremy Ben Ami, I have extensively rewritten this post to reflect information he provided and other research material I’ve discovered.]
The House of Representatives, at the behest of Aipac and the Israeli embassy, is debating HR 867 (text), which denounces the Goldstone Report and calls on the U.S. government to quash further consideration of it in the UN. The Resolution also reaffirms Israel’s “right to defend itself” presumably in the way it did during Operation Cast Lead. So in effect, the U.S. House is encouraging the IDF to engage in war crimes in future military actions against the Palestinians.
Tikkun is circulating an acute critique of HR 867 by Steven Zunes:
The lead-off clause cynically places “fact-finding mission” in quotes, implying that this was not in fact the purpose of the investigation of a reputable and experienced team.
This is followed by a series of clauses criticizing the original mandate of the UN Human Rights Council which called only for an investigation of Israeli war crimes. This is completely moot, however, since commission head Justice Richard Goldstone – to his credit – refused to accept the position unless its mandate was changed to one which would investigate possible war crimes by both sides in the conflict…The House resolution does not mention this…implying that the original mandate was the basis of the report. In reality, from the start of the actual investigation, there was not such a bias against Israel, since it dedicated over 70 pages to detail a whole series of violations of the laws of war by Hamas, including rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of Israel, torture of Palestinian opponents, and continued holding of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Yet H. Res. 867 makes no mention of this…thereby giving the false impression that the report unfairly only dealt with the actions of the Israeli armed forces…
The resolution claims that the report makes “sweeping and unsubstantiated determinations that the Israeli military had deliberately attacked civilians during Operation Cast Lead.” If one bothers to…read the report, there was indeed detailed and well-substantiated evidence of deadly attacks against schools, mosques, private homes and businesses nowhere near legitimate military targets. In particular, the report cites in detail eleven incidents in which Israeli armed forces engaged in direct attacks against civilians, including cases where people were shot “while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags.”
…The resolution…claim[s] that the report denies Israel’s right to self-defense. This is patently false. There was absolutely nothing in the report that denies Israel’s right to self-defense. It simply insists that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have the right to attack civilians.
…The resolution even claims that the report is part of an effort “to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel and deny it the right to defend its citizens and its existence can be used to delegitimize other democracies and deny them the same right.” In reality, there is absolutely nothing in the report that delegitimizes Israel or its right to defend its citizens, nor is there anything in the report that could conceivably delegitimize other democracies or deny other democracies their right to exist or defend their citizens. This is demagoguery at its most extreme and appears to be a right-wing effort to silence defenders of international humanitarian law by putting Congress on record as saying that documenting a given country’s war crimes is tantamount to denying that country’s right to exist and its right to self-defense.
…Perhaps most seriously, there is the final clause of the resolution which endorses Israel’s right to attack Syria and Iran because of their alleged support of Hamas.
Peace Now has taken an unequivocal stance opposed to this atrocious bit of grandstanding:
APN has serious reservations about H. Res. 867. We do not believe that Israel or the cause of peace is aided by a Congressional effort that, however well-intentioned, is focused solely on denouncing the Goldstone Report and its authors and dismissing its findings.
…We urge the Obama Administration to show leadership in the UN and other multilateral fora in order to ensure that the Goldstone Report becomes a basis for moving forward toward peace and reconciliation…
…We believe that the correct course now is for Israel’s government to launch its own independent investigation of alleged violations of human rights and international law that may have taken place in the context of the Gaza war, including those documented in the Goldstone Report. We strongly believe that such an investigation is in the interests of Israel.
…Regardless of how one judges the Goldstone Report and its findings, the report serves as a clear reminder of both the horrors of war and the critical importance of President Barack Obama’s efforts to renew peace talks. Whatever Members of Congress may feel about the Gaza war or the Goldstone Report, the reality is that absent progress towards peace, it is only a matter of time before another war breaks out and more lives are lost. We believe that H. Res. 867 does not serve the cause of peace and therefore, regrettably, cannot support it.
J Street began the day with a statement which portrayed the group’s doubts though it expressed itself in a more “hawkish” manner:
J Street is unable to support House Resolution 867 regarding the Goldstone Commission report on Operation Cast Lead.
J Street would be able to support a resolution that:
- Recognizes the history of bias against Israel at the United Nations, the flaws in the original mandate to the Goldstone Commission and the dangers in pursuing resolutions in multilateral fora with a track record of anti-Israel bias;
- Condemns the series of one-sided resolutions adopted by the UN Human Rights Council;
- Expresses support for the people of southern Israel who were traumatized by years of constant rocket and mortar fire as well as for the people of Gaza who are suffering greatly from the effects of both the military operation and the ongoing blockade of Gaza;
- Correctly acknowledges that the Commission’s original mandate was adjusted by Judge Goldstone himself and accepted by the Human Rights Council to include a focus on the conduct of both sides, and that the report included the first-ever exposure by a UN body of war crimes and human rights violations by Hamas;…
- Calls on the US government to attempt to defeat in the General Assembly any resolution which unfairly focuses only on Israel and
- Calls on the US government to state unequivocally that it will veto in the Security Council any resolution which refers charges against Israel and Israelis to the International Criminal Court.
…J Street further urges the Obama Administration to make every effort to oppose and defeat the one-sided and biased resolution that is likely to be presented next week in the General Assembly and to work actively for the adoption of a better, balanced resolution. We urge the United States to make clear that it will use its veto to prevent any referral of this matter to the International Criminal Court.
Jeremy Ben Ami argues that this position is essentially the same as APN’s. But that’s not the case. In fact, APN makes no mention of an ICC referral and wisely steers clear of the minutiae of UN action. And there are numerous other differences. APN wrote a nuanced statement that said just enough. J Street decided it had to throw in the kitchen sink and as a result got lost in a political thicket.
Further, when people began calling them saying that it appeared J Street was calling for a No vote on HR 867, the group released the following “clarification:”
J Street supports passage of a resolution by the U.S. Congress calling for the United States to oppose and work actively to defeat one-sided and biased action in the United Nations when it comes to Israel and the Goldstone Report.
We are not urging members of Congress to oppose H. Res. 867. We are urging thoughtful amendment of the Resolution before passage to bring it in line with the principles we articulate…
Though this statement does support an independent Israeli investigation of Cast Lead (which is also what Goldstone calls for) the comment saying the group doesn’t oppose a yes vote disappoints. J Street used a sledge hammer while APN used a scalpel. The difference shows.
HR 867 was probably written by Aipac staff, though it’s lead sponsors are right-wing Republicans Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Dan Burton, along with water-carriers Howard Berman and Gary Ackerman.
Jewish Voice for Peace is also in the thick of this fight on behalf of the credibility of the Goldstone Report.