By Lawrence Swaim, InFocusNews Columnist – March 2010
Last January 14, 2009, Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, shared some deep thoughts on the ongoing slaughter in Gaza. Israel’s defense forces were “inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population,”
Friedman acknowledged, but it was all for a good cause: “If it was out to educate Hamas,” he wrote, “Israel may have achieved its aim.” What Friedman was describing, of course, was terrorism—the use of deadly force against civilians to achieve a political goal. But since this was state terrorism by the government of Israel, somehow it was all supposed to be acceptable.
Friedman doesn’t dwell much on the 1, 400 Palestinians who died horribly as a result of Israel’s attempt to “educate” Hamas, nor would the Times tolerate for very long any journalist who attempted to tell their story.
For this we must depend on organizations such as the UN Human Rights Council, which commissioned the Goldstone Report. Precisely because of Richard Goldstone’s credibility, the rightwing government of Israel has ramped up its hasbara (propaganda) operations, attacking the Report as anti-Semitic and Goldstone as a monster.
But the Goldstone Report is one of the most exacting examples of international fact-finding in our time, and for just that reason Richard Goldstone has become one of the most hated—and courageous—Jews of modern history.
Goldstone investigated not just Israel’s bombing of Gaza, but also Hamas’ rockets against Israel, not to mention repression by Hamas and Fatah officials. (Eleven Palestinian human rights groups have applauded this, suggesting the extent to which Palestinian civil society is healthier in this regard than Israel.)
But love of truth is often seen as evidence of treachery by the Israel Lobby, which demands total adherence to their party line. Alan Dershowitz wasted no time in calling Goldstone a “traitor to the Jewish people” and an “evil, evil man,” also referring to him as a “moser” [betrayer] on Israeli radio. This coy incitement to rightwing violence was not lost on listeners—the extremist who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin also referred to Rabin as a “moser.”
Why all this hate toward Richard Goldstone? There is more here than meets the eye. Judaism at the beginning of the 20th century had mainly arrived at a consensus that God works through believers for universal social justice on earth; and Judaism—both as culture and religion—saw itself as part of that process.
European Jews supported social justice, democracy, pluralism and human rights, and were strong supporters of progressive and center-left political parties. Then came the deluge—the insanity of Hitler and the trauma of his crimes against humanity. Everything changed.
Jews felt that their liberal European values had failed. Some even thought that God had abandoned them. For many Jews, the universalism and social justice at the heart of Judaism was gradually replaced by a kind of us-against-them religious nationalism, relying almost completely on military force.
This was a new form of secular religion, in which the believer no longer worshiped God but rather the state of Israel, with its military victories, its propaganda, and its nuclear weapons. Could one imagine a more malignant form of idolatry than worship of the state, any state?
That’s the real reason for the hate campaign against Goldstone. Richard Goldstone is a Zionist, but he is also a throwback to the older form of Judaism that focuses on universal justice as a spiritual goal. He supports Israel, but clearly values the truth, and can see well beyond religious nationalism.
If people like Goldstone can make truth-telling look attractive in the face of the hasbara-meisters, it might not be long until more people start to reject religious nationalism and reclaim the idea of universal justice.
That, in turn, could ultimately mean social change in Israel/Palestine—replacement of 1948 doctrines with those more appropriate to 2010, and ultimately the adoption of a post-Zionist social framework. Is it any wonder that Alan Dershowitz, the self-anointed gautleiter of religious neo-fascism in America, is so afraid of Goldstone?
IFN is circulated nationally, and is the largest Muslim newspaper in the US.
Lawrence Swaim is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation. His column addresses current affairs from an American Christian and Interfaith perspective.
The Interfaith Freedom Foundation can be contacted at P.O. Box 6862, Napa CA 94581, and is a public-interest nonprofit that advocates civil rights for religious minorities, and religious liberty for all.