The Guardian and Kenneth Roth: avoiding self-examination

The moment Judge Richard Goldstone went renegade – deserting the creed of the report in his own name – it was obvious that it would only be a matter of time until all those who had invested so much in the production and promotion of that flawed report would be out in force to engage in damage control.

Both the Guardian and Human Rights Watch were heavy promoters of the Goldstone report and so it is hardly unexpected that the head of HRW Kenneth Roth, was given a platform on CiF on April 5th in order to promote the view that Goldstone’s retraction represents no more than an insignificant aberration.

The alternative would be for Roth and many others, including some of the Guardian staff, to engage in some serious introspection and ask themselves why they were so keen at the time to advance the fallacy that Israel deliberately targeted civilians during Operation Cast Lead. As Richard Cohen, writing in the Washington Post, correctly states:

“But overall, Israel adheres to a morality we all recognize and admire — and that its enemies, Hamas in particular, do not. Those who gleefully embraced the Goldstone report have to ask themselves why. They may hate the answer.”

Rather than face up to such an unpleasant option, Roth opts for a ‘no but, yeah but, no but’ Vicky Pollard-style option; highly unbecoming of the executive director of a supposedly serious organisation. Not that there’s much surprising about that either considering HRW’s track record of unprofessionalism when caught out on previous indiscretions such as fund-raising in Saudi Arabia, schmoozing Ghaddafi, or employing a Nazi memorabilia enthusiast.

Kenneth Roth must be feeling betrayed. The process which began when Robert Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch, went  public with severe words of criticism against the organization in October 2009 as a result of its frenzied promotion of the Goldstone report – and egregiously disproportionate focus on Israel – has now gained even more impetus with Goldstone’s retraction of his own work. Like Bernstein, Goldstone comes from within the human rights community, having served on the board of HRW itself even after his appointment by the UNHRC. Indeed much of the Goldstone report itself is based upon information provided by HRW, which probably explains the zeal with which HRW worked to publicise it.

Now, undone by those whom he promoted, Roth attempts to save his sinking ship by rushing to shore up the fallacies his organization has spent so much time and energy creating. According to him, “Goldstone led a UN commission that issued a detailed and damning report on the Gaza war, finding that both Israeli and Hamas forces committed war crimes”, whereas in reality no such proof was offered by the report and Goldstone himself stated that “We had to do the best we could with the material we had. If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven.”

Yet again, Roth brings up the subject of the alleged “indiscriminate” use of white phosphorous by Israeli forces – a theme which HRW has been promoting since the days of Operation Cast Lead itself and ever since, despite the fact that the accusations were investigated immediately following the hostilities. Notably, there has been no comparable indignation from HRW regarding the use of white phosphorous by Hamas, most recently a couple of weeks ago in attacks deliberately aimed at Israeli civilians.

Roth claims that:

“Part of the problem is that the military has been asked to investigate itself – never an ideal way to arrive at the truth. Moreover, the person leading the military investigations – Israel’s military advocate general – probably took part in the policy decisions that should be investigated.”

Such a populist statement may go down well on the virtual pages of CiF, but it reveals either gross disingenuousness or a shocking lack of knowledge which could be easily and rapidly corrected, for example by studying this document.

“Israel‘s legal and judicial apparatus is fully equipped and motivated to address alleged violations of national or international law by its commanders and soldiers.  Such allegations are reviewed through a multi-tiered system of independent and impartial proceedings before Israeli investigative, administrative and judicial authorities, including Israel‘s highest judicial instance, the Israeli Supreme Court.

Israel has a military justice system that operates within the IDF but is professionally independent.  The military justice system is based primarily on the Military Justice Law of 1955, a comprehensive statute which governs the investigation of misconduct and indictment and prosecution of offenders and establishes the Court Martial system.  The military justice system empowers the Military Advocate General to try soldiers not only for unique ―military offences (such as absence without leave, conduct unbecoming an officer, etc), but also for ordinary criminal offences under Israel‘s Penal Law, 1973.  Any and all allegations regarding offences committed by IDF personnel, and related to the military, are dealt with through this multi-tiered system, including allegations regarding improper conduct on the battlefield.

The IDF system of review includes three main components: the Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (―MPCID), the Military Advocate General‘s Corps (―MAG), and the Military Courts.  The MAG Corps and Military Courts are both independent from the IDF command hierarchy, are subject only to the law, and are also entirely independent from one another.”

The damage done to Israel and Israelis by the Goldstone report is probably unquantifiable, but that is not the only harm it has wreaked. Considerable damage has also been done to the reputations of many human rights organisations, beginning with the abuse of those rights by so many members of the UN Human Rights Council which commissioned the Goldstone report and down to the NGOs such as Human Rights Watch which too often misuse their authority –and the trust of the public – for political ends.

Possibly the most significant and valuable thing which Judge Goldstone could now do is to join those such as Robert Bernstein who seek to reinstate some integrity into the world of human rights advocacy. Hopefully, Goldstone may also be able to impress upon his former colleagues, including Kenneth Roth, the urgency of such a mission because, to quote HRW’s founder:

“Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world. If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.”

And of course, were the Guardian really the ‘leading liberal voice’ it pretends to be, it too would refrain from nurturing those driven more by base political motives than a real commitment to universal human rights. Somehow, though, I have a hunch that neither Roth nor the Guardian staff are capable of the kind of self-examination needed to appreciate that there are more important things at stake than their own political soap-boxes.

I do hope they prove me wrong.

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