All that you have is your soul (Tracy Chapman).

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

How Goldstone Erred

Haaretz, Sept. 27, 2009
By Benjamin Pogrund

At least three times in his life, Richard Goldstone has gone against prevailing wisdom in taking on challenging jobs. Two were in apartheid South Africa - and he was brilliantly successful in both. The third, his Gaza inquiry, has brought down the coals of hell upon his head.

During the first three decades of apartheid, many judges were appointed because of their loyalty to the Afrikaner government. One result was a decline in the quality and status of South African courts. In response, the government sought to appoint some liberal lawyers of quality. Most, however, were reluctant to join the bench because it meant applying apartheid laws.

Some accepted: Goldstone, who made his name as a barrister in nonpolitical commercial cases, became a Supreme Court judge in 1980. The next year, far from merely applying the law, he handed down a judgment that struck at the heart of a basic apartheid law - the Group Areas Act, which had split the entire country into different areas where people of different races were respectively compelled to live and work, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people of color.

Goldstone ruled in favor of an Asian woman appealing against eviction from her home, and said she first had to be provided with alternative accommodation. His startling judgment ended such evictions.

His second challenging job came in 1991. Apartheid was winding down and the country was beset by violence, in which thousands were killed. A mysterious "Third Force" of government agents was rumored to be behind the killings. President F.W. de Klerk asked Goldstone to head a commission to investigate the terrible violence. Goldstone accepted - and ran it like no other commission before: Over three years, he issued 47 reports, revealing horrendous details about murder squads set up and funded by the government.

Gaza has been Goldstone's latest challenge. He again accepted a mandate from a poisoned source: the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. I have no doubt that he acted with the best of intentions, as he has his entire life, first in South Africa and then in the world, to ensure justice be done. But I also believe that this time, his decision is open to question.

First, Goldstone underestimated the Human Rights Council's malevolence toward Israel. Most members harbor deep hatred for Israel, and wish for no less than its destruction. Goldstone should have been warned off by the refusal of several people before him to accept the job, including former Irish president Mary Robinson.

Second, he accepted the council's mandate, even though it had declared in advance that Israel was guilty of war crimes in Gaza. It is not enough that the council's chairman later said the mandate could include Hamas: Apart from the fact that this statement does not bind the council, his findings on Hamas will mean little or nothing in practice because the organization is not a recognized government and is beyond international action. Israel is the council's target and Goldstone has delivered it. His report has more strength because he is a Jew and enjoys international status.

Third, rejecting objections, he allowed Prof. Christine Chinkin to remain a member of his four-person commission even though, back in January, she had already publicly found Israel guilty, referring to its "prima facie war crimes" in Gaza. Goldstone thus seriously, even fatally, undermined the commission's credibility, and in doing so raised questions about his own good sense.

Fourth, the nearly 600-page report includes many pages of descriptions and allegations of Israeli oppression at home and on the West Bank. That is valid if the intention is to provide a context for Israel's actions in Gaza. But then it must be done properly, with careful research and assessments for a fair presentation of the mix of history, religion, culture and politics that make up the complex situation, including both good and bad. The report does not show that knowledge and understanding; instead, time and again, it's Israel that is bad, bad, bad.

Fifth, the report follows the usual line pursued by members of the council and Israel's other enemies - treating Israel as though it were a unique source of evil instead of examining Gaza in the light of experience elsewhere, in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, where the military has taken on terrorists in a civilian setting.

Richard Goldstone is now under savage attack from many in the Jewish world. Right-wingers have gone berserk, with outpourings of hysterical condemnation. More measured criticism has come from Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN, who said there were "very serious concerns about many of the recommendations in the report," and U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, who criticized the report for its "cookie-cutter conclusions" about Israel's actions, while it limited its comments on "the deplorable actions of Hamas to generalized remarks."

But Kelly also urged Israel to further investigate IDF actions in Gaza. And that indeed is what Israel should do. I believed last December and still do that Israel was justified in going into Gaza. But I remain uncertain and uncomfortable about exactly what Israel did and why it did it. Was white phosphorous used over civilian areas? If so, why? What about the early killing of scores of policemen? What about reports that rescue parties were blocked from reaching the wounded, civilians carrying white flags were killed while fleeing and human shields were used? Why were journalists kept out?

The IDF says emphatically that it behaved correctly, but it is not enough for it to investigate itself. An independent investigation is needed - and the obvious person to head it is former Israeli Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who would give it strength and status, at home and abroad. Israelis need it for their own moral peace of mind, or if wrong was done, to recognize and to address it. Israel needs to be certain that it can tell Goldstone and other critics that their accusations are skewed and unjustified.

Benjamin Pogrund, a former South African journalist, first reported on Richard Goldstone 48 years ago.
Source: Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1116945.html).

Monday, 28 September 2009

Post Yom-Kippur Optimism

Hi there friends. Yet again, I find myself having to apologise to the faithful who visit this site expecting to see my rantings. I have posted some blogs here recently, but not one of them would do any justice in trying to explain where my mind is at the present moment.

Or the rest of my body for that matter.

Thank you for still visiting, on the off chance that you might catch the latest episode in the soap opera that my life seems to have inexplicably morphed into over the last few months.

I can't go into precise details here, but to be blatently honest, I've seen better times. No, I'm not sick. No, I'm not out of work - in fact, that seems to be the one bit of timber that has survived from the shipwreck you see before you, something that I can hold onto when the tidal wave of life finally attempts to sink my remains to the bottom of the ocean. Suffice to say that one day, all (or at least some) will be revealed.

Which brings me to Yom Kippur. A day that evokes a torrent of thoughts and emotions, hopes and aspirations, fears and confusion. Quite a heady brew for one as young as me.

I thought about this post quite a bit yesterday as I was trying to re-assemble the Sukkah I put away last year. Again, I can't go into why these thoughts came into my mind, but I realised that being the optimist I am, helps me cope with almost any challenge that life decides to land me with.

Others in my position might fall apart, but something, something quite inexplicable within my psyche tells me that everything is going to be alright. I don't know how or why or for that matter, what - but this innate optimism, probably as foolish and naive as it puports to be - keeps me afloat at times when the water should justly be reaching over my eyebrows, envelopping me into a whirlwind of dispair, the kind that I really wouldn't want to wish on others.

At forty-one years of age, I realised yesterday afternoon, standing by the shed door, that were it not for my optimism, right now, I don't know how I would cope with my life. I know that the good Lord above will help me out. He hasn't let me down yet and I'm not about to turn my back on Him.

Optimism mixed in with a little dose of faith can take you a long, long way towards the brighter colours of the rainbow.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech to the UN General Assembly

(Courtesy Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nearly 62 years ago, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews, an ancient people 3,500 years-old, to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland.

I stand here today as the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish state, and I speak to you on behalf of my country and my people.

The United Nations was founded after the carnage of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. It was charged with preventing the recurrence of such horrendous events.

Nothing has undermined that central mission more than the systematic assault on the truth. Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants. Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie.

Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews. Is this a lie?

A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler’s deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie?

This June, President Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. Did President Obama pay tribute to a lie?

And what of the Auschwitz survivors whose arms still bear the tattooed numbers branded on them by the Nazis? Are those tattoos a lie? One-third of all Jews perished in the conflagration. Nearly every Jewish family was affected, including my own. My wife's grandparents, her father’s two sisters and three brothers, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins were all murdered by the Nazis. Is that also a lie?

Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?

A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state.

What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations! Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You're wrong.

History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.

This Iranian regime is fueled by an extreme fundamentalism that burst onto the world scene three decades ago after lying dormant for centuries. In the past thirty years, this fanaticism has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims. It has callously slaughtered Moslems and Christians, Jews and Hindus, and many others. Though it is comprised of different offshoots, the adherents of this unforgiving creed seek to return humanity to medieval times.

Wherever they can, they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays or anyone not deemed to be a true believer is brutally subjugated. The struggle against this fanaticism does not pit faith against faith nor civilization against civilization.

It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.

The primitivism of the 9th century ought to be no match for the progress of the 21st century. The allure of freedom, the power of technology, the reach of communications should surely win the day. Ultimately, the past cannot triumph over the future. And the future offers all nations magnificent bounties of hope. The pace of progress is growing exponentially.

It took us centuries to get from the printing press to the telephone, decades to get from the telephone to the personal computer, and only a few years to get from the personal computer to the internet.

What seemed impossible a few years ago is already outdated, and we can scarcely fathom the changes that are yet to come. We will crack the genetic code. We will cure the incurable. We will lengthen our lives. We will find a cheap alternative to fossil fuels and clean up the planet.

I am proud that my country Israel is at the forefront of these advances – by leading innovations in science and technology, medicine and biology, agriculture and water, energy and the environment. These innovations the world over offer humanity a sunlit future of unimagined promise.

But if the most primitive fanaticism can acquire the most deadly weapons, the march of history could be reversed for a time. And like the belated victory over the Nazis, the forces of progress and freedom will prevail only after an horrific toll of blood and fortune has been exacted from mankind. That is why the greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction.

The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge? Will the international community confront a despotism that terrorizes its own people as they bravely stand up for freedom?

Will it take action against the dictators who stole an election in broad daylight and gunned down Iranian protesters who died in the streets choking in their own blood? Will the international community thwart the world's most pernicious sponsors and practitioners of terrorism?

Above all, will the international community stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world?

The people of Iran are courageously standing up to this regime. People of goodwill around the world stand with them, as do the thousands who have been protesting outside this hall. Will the United Nations stand by their side?...

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Rabbi and the Pooch

This is so cute!