Norman Finkelstein on Bernie, Palestine and Politics

The great Norman Finkelstein has been interviewed on Bernie, Palestine and Politics.

Among other things, he talks about how Israel has successfully defanged human rights NGO coverage of Israeli crimes: most human rights organisations sat out Operation Protective Edge (2014), while Amnesty reverted to its pre-1987 apologetics.

This is an extremely dangerous development, since the human rights reports are a vital weapon in the struggle for public opinion, and an important constraint on the Israeli military’s freedom of action.

Here’s Norman:

The magnitude of the devastation Israel wreaked in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge beggars the imagination. In Operation Cast Lead (2008-9), 6,300 homes were destroyed. But, do you know how many homes were destroyed in Protective Edge? 19,000. 350 kids were killed in Cast Lead, 550 in Protective Edge. But here’s the thing. As many as 300 human rights reports were issued after Cast Lead, documenting Israel’s carnage. But after Protective Edge, there was dead silence. The only major human rights organization that published reports on Protective Edge was Amnesty, and Amnesty’s reports were horrible.

The silence was partly because nothing came of the human rights reports after Cast Lead. The US, acting in cahoots with the PA, impeded any action. The reports just collected dust, so the organizations ceased caring. It was also because the international community has grown inured to Israeli atrocities and Israel’s lunatic prime minister. But the biggest reason was the cowardice—or, if you prefer, prudence—of the human rights community after Richard Goldstone’s crucifixion. I can’t prove it, I want to emphasize that, but in my opinion, based on a lot of circumstantial evidence, Israel dug up dirt on Goldstone and forced him to capitulate. So, first it was Goldstone. The next victim was Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist. He got kicked off one of the Human Rights Council follow-up committees on Cast Lead by the Israel lobby. Then it was William Schabas, a prominent fixture in the human rights community. He got ousted from the UN Human Rights Council investigation into Protective Edge by the Israel lobby. It was obvious that you’d better not have any skeletons in your closet if you go after Israel.

Human Rights Watch published five substantial reports after Cast Lead, some of them quite good—such as Rain of Fire, on the white phosphorus. But it said practically nothing on Protective Edge, even as that operation was by far the most destructive. The human rights organisations, they just sat it out or, in the case of Amnesty, regressed to churning out apologetics. The UN Human Rights Council was an even bigger disaster. Mary McGowan Davis, this New York state judge who replaced Schabas, was a veritable horror story.

The only chink in Israel’s armour after Protective Edge was Breaking the Silence. Otherwise, Israel had intimidated everyone into passivity. There was nothing you could quote against the official Israeli—I know it’s called narrative, I call it propaganda. I couldn’t cite anything. Human rights organisations are still scrupulously correct in the collection of facts. Where all the distortion sets in is the legal interpretation of the facts. That’s where you see the hand of people like HRW’s Ken Roth. He used to—I don’t know if it’s true anymore—personally edit the HRW reports on Israel/Palestine—they were the only ones he personally edited—because that’s when you get into the law. You are allowed to describe ghastly things, but then in the legal section, maybe you can say that it was indiscriminate, maybe you can say that it was disproportionate, but the one thing you stay away from, is saying that an attack was deliberate, as in the deliberate targeting of civilians. So, in the Human Rights Council report, they’re describing over and over and over again deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, but you’ll never see that in the legal conclusion. That’s where Mary McGowan Davis entered the picture. She shamelessly whitewashed Israeli atrocities, just as HRW’s legal expert did back in 2006, in its reports on Israel’s use of cluster submunitions in south Lebanon.

Except for pointing up the discrepancy between the factual findings and the legal interpretations in the Human Rights Council and Amnesty reports, there wasn’t much I could say about Israeli atrocities during Protective Edge. There was no documentation from “neutral” human rights organisations that I could cite. I could quote Palestinian human rights organisations, which are, of course, reputable and reliable but, unfortunately and unfairly, they lack credibility among the broad public. The only thing I had left and what I constantly resorted to in a new book I’m writing on Gaza, was Breaking the Silence. It’s an unimpeachable source and its eyewitness testimonies demolished the official propaganda. If Israel can silence Breaking the Silence, if Israel can break Breaking the Silence, then the next time it’s just going to be Israel’s word against the Palestinians. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. I notice some “radical” Palestinians in the West have been given to disparaging Breaking the Silence. That’s unfathomable idiocy.

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