Mr Bernstein has little concrete to say about allegations, substantiated by the UN’s Goldstone commission, by the Israeli human-rights organisation B’Tselem, and by HRW, that the IDF committed war crimes in Gaza. He writes that it is hard for human-rights organisations to “know” whether crimes took place because they rely on testimony from possibly self-interested witnesses. This is a very strange thing for someone who once founded a human-rights organisation to say, though I can well imagine it coming from representatives of the regimes they criticise. In my experience working with them, HRW’s researchers have been rigorous and scrupulous in their evaluations of testimony and evidence.
… As with other groups, there’s a long tradition of Jewish literary investigation into the unique historical predicaments of Jewishness. That impulse makes for great culture, and lousy politics. Israel and its supporters need to stop using their historical narratives for political cover. As far as international law is concerned, there is nothing so terribly exceptional about Israel. Every nation is different from every other nation, but we’re all subject to the same Geneva Conventions. The standards for Israel are no different from those for Hamas. That is what Human Rights Watch stands for, and Richard Bernstein isn’t doing Israel any favours by arguing the opposite.
I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment and don’t really have much to add to its content. But I will say that things seem to be changing for Israel. Even in the US, there is much more scrutiny of Israel’s actions and questioning of whether those actions, which are generally supported or at least not hindered by Washington, are in the American national interest. The Walt and Mearsheimer article on the Israel lobby got people talking about a topic most people kept away from like a third rail, and then as if it wanted to prove their point, Israel reacted to Hezbollah’s border raid and capturing of soldiers by brutally destroying much of Lebanon.
Since then, we’ve had Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, continued settlement of the West Bank and an overall lack of cooperation with the Obama administration. Things have gotten so bad for Israel that Olmert has been shouted down in Chicago and subject to an attempted citizen arrest for war crimes in San Francisco. The current smears against J Street are but a sign of weakness from the pro-Likud lobby in Washington, whereas J Street’s success in staking out a pro-peace middle ground is a bellwether of the direction that American attitudes, including those of Jewish Americans, are starting to take on Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territories.
The Titanic, as it were, seems to be sinking, and the Israelis aren’t even rearranging the deck chairs, they’re barreling down on the same course right into the iceberg, full steam ahead. When even the US finally has little sympathy for Israel’s actions, the Jewish state will have no one to blame but itself.