Goldstone, Again and Beyond

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The UN's Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead has taken on a life of its own. Late last week, Israel submitted its own official version of its military operations in Gaza, to which UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon is expected to respond today.  Within Israel, calls for an independent commission of inquiry have found a prominent ally in the state's outgoing attorney general. Meanwhile, Alan Dershowitz, alongside his substantive criticisms of the Goldstone Report, has denounced its author as a Jewish traitor.

Intentionally or not, the Report has become a powerful element in the mounting international campaign—warfare conducted as "lawfare"—to delegitimize Israel's very existence as a sovereign entity. And the implications go beyond Israel, which is hardly the only state bound by the norms of international law to find itself at war with non-state actors for whom the irrelevance of international law on the battlefield is matched only by its inestimable value as a weapon in global forums.   

For the Jewish community at large, the Goldstone affair may provide a highly unwelcome but necessary occasion to think, or think again, about the place of international law in world affairs. Jewish jurists were crucial to the creation of a system that, for figures like Raphael Lemkin, promised to safeguard Jews among others from the perils of powerlessness. One recent scholar has suggested that, even as they entered into commitments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN's founders hardly intended to honor them.

Throughout the last half-century, Jewish organizations have worked, together and separately, to help create humane international institutions that would protect minority rights and vulnerable communities. How is today's generation to deal with the real-world activities of those institutions, and their all too palpable effects? The question is urgent.

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