Monday, April 4, 2011

Putting The Feathers Back In.

Parashat Metzora
is one of those portions that is subject to what some biblical scholars call "generous reading". This section of Leviticus that deals with tzara'at (often translated as leprosy) is reimagined by the rabbis as dealing not with skin ailments but with a spiritual disease: lashon hara, or malicious gossip.

That we read this parasha the week after Richard Goldstone's partial retraction in the Washington Post is not without its ironies. The Goldstone Report, written after the war in Gaza, accused both Hamas and Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity, specifically the intentional targeting of civilians. Now, after further reflection, Judge Goldstone writes that it is clear that Israel did not attack civilians as a matter of policy and is in the process of investigating and prosecuting those individual soldiers who may have done such terrible things. Hamas, of course, has not, and while they're happy to use the report to turn Israel into a pariah state, Goldstone complains that they show no inclination toward investigating their wrongdoing and indeed continue to perpetuate crimes against humanity. He writes:

Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hundreds more rockets and mortar rounds have been directed at civilian targets in southern Israel. That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality. The U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.

In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise. So, too, the Human Rights Council should condemn the inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their beds.

O Rly?

As you might imagine, his op-ed has been met by many Zionists and Israelis with variations on face-palming, 'we-told-you-so' finger wagging, and a general sense of validation. Of course, like the newspaper that puts their corrections in small print on the last page, this revelation is largely being missed (indeed, the New York Times is not even reporting on it at all), and sadly, will have no major impact (though I'm happy to be wrong on that one!).

I'm willing to believe that Judge Goldstone was credulous when he set out to investigate the Gaza war, and that he had hoped that his efforts might lead toward peace. What he is realizing is that, instead, his words have been used to malign a whole nation, and fuel anti-semitism and anti-Zionism worldwide. Retracting his report is helpful, but like the Hasidic story of the gossip who's penance is dependent on recovering all the feathers flung from a pillow on a windy day, his original statement did more harm than his current article does good. Once the feathers are out and on the wind, there is no putting them back in. Another reminder that the best way to handle incitement is to prevent it before it starts.

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