By Philip Weiss
Most theories of Richard Goldstone’s motivation are personal. They say that he buckled under pressure. But what if he didn’t buckle? I came of age hearing that the personal is political; and what if Goldstone voluntarily damaged his own reputation and issued his reconsideration out of a political ideal, his desire to save the Jewish state? (Sort of like Sidney Carton giving up his life in Tale of Two Cities for another faded principle….)
Let’s start by considering three facts:
1. Because it represents such a right turn from earlier statements he made, and contains such awkward unlawyerly language, and crude reference to the Itamar settlement killings, I and others have questioned whether Goldstone even wrote the reconsideration by himself. Well, there is one instance in the record of someone else allegedly writing something that went out under Goldstone’s name: In 2009 when he tried to sway Congress not to denounce his Report, Goldstone sent a letter to Congress that neocon sheets reported at the time was written by the hoary political operative Mort Halperin.
2. Halperin, who was born in 1938, as Goldstone was, is the vice chair of the liberal Zionist lobby, J Street.
3. When the Goldstone reconsideration was published on April 1, J Street promptly welcomed it, saying in so many words, the Goldstone Report was unbalanced and the two parties should now move to make a two-state solution.
Now let’s move past these facts to the obvious theory that sits just under the water.
The reason J Street celebrated the Goldstone reconsideration is that the organization has a realistically-desperate view of the Israel/Palestine situation. It believes that Israel is committing national suicide by failing to give up the occupied territories, and the only solution is that the U.S. must defy the rightwing Israel lobby and pressure Israel.
This view is shared by Mort Halperin. At the last J Street conference, he spoke ardently about the need to preserve a Jewish state and he also spoke with chilling knowledge about Who sits at the table in Washington. Halperin said that only three forces contend in policymaking circles for Obama’s will: 1, the ancient Israel lobby that won’t cough up the West Bank, 2, the American Realist State Department types who have no love for Israel and wouldn’t shed a tear if it vanished, and 3, the new kid on the block, J Street and its friends, “a very small group that believes and still believes… that a [two-state] settlement is in the security interest of the US and Israel and is attainable.”
So the game in Halperin’s view is to get more power to Group #3 so it can defeat Group #1 and thereby influence Obama to act. And what is power, but political victories, money.
I am theorizing that in order to aggrandize Group 3– the liberal Zionists and their friends who are trying to save the Jewish state by getting Obama to do something– Halperin pushed Goldstone to issue a reconsideration.
And lo, as soon as he did, J Street celebrated it. Doing an end-zone dance in Washington.
Let me fill this in. The Goldstone Report was in the road. As Norman Finkelstein emphasized to me, it was a giant human-rights victory that actually threatened consequences for Israel’s behavior. The reason Netanyahu said that Israel faced three threats, Hamas, Iranian nukes and Goldstone, isn’t because he was joking. He was dead serious.
And this view of Goldstone was shared by leftleaners too. It was reported that Goldstone was secretly aided by J Street, but his Report was never publicly touched by the group. Ruti Teitel, a liberal professor of transitional justice, said last year at the New School in so many words: Why is the U.N. pressing the Goldstone Report when they’re supposed to be pushing the two-state solution? This really gets in the way.
And now it is not in the way, or not in the way in the same way. Notice the way the State Department’s top legal adviser just last night at Yale said that Obama had a great victory in Goldstone’s recanting part of his report.
But now inside the Israel lobby and the Jewish establishment, J Street has taken credit for delivering Goldstone’s scalp. They may well deserve that credit. And this delivery, which was urgently sought by the most rightwing supporters of Israel, thereby increases J Street’s power and gives it greater clout in pushing its agenda with Barack Obama. J Street ceases to be the black sheep of the Israel lobby. No: it is a powerhouse. It can raise more money, and give Obama wiggleroom to finally pressure
Let me ride my hobbyhorse another minute. J Street has been marginalized by the status-quo Israel lobby for saying that Obama must pressure Israel. Obama has surely come to believe that pressuring Israel is “political suicide,” as Commentary warned him just a week back. So while there is plenty of evidence that Obama would like to be on the J street side, would like to oppose settlements, he has no political base inside the Jewish community with which to do so. Even such liberal democratic congressmen as Gary Ackerman have savaged J Street for applying such a remedy. They say that J Street is anti-Israel.
If you want to understand Obama’s quandary, remember that Barney Frank once said he privately opposes settlements, but he would only come out publicly against them if he could get prominent Jews in his district to publicly take the position too. I.e., even gutless Barney needs public Jewish pushback against the giant fundraisers like Steve Grossman who would go nuts.
But now J Street can claim to the wealthy older conservative Jews who constitute the Israel lobby that it is not anti-Israel because it delivered Goldstone. It can take a major victory, and thereby gain support inside the Israel lobby for its position, and then have a place to stand when it pressures Obama to pressure Israel.
That’s the game. And oh, Halperin has access. He interviewed the hack Dennis Ross in front of a J Street plenary.
I wonder what they’re talking about now.