By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
I surmise that I’m not the only member of the Israeli public who’d like to form an unbiased opinion about the report on last year’s Gaza war that has just published by the United Nations Human Rights Council. But even if I read the whole report and checked all its footnotes, in view of my limited understanding of the issues, I’m likely to remain ignorant. Therefore, like virtually everybody I can think of, I’ve to rely on what others tell me about it.
Prime Minister Netanyahu tells me that it’s all a bunch of lies, the report of a kangaroo court consistent with the notorious bias of the Human Rights Council that, like its sponsor the United Nations, always singles out Israel for unbridled condemnation. For example, William Schabas, the Canadian academic originally appointed to head the inquiry, had in fact been a paid consultant for the Palestinian Authority.
Yes, the United Nations record with regard to Israel is appalling.
I’d like to believe the prime minister and those around him when they insist that the IDF is the most moral army in the world and that any wrongdoing by the odd individual soldier – and there have been such reports also after the Gaza war – is properly punished. Again, I’m not in a position to judge but I’d like to think the best of the IDF and, therefore, I want to believe in its integrity and innocence of war crimes.
However, my daily newspaper Ha’aretz, one of the most prestigious dailies in the world, tells me a more nuanced story. Without it seeking to deny the prime minister’s allegations or defend the United Nations it to suggests inter alia that: (a) the report might have been different had Israel cooperated with the investigation instead of refusing to do so; (b) the woman who succeeded Schabas as the head of the inquiry, Mary McGowan Davis, doesn’t have an anti-Israel record; (c) there may be things in the report that Israel might want to consider, especially when it comes to using allegedly excessive fire power when responding to attacks from areas where civilians are being held as hostages.
I only have to mention Ha’aretz in some of the circles in which I mix to get a hostile reaction ranging from it being described as a leftist rag to a danger to the Jewish state. I’d be impressed with the insights of these critics had I not suspected that their “incontrovertible evidence” against this newspaper comes from others, especially the one sponsored by Mr. Netanyahu’s American friend Sheldon Adelson.
I was, however, impressed by the statement by Alan Baker, former legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry and former Israeli ambassador in Canada, that the research body with which he’s nowadays associated – the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs – did submit a long brief to the UN that the report appears to have ignored. On the other hand, the same report has included opinions (evidence?) by known Israeli NGOs critical of Israeli government policies such as B’tselem and Breaking the Silence.
Of course, Israel’s armed forces must defend the country’s citizens. Without their vigilance and ability we wouldn’t have a Jewish state today. But if that means that they’re at all times beyond reproach is difficult to verify. Had the report come from a more respected source, we might find it easier to take it to heart. But even under present circumstances, it’s reasonable to hope that the Government of Israel will learn something from it, whether or not it’ll admit it.