CMEP Reconsiders the Goldstone Report

In its weekly newsletter published on April 9, 2011, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) addressed Goldstone’s retraction of support of the report he helped author and defend in 2009. The recent article is remarkably less strident than the CMEP’s previous support of the Goldstone Report.

This article, a brief summary, titled “Reconsidering Goldstone,” does a number of laudable things. First, it acknowledges that Judge Richard Goldstone has retracted the central claim of the report – that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians during Operation Cast Lead. It also acknowledges that Israel has investigated its actions; Hamas has not. And by quoting a passage from an Abraham Bell article in Foreign Policy¸ CMEP raised the possibility that the Goldstone Report actually harmed the prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians by indicating to the Israelis that their actions would not be given a fair assessment by the international community.

Some Problems
It was not all sweetness and light, however.
For example, the CMEP rehearsed some predictable arguments. First off, the organization reminded readers that many of the Palestinian deaths that took place during Operation Cast Lead were civilians.
It did not invoke the oft-repeated falsehood that “most” most of the deaths were civilians, but it did not acknowledge that Hamas launched its rockets at civilian targets while hiding behind civilians, guaranteeing civilian casualties. On this score, the best CMEP could do is to report that Hamas “has not denied targeting civilians.”

This is technically true, for Hamas has not only “not denied targeting civilians” it has in fact, taken credit for attacks on civilians. For example, it recently admitted to a war crime by explicitly taking credit for an attack on a school bus. If Hamas is willing to take credit for an attack like this, why can’t CMEP come right out and acknowledge this fact?

CMEP also quoted a Washington Post op-ed by Jessica Montell, B’Tselem’s executive director, who accused Israel of failing to “adequately address” a number of issues such as the use of white phosphorous, the level of force Israel used against Hamas and the impact on civilians.

In fact, the Israeli Defense Force did respond in a detailed manner to these issues raised by the Goldstone Report. It responded to these issues in a lengthy report titled “The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects.”

But Montell’s op-ed did however, include a couple of interesting concessions, which did not make their way into CMEP’s summary, which to be fair, was not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of the issue. For example, Montell acknowledges that Israel did not intentionally target civilians and that the Goldstone Report held Israel to one standard and Hamas to another. Montell wrote:

… it was impossible to ignore some glaring problems with the report, particularly the conclusions regarding Israel’s intention to harm Palestinian civilians and what appeared to be different standards to prove Israel’s crimes and those of Hamas.

Change in Tone

While it would have been nice to see this aspect of Montell’s op-ed make its way into the CMEP summary, the summary still represents a remarkable and significant change in tone from the CMEP’s previous support for the Goldstone Report.

This change in tone indicates that under the leadership of Warren Clark, the organization is tacking toward a less polemical approach in its discussions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This tacking is not an about face in its understanding of the conflict however. The restrained manner in which it obliquely acknowledged Hamas attacks on civilians indicates that the CMEP has a difficult time forcefully condemning immoral acts by Palestinian leaders.

This is to be expected given the organization’s supporters – churches and para-church organizations that tend to portray Israel as being in control of the violence directed at it. CMEP supporters, mainline churches especially, also have a troubling tendency to root Palestinian behavior almost entirely in Israeli actions, thus denying Palestinians moral agency.

CMEP’s tendency to downplay Palestinian responsibility is confirmed by other articles in the newsletter. One article focuses on the settlements and another comes pretty close to depicting the current round of violence between Hamas and Israel as part of a cycle of violence even as numerous articles indicate that Hamas has launched the attack to buttress its position within the Gaza Strip.

But even these brief summaries are less polemical than the rhetoric offered by the CMEP in years past and that’s a welcome improvement.

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