This column was published in the Palm Beach Post on 28 April 2011. 

Friends don't let friends commit war crimes. That is why Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's sponsorship of legislation to "make it U.S. policy to demand that the United Nations General Assembly revoke and repudiate the Goldstone Report" is so misguided.

The 2009 report authored by South African jurist Richard Goldstone and three other respected international experts revealed evidence that Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes during 2008-09 fighting in the Gaza Strip, and recommended investigations by both parties into the allegations. Israel suffered the tougher criticism, accused of indiscriminate and disproportionate warfare, deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure, illegal use of weaponry including white phosphorous, denying aid to the wounded, attacking medical personnel and vehicles, illegal detentions and using Palestinian civilians - in one case, a 9-year-old boy - as human shields. The report suggested that these offenses likely stemmed from lax rules of engagement and deliberate strategic policies, not just from individual acts of errant Israeli soldiers.

Rather than take these allegations to heart, Israel, joined by its supporters around the world, embarked on a public relations campaign to discredit Justice Goldstone and his fellow authors. A low point in this effort was reached when leaders of Justice Goldstone's South African Jewish community threatened to picket his grandson's bar mitzvah should he attend.

So it was with special vehemence that Israeli officials and their self-styled friends, including Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, leapt into action when Justice Goldstone, in an April 3 Washington Post op-ed, appeared to express reservations about the report that bears his name. Justice Goldstone revisited just one of the 36 incidents his group investigated, opining that it demonstrated that Israeli officials had not deliberately targeted civilians. He also expressed confidence in the Israeli military's capacity to investigate itself.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately trumpeted that Israel had been vindicated, and demanded that the report be retracted. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's proposed legislation parrots this demand.

It appears irrelevant to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen that Justice Goldstone has since clarified in an Associated Press story that "as presently advised I have no reason to believe that any part of the report needs to be reconsidered at this time," nor that the other authors have strongly affirmed their findings in a commentary in the British Guardian.

In fact, the original report, with narrow exceptions, never accused the Israeli military of directly targeting Palestinian civilians as such. Rather, it suggested that Israel's indiscriminate and disproportionate warfare, and attacks on civilian infrastructure, caused unjustified civilian deaths. These are, nonetheless, violations of international criminal law.

In light of this, it is hard not to see Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's proposal as another example of pandering to Israel for short-term political gain. This tendency is particularly endemic in the House, as its two-year terms force members into perpetual campaigning for reelection. Israel's U.S. supporters, meanwhile, are active donors to political campaigns.

This kind of grandstanding has fueled Israel's sense of self-righteousness and impunity from international law. Israeli officials know that if "Congress has their back," no U.S. president, including the once-popular Barack Obama, can impede their policies.

Yet Israel's ostensible friends never face the real consequences of their actions. Those consequences will be seen in the shattered lives of Jews and Arabs for generations to come. Genuine friendship consists of more than blind, unthinking support. Long-term security for Israelis - not to mention Palestinians - ultimately will be built on respect for equal rights and international law, not on military might.

 

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