U.N. ruffles more feathers with report on war in Gaza

Israel’s government and its supporters are promoting a one-sentence strategy to counter a 574-page U.N. report on last winter’s Israel-Hamas war in Gaza: Consider the source.

“The same U.N. that allows the president of a country to announce on a podium its aspiration to destroy the State of Israel has no right to teach us about morality,” Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said, referring to Iranian President Mah-moud Ahmadinejad.

“This is a report born of bias,” Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in describing the report released Sept. 15 by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The report, written by a fact-finding mission headed by Richard Goldstone, a respected war crimes judge from South Africa who is Jewish, urges Israel to set up independent investigations into what it calls Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The report also recommends that international bodies launch prosecutions if Israel does not set up probes within six months. It makes similar recommendations about Hamas.

The timing of the report is not propitious for Israel, whose diplomats are attempting to convey the impression that Israel is more open to negotiations than the Palestinians.

The Goldstone report gives Palestinians and Arab nations an opportunity to complicate that effort in advance of a hoped-for summit to reconvene Israeli-Pal-estinian talks.

An Israeli army officer looks over the Gaza Strip in January. photo/jta/brian hendler

To that end, U.S. special Mideast envoy George Mitchell made a last-ditch push to wring an Israeli promise to curtail settlement construction and persuade the Palestinians to attend a meeting meant as a prelude to peacemaking. But that was on Sept. 15, a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected U.S. calls for a settlement freeze.

As for the report, Jewish groups said the strategy should be to get the United States to dismiss it as hopelessly biased.

“Israel does not require any external reminder to probe its just actions, especially from a radical body which is comprised from ‘moral’ nations the likes of Malaysia, Syria, Pakistan and Somalia,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

“Let us not forget that this commission was a creation of the Human Rights Council, arguably the U.N.’s most flawed body,” David Harris, AJC’s executive director, said in a statement. “The council has consistently demonized Israel, while giving a free pass to some of the world’s worst tyrants, from Sudan to Iran.”

Left-leaning Israeli and pro-Israel groups said attacking the Human Rights Council misses the broader point: Israel must account for its actions beyond the internal Israeli army reviews under way.

“The obstacle to peace is the festering anger” in Gaza, said Mitchell Plitnick, a spokesman for B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.

Concerns about the report’s bias date back to the Human Rights Council’s mandate last February, when it created the fact-finding mission to probe “grave” Israeli “violations of human rights” during the war, launched by Israel on Dec. 27 after Hamas-sponsored rocket fire from Gaza had intensified significantly.

Goldstone got permission to broaden his mandate and consider Hamas war crimes. The new report considers the years of rocket attacks on Israel and concludes that Hamas committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Nonetheless, Israel refused to deal with Goldstone or the council, despite Goldstone’s Jewish credentials and ties to Israel.

Among other allegations, the report accuses Israel of having created an “emergency situation” in Gaza through its blockade prior, during and after the war; describes as excessive Israel’s use of white phosphorous during the war; dismisses as unfounded Israel’s claims that all of the approximately 240 policemen slain during the war were combatants; and chronicles about a dozen allegations of Israel shooting unarmed Palestinians without provocation.

In a related development, the Human Rights Watch this week suspended Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst, over his collection of Nazi memorabilia. Garlasco has said his hobby is a result of his family history; his grandfather was conscripted by the Nazis, he said.

The Jerusalem Post and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ron Kampeas

JTA D.C. bureau chief