Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Goldstone Says About Israel

The complexity of the debate in the Israeli press over the Goldstone editorial is a key indicator of the state of Israeli society in 2011. The rise of multiple factions indicate a vigorous debate about a military operation whose implications are very much an unsettled matter in Israeli public discourse.

On the right are those who would have Goldstone fall on his own sword. They argue that he must now literally repent for his "sins." The damage done by the report, they argue, has been irreparable, even if Goldstone has now retracted fallacious conclusions in the report. The whole debacle is yet another case of how anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment is rampant in the international community.

On the left are those who caution that a retraction of some of the report's claims is not tantamount to a complete retraction. They caution that the underlying problems identified in the report still exist today. While the report may be essentially annulled, the issues it raises largely are not.

The majority of coverage, however, appears to be somewhere in the middle. Authors argue that Israel should have cooperated with Goldstone in the first place, even as they reject the report's claims. More commonly, they welcome the retraction but express the confusion over what should happen next between Goldstone and Israel, and in Israel's next engagement in Gaza.

At the heart of this complexity is the fact that public opinion over Operation Cast Lead itself remains mixed in Israel. To some extent, Goldstone is more clear on the implications of the Israeli government's moral and strategic decisions during Cast Lead than is the Israeli public. The editorial is the final word in a debate which is still ongoing between competing public opinion factions.

Goldstone's remarks will almost certainly play a positive role in moving the debate forward. However, while this debate may be vigorous and at times nasty, it is also an indication that even in this era, the institution of free speech in Israeli democracy remains a central component of the state and its society.

Note: The "repentance" article to which I link is Alan Dershowitz's article in the Jewish Daily Forward, clearly not an Israeli source. However, the article has been posted on Haaretz and circulated widely in the Israeli blogosphere. Additionally, Israeli politicians have made similar statements, indicating public support for repentance.

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