Monday, January 3, 2011

Engaging Goldstone: A Reponse to Letty Cottin Pogrebin

I'm having trouble digesting Letty Cottin Pogrebin's article on the Goldstone Report that appeared on the Forward website December 29th and today on the Haaretz website. In the article, Pogrebin accuses American and Israeli Jews of slaying the messenger and refusing to engage Goldstone on the merit of his report's arguments, which were largely critical of Israel's conduct during Operation Cast Lead in December 2008/January 2009.

In principle Pogrebin's argument is valid. The ad hominem attacks on Goldstone and his character were completely inappropriate and a shocking expression of the immaturity of the Jewish community with regards to self-criticism. The attacks started before the report was even published, and Goldstone was called a traitor and commentators compared his arguments to those of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

At the same time, Pogrebin ignores the reality that the report was in fact rather one-sided, levying significantly more criticism against Israel than Hamas. While much of the criticism against Israel was legitimate, the report itself was not particularly comprehensive.

Secondly, Pogrebin misrepresents the response to Goldstone. While prominent American Jews like Alan Dershowitz did in fact make personal attacks on Goldstone, they also engaged with the report itself. The attacks were on two fronts.

Pogrebin's article ignores a complex reality in favor of a more black and white reading. But the reality is that those who attacked Goldstone and those who attacked the Goldstone report were not always completely different people. Perhaps the bigger question is to what extent each tactic improved Israel's security. Clearly, engaging honestly with the arguments is the more effective way to keep Israel at the forefront of security in the face of adversity.

And for Pogrebin herself, perhaps the bigger question is to what extent her article will solve the problem it addresses. The article is hard-hitting and strong, but this also means it is unlikely to bridge any differences in opinion.

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