Israeli liberals are often fond of pointing out that there is a lot more public criticism of their state’s violence at home than there is coming from the US. It is why when I first read David Landau (Haaretz Newspaper’s editor in chief from 2004-2008) New York Times attack on the Goldstone report, out rightly dismissing the report findings that the whole of Gaza and not just Hamas was a target, I thought it was an out-of-touch, bizarrely postmodern attempt at dramatic irony.
During and following the war, Landau’s former paper regularly featured his old star columnist, Amira Hass’, blistering on the ground, detailed and graphic accounts of the systematic campaign of violence and destruction that Israel carried out against the Palestinians of Gaza. However in the Sept 19th edition of The Times Landau rejects the right of the report to come to the conclusions of one of his most internationally prominent journalists, instead asserting:
“Judge Goldstone’s real mandate was, or should have been, to bring Israel to confront this fundamental question, a question inherent in the waging of war by all civilized societies against irregular armed groups…. Does the enemy’s deployment in the heart of the civilian area shift the line between right and wrong, in morality and in law?”
However, the beyond parody seriousness of the editor in chief of Israel’s newspaper of record had become evident by his conclusions. “Judge Goldstone has thwarted any such honest debate — within Israel or concerning Israel. His fundamental premise, that the Israelis went after civilians, shut down the argument before it began,” he writes.
“This is regrettable, for the report could have stirred the conscience of the nation. Many Israelis were dismayed at the war’s casualty figures, at the disparity between the dozen deaths on the Israeli side and the thousand-plus deaths, many of them of noncombatants, in Gaza,” continues Landau putting up a smokescreen to the reality of the Israeli publics’ reaction to the war.
Covering the war on Gaza and its fallout from Israel’s 1948 borders and the West Bank, I witnessed a markedly different Israel and Jewish Israeli public than the one Landau presents. Despite Landau’s assertion of Israeli society’s moral trepidations about the cost of the war on the Palestinians, polls printed in Israel at the time showed 96 percent of Israeli Jews supporting the war. It has been widely acknowledged in Israel that the Gaza war was launched as a campaign ploy by the governing coalition parties ahead of the 2009 elections, all the while Zionist parties popularity was built on slogans about who could deliver the most devastating blow.
On the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem a visceral anti-Palestinian Jewish nationalism backed a crackdown of state repression against Palestinian citizens of Israel, Jerusalemite Palestinians and the few Israeli Jews that came out against the war. While the Israeli police rounded up 800 Palestinian Israeli’s and 150 Jerusalemite Palestinians in anti war demonstrations and often denied them bail, state prosecutors based their legal arguments on claims that Palestinian demonstrations hurt the national moral during war times. The popular view in Israel about Palestinians demonstrating against the war was summed up in the common assertion “send the Arabs to Gaza.”
The nature of the Israeli attitude towards the Gaza war hit me most clearly when covering Tel Aviv’s main anti-war demonstration, lead by Palestinian leftists from Israel’s socialist party, Hadash. Walking through downtown Tel Aviv in a demonstration of several thousand (which included what seemed to be all of Israel’s Jewish left) the streets were lined with thousands of nationalist Israeli’s chanting “lets fuck up Gaza” and attempting to attack Palestinians and the leftist Jews in the crowd. Just a few days before, in Tel Aviv’s Jewish, working class neighborhood of Shapira, a small sidewalk picket against the Gaza attack by a few local residents resulted in the participants being egged and told to go to Gaza. The police then moved the handful of demonstrators off the streets to keep public tranquility.
Disguised as an argument for nuanced engagement with Israel’s public over the Gaza war, the essence of Landau’s argument is an outright misrepresentation of Israeli society’s reaction to the war in order to bestow moral authority and make the war legitimate. Constructing the image of a humane moral dilemma faced by Israel and appealing to judge it as other Western democracies, Landau seeks to change the reality of the naked violence of occupation against an oppressed people and Palestinian resistance to it. It is perhaps the clearest way that Israel’s liberal establishment has sought to evade their moral qualms as an occupier society, instead posturing as an ethical stamp of authority on their states’ violence against a manipulative conception an evil, faceless, enemy.
Jesse Rosenfeld is a freelance journalist based in Israel and the Occupied Territories since 2007. Currently based in Jaffa he is part of The Daily Nuisance Productions, soon to be releasing the documentary “Inside Israel’s terror” and launching the daily news and analysis site, thedailynuisance.com.