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After Gaza slaughter, Obama officials met with Israeli generals to counter ‘poisonous’ Goldstone Report and get ‘Israeli story out’

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This is the tenth anniversary of “Cast Lead,” Israel’s three-week-long onslaught on Gaza that took nearly 1,400 lives, 318 of them children, and that as much as anything helped shift the American view of the conflict and caused progressives to side with Palestinians.

During those three weeks of horrifying images, President-elect Obama had nothing critical to say and Israel did him a favor in return: it ended the bombing/invasion two days before he was inaugurated.

Then in September 2009 the UN Human Rights Council issued a bombshell of its own, the Goldstone Report, which documented war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the campaign, chiefly the Israeli pattern of deliberately striking civilian targets, including schools, mosques, homes, and a flour mill and a chicken farm.

The Obama administration worked to stymie the report at international bodies, and in the end the report went nowhere (defused by its author, Judge Richard Goldstone, who under huge pressure from his own community retracted the allegation that civilians were intentionally targeted).

The greatest impact the Goldstone report had was its first impression, on international opinion. Now a State Department cable has been leaked in which US diplomatic officials are shown to have met with seven Israeli generals over two days in January 2010 to discuss ways to counter the “poisonous” Goldstone Report.

The cable shows how closely Obama officials were working with alleged war criminals to counter Israel’s bad press and help Israel “tell its story” and show the “lessons learned” from the massacre.

“It shows how vulnerable Israel can be to public opinion,” Norman Finkelstein, the author of Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom, writes to me. “It’s not been noticed that Israel ceased using white phosphorus after Cast Lead because of the bad p.r… They do worry about public opinion. That’s why I’m skeptical when people say, ‘Israel can do whatever it wants.’ Not true.”

Finkelstein also notes the role of an Obama aide as a general-whisperer: Michael Posner, then assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor.

“[I]t’s telling that instead of advocating the indictment of Israel for its war crimes, as one might expect of the founder and president of Lawyers Committee for Human Rights [later Human Rights First], Posner counsels Israel how to evade prosecution.”

Indeed, throughout the cable, Israeli generals admit that mistakes were made and promise that there will be consequences. The American officials urge the Israelis to do independent investigations so as to salvage the country’s reputation. But there’s been nothing to show for that. Israel indicted three soldiers in connection with the massacre, and the longest sentence was for a soldier who stole a Palestinian’s credit card.

The Goldstone Report was in the news for two full years. And this meeting was as much of an accounting as the top Israeli brass ever got: discussions with a handful of American State Department officials who were concerned about the report’s conclusions, including Posner who had met with Goldstone. That was all. And they got off the hook!

Here are some excerpts from the cable, which was leaked by Wikileaks

It begins by saying that Posner and the US ambassador, James Cunningham, met with seven Israeli generals (Chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Yoav Galant, Amir Eschel, Avishai Mandelblit, Yossi Heymann, Ido Yuval, and Yuval Halamish, a former general now heading the “Goldstone committee” for the army) and the Israelis promised there was going to be accountability!

Posner’s interlocutors agreed that mistakes had been made at times by Israeli soldiers and reported that, although it was too early in the investigatory process to draw firm conclusions, that internal investigations would likely result in accountability for some soldiers involved — either criminal prosecutions or disciplinary action.

Posner was very sympathetic:

Posner stressed the purpose of his visit was to “listen and learn” from Israeli interlocutors, and to confer about how the Government of Israel could most effectively tell its “story” regarding Operation Cast Lead to the international community… [A]ddressing broader doctrinal issues and compilation of lessons learned could help change the debate internationally.

The Israeli generals insisted that they had not targeted civilians, but it was asymmetric warfare in which terrorists worked in civilian settings. One general gave Posner a lesson in terrorism.

Eshel noted that the IDF was “chasing the worst terrorists on the face of the earth,” but in many cases could not act against them due to the presence of civilians.

One of the headings in the cable is, “Getting the Israeli Story Out.”

James Cunningham, former ambassador to Israel. Now at the Atlantic Council.

A/S [Assistant Secretary] Posner asked how the GOI planned to convey the investigation results to a larger audience…. [W]hile the Goldstone Report was a fundamentally flawed report, it had a certain credibility internationally. He asked … about a broader review by a prominent Israeli group apart from the IDF to validate its investigations. Ambassador Cunningham said the objective was not to appease the international community, but to dilute the poisonous effects of the Goldstone Report. He noted a great deal of skepticism among many in the international community regarding the Goldstone Report, but with no credible alternative narrative, the Goldstone allegations would be the focus of deliberations. The Ambassador stressed the importance of getting the word out employing a variety of means — perhaps YouTube or other outlets afforded the opportunity to help re-tell the story.

But the world wasn’t really listening.

Ashkenazi said the GOI [Gov’t of Israel] was “under attack” by international media.

The officials discussed several atrocities, including the targeting of a house where a large number of members of the al-Samouni family had taken refuge. Twenty-one were killed. Mandelblit was the chief investigator for the Israeli army as head of the Military Advocate General (MAG) Corps.

Mandelblit said the case will be referred to LTG Ashkenazi following the investigation’s completion, that the IDF would study this case carefully from an operational standpoint for
“lessons learned” and that he had reached no conclusions as yet about individual accountability.

That investigation two years later concluded that the attack was an innocent mistake. B’Tselem, the human rights group, condemned the finding, saying it was never a “serious” investigation and it had been undertaken too late. “The investigations were all opened at a very late stage – the first, to B’Tselem knowledge, in October 2009, a full ten months after the operation had ended.” I.e., after the Goldstone Report came out and embarrassed Israel.

Israel Air Force Commander Major General Ido Nehushtan went further than the other generals in his meeting with Posner, saying that the air force took precautions not to hurt civilians that the army did not.

Nehushtan admitted, however, that IDF artillery and tank units did not follow the same procedures and caused most of the Palestinian civilian casualties in Cast Lead…

The Israeli generals also emphasized what was widely reported at the time: that the Israeli public was all for the Gaza massacre. Notice the generals don’t say what the news reports do say (here in 2012,  and in 2014) that it’s Israeli Jews who are so overwhelmingly in support.

MG Eshel also was skeptical that the Israeli public would understand the purpose behind an outside review process. He noted that there was broad public acceptance in convening committees following controversial military operations such as the Yom Kippur War or the Second Lebanon War. But Operation Cast Lead enjoyed the overwhelming support of the Israeli public — “no one will understand” why an independent committee would be convened following Cast Lead, he said.

Here is the pressure that the U.S. applied:

A/S Posner accepted the argument that a military should be responsible for its own investigations and discipline. He reiterated, however, the utility of telling Israel’s story from an outside point of view — independent voices to deliver the message in a way that is credible….

A/S Posner asked how the IDF would capture “lessons learned,” in response to which most of his IDF interlocutors listed a number of operational decisions they would make differently in the next conflict…

The Israelis do say that bad press about an illegal weapon, white phosphorus, burning civilians had hit home. Bad press caused “Strategic damage.”

General Galant volunteered that use of white phosphorus was no longer politically tenable in Gaza for any purpose, even though it remained a legal munition, because of the strategic
damage to Israel that would result from news footage showing civilian casualties or damage to civilian structures.

(Galant is now a Netanyahu cabinet minister averring that it’s all Jewish land from the river to the sea…)

Again, Norman Finkelstein states that the white phosphorus concession is an important point.

The white phosphorus point has been completely ignored. All the recovered white phosphorus shells from Cast Lead came from the US…. I am quite sure that after Cast Lead the US told Israel to cut the white phosphorus… and of course they did. It is my opinion that the various human rights reports (e.g., HRW’s Rain of Fire) caused people like Posner to intervene and Israel obediently suspended use of it, permanently.

Finkelstein goes on:

Michael Posner was the US Ass’t Secretary for Democracy in the Obama administration. He founded and was the first President of Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (Except in Palestine). In other words, your run-of-the-mill hack… He denounced the Goldstone report (“deeply flawed” see p. 98 of my Gaza book). The claim that the Israeli air force showed restraint during Cast Lead is laughable, as I’m sure you know.

In general it’s telling that instead of advocating the indictment of Israel for its war crimes, as one might expect of the founder and president of Lawyers for Human Rights, Posner counsels Israel how to evade prosecution. He performs the same function vis-a-vis Israel as Alan Dershowitz, another famed human rights advocate, performs vis-a-vis Jeffrey Epstein…

They do worry about public opinion…. The trick is, to pinpoint [Israel’s] vulnerabilities; the chinks in its armor. My guess is, right now Israel doesn’t want an ICC indictment. Like the Goldstone report, such an indictment would hamper its ability to unleash another massacre. That’s why it’s so important to lift the curtain shrouding the civil war that has engulfed the ICC over indicting Israel. It’s really quite unprecedented. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda keeps declaring the first of two cases (on the Mavi Mari) a done deal, but other bodies in the ICC keep saying, “Oh no it’s not.”

Let me emphasize that there was no accountability: the Israelis did nothing under Posner’s gentle suasion. B’Tselem reported five years on that “Israeli authorities have proven they cannot investigate suspected violations of international humanitarian law by Israel in the Gaza Strip” and said there had been three indictments in all for Cast Lead.

[A]fter massive harm to the civilian population, more than 300 minors killed, tens of thousands of people left homeless – and grave suspicions that these actions were the result of unlawful orders approved by the MAG [Mandelblit’s Military Advocate General] Corps and the attorney general – the military conducted hundreds of operational inquiries and launched dozens of MPIU [Military Police Investigation Unit] investigations, but the harshest sentence given was for credit card theft.

So in 2014 Israel undertook Operation Protective Edge, and killed 2200 in Gaza over 51 days — 500 of them children.

Posner is now a professor of ethics and finance at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Cunningham is now a fellow at the Atlantic Council with an expertise in Israel, democracy development, and terrorism. They are hardly alone as Obama officials who pooh-poohed the Goldstone Report. Hillary Clinton did so as secretary of state, Samantha Power as ambassador to the United Nations, and Suzanne Nossel, a State Department human rights official. In fairness, this is a story about the power of the Israel lobby; and Power had to get the absurd rabbi Shmuley Boteach as her sherpa to the lobby in order to gain her U.N. job; and Nossel is now the head of PEN America and has lately taken a worthy action re Israeli human rights abuses.

 

 

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About Philip Weiss

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11 Responses

  1. Boomer
    Boomer
    January 14, 2019, 2:40 pm

    Ah yes, it’s so hard for Israel to get its story out in the biased U.S. media, as was shown by the study recently reported here:

    https://mondoweiss.net/2019/01/newspapers-palestinians-headlines/

  2. Citizen
    Citizen
    January 14, 2019, 3:30 pm

    Not to mention on macro-related matters, the US Congress has never conditioned an investigation of the USS Liberty incident, as was mandated by past custom in such incidents. The quickie Naval investigation was a joke, just like the investigation by Israel of what was reported in the Goldstone document was a joke.

    So the hardest sentence handed down was for an IDF soldier’s theft of a credit card. I’d like to hear what the other two guys on the Goldstone Commission have to say about Goldstone’s switcheroo.

  3. Misterioso
    Misterioso
    January 15, 2019, 8:52 am

    Must read. Avi Shlaim nails it:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/07/ten-years-first-war-gaza-operation-cast-lead-israel-brute-force

    “Ten years after the first war on Gaza, Israel still plans endless brute force” by Avi Shlaim, The Guardian, January 7/19

    “Operation Cast Lead killed 1,417 people. Chillingly, the generals call their repeated bombardments ‘mowing the lawn.’”

    “This month marks the 10th anniversary of the first major military assault on the 2 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. After its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Israel turned the area into the biggest open-door prison on Earth. The two hallmarks of Israel’s treatment of Gaza since then have been mendacity and the utmost brutality towards civilians.

    “On 27 December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, pounding the densely populated strip from the air, sea and land for 22 days. It was not a war or even ‘asymmetric warfare’ but a one-sided massacre. Israel had 13 dead; the Gazans had 1,417 dead, including 313 children, and more than 5,500 wounded. According to one estimate 83% of the casualties were civilians. Israel claimed to be acting in self-defence, protecting its civilians against Hamas rocket attacks. The evidence, however, points to a deliberate and punitive war of aggression. Israel had a diplomatic alternative, but it chose to ignore it and to resort to brute military force.

    “In June 2008 Egypt had brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that rules Gaza. The agreement called on both sides to cease hostilities and required Israel to gradually ease the illegal blockade it had imposed on the Gaza Strip in June 2007. This ceasefire worked remarkably well – until Israel violated it by a raid on 4 November in which six Hamas fighters were killed. The monthly average of rockets fired from Gaza on Israel fell from 179 in the first half of 2008 to three between June and October.

    “The story of the missed opportunity to avoid war was told to me by Robert Pastor, a professor of political science at the American University in Washington DC and a senior adviser on conflict resolution in the Middle East at the Carter Center NGO. Here is what Pastor told me over the phone and later confirmed in an email to Dr Mary Elizabeth King, another close associate of President Carter, on 8 December 2013, a month before Pastor’s death.

    “Pastor met Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas politburo chief, in Damascus in December 2008. Mashaal handed him a written proposal on how to restore the ceasefire. In effect, it was a proposal to renew the June 2008 ceasefire agreement on the original terms. Pastor then travelled to Tel Aviv and met Major General (Ret) Amos Gilad, head of the defence ministry’s political affairs bureau. Gilad promised that he would communicate the proposal directly to defence minister Ehud Barak, and expected to have an answer either that evening or the following day. The next day, Pastor phoned Gilad’s office three times and got no response. Shortly afterwards, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead.

    “In the email he dictated to his son on his deathbed, Pastor authorised me to publicise this story and to attribute it to him because ‘it’s an important moment in history that Israel needs to accept because Israel had an alternative to war in December 2008.’ It was indeed a critical moment and it conveyed a clear message: if Israel’s real purpose was to protect its civilians, all it needed to do was to follow Hamas’s example by observing the ceasefire.

    “Israel’s conduct during the first Gaza war was placed under an uncompromising lens by the UN Human Rights Council’s independent fact-finding mission headed by Richard Goldstone, the distinguished South African judge who happened to be both a Jew and a Zionist. Goldstone and his team found that both Hamas and the Israel Defence Forces had committed violations of the laws of war by deliberately harming civilians. The IDF received more severe strictures than Hamas on account of the bigger scale and seriousness of its violations.

    “The Goldstone team investigated 36 incidents involving the IDF. It found 11 incidents in which Israeli soldiers launched direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcomes; seven where civilians were shot leaving their homes waving white flags; a ‘direct and intentional’ attack on a hospital; numerous incidents where ambulances were prevented from attending to the severely injured; and nine attacks on civilian infrastructure with no military significance, such as flour mills, sewage works, and water wells – all part of a campaign to deprive civilians of basic necessities. In the words of the report, much of this extensive damage was ‘not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.’

    “In conclusion, the 575-page report noted that while the Israeli government sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of the right to self-defence, ‘the Mission itself considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.’ Under the circumstances ‘the Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever-increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.’

    “The claim that the operation was designed to ‘terrorise a civilian population’ needs underlining. Terrorism is the use of force against civilians for political purposes. By this definition Operation Cast Lead was an act of state terrorism. The political aim was to force the population to repudiate Hamas, which had won a clear majority in the elections of January 2006.

    “Operation Cast Lead is emblematic of everything that is wrong with Israel’s approach to Gaza. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political conflict to which there is no military solution. Yet Israel persists in shunning diplomacy and relying on brute military force – and not as a last resort but as a first resort. Force is the default setting. And there is a popular Israeli saying that goes with it: ‘If force doesn’t work, use more force!’

    “Operation Cast Lead was just the first in a series of Israeli mini-wars on Gaza. It was followed by Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. The fancy names given to these operations were fraudulent, dressing up offensive attacks on defenceless civilians and civilian infrastructure in the sanctimonious language of self-defence. They are typical examples of Orwellian double-speak. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called the Israeli attack on 1 August 2014 on Rafah, in which a large number of civilians sheltering in UN schools were killed, ‘a moral outrage and a criminal act.’ This description applies equally to Israel’s entire policy of waging war on the inmates of the Gaza prison.

    “Israeli generals talk about their recurrent military incursions into Gaza as ‘mowing the lawn.’ This operative metaphor implies a task that has to be performed regularly and mechanically and without end. It also alludes to the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians and the inflicting of damage on civilian infrastructure that takes several years to repair.

    “’Mowing the lawn’ is a chilling euphemism but it provides a clue as to the deeper purpose behind Israel’s steadfast shunning of diplomacy and repeated resort to brute military force in response to all manifestations of lawful resistance and peaceful protest on its southern border. Under this grim rubric, there can be no lasting political solution: the next war is always just a matter of time.
    ______________________________________________________________________________
    Avi Shlaim is an emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford and the author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.

  4. CigarGod
    CigarGod
    January 15, 2019, 9:42 am

    We certainly need practice seeing what isn’t there.

  5. oldgeezer
    oldgeezer
    January 15, 2019, 10:32 am

    The problem with the Israeli story is that it aways boils down to a story. A fictional one.
    It amuses me that anyone listens seriously to the utterings of a state which has spent it’s entire existance violating IL, IHL, GC, UN Charter, UNSC resolutions, failing to fulfill promises, violating the sovereign rights of every state in the region, and on and on.

    Israel is the pure definition of a rogue state and should be treated as the pariah it is.

  6. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    Maximus Decimus Meridius
    January 15, 2019, 10:51 am

    It strikes me as a great irony that Obama – whom the Israelis despised – was actually very pro-Israel. He never uttered a word of substantive criticism over any of Israel’s wars or massacres, and rushed to supply them with millions of taxpayers’ $ for their silly Iron Sieve when they started panicking. Not to mention that he was happy to fund the ‘rebels’ next door in Syria, which of course the Israelis were very happy about. The only thing he did which was against Israel’s interests was the Iran deal, but of course for Israel, nobody can ever do enough, so this was sufficient to earn their hatred.

    But they thought they’d hit the jackpot with Trump. And he did indeed withdraw the USA from the Iran deal, though that may have had more to do with his wanting to unravel Obama’s legacy than out of any real concern for Israel. As for moving the embassy, again this may have more to do with Trump’s wish to show his disdain for the world order than anything else. Also, as I’ve said before in practical terms it doesn’t help Israel and may in the long-term even harm it.

    And now he’s gone and withdrawn troops from Syria! At first I thought he and the Israelis must have reached some sort of backroom deal over it, but it appears not. The Israelis seem genuinely shocked, but wouldn’t dare to say so publically. Then there were those Twitter hint about ‘countries that aren’t grateful for anything.” Who did he mean, I wonder?

    So I guess the message is: Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

    • echinococcus
      echinococcus
      January 15, 2019, 2:18 pm

      “It strikes me as a great irony that Obama – whom the Israelis despised – was actually very pro-Israel.”

      Of course he was. In fact, he has been the president whose administration has been most unreservedly complicit with the Zionists in their crimes against humanity. Even Bush the Brat, who started the series of major wars under Zionist orders, managed to at least pretend opposing the post-67 “settlement”. Trump, so far, hasn’t given them as much as the Obama administration either, even with all his servility.

      At this point, the illogical, visceral and downright violent humiliation and pettiness that Obama had to endure from his Zionist masters gets one wondering: we know that Uncle Tom is always repaid with the back of the hand; could it be that Zionist behavior toward Obama was due more to elemental Zionist racism than to policy?

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        January 16, 2019, 11:44 am

        Discuss.

  7. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    January 15, 2019, 3:15 pm

    “Now a State Department cable has been leaked in which US diplomatic officials are shown to have met with seven Israeli generals over two days in January 2010 to discuss ways to counter the “poisonous” Goldstone Report.”

    Horrific and shameful.

    We certainly have not ever heard MSNBC’s Kristen Welker or any other reporter shout out to Obama or any other U.S. President “Mr. President are you working for Israel?” Are you an agent or have you been compromised?

    Decades of shameful compromises for Israel.

  8. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    January 15, 2019, 3:30 pm

    The report is a must read.
    PDF]
    Fact-Finding Mission – OHCHR

    https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/12session/A-HRC-12-48.pdf

  9. CitizenC
    CitizenC
    January 18, 2019, 11:33 am

    Brandeis Univ, for its part, put Goldstone on trial, to send messages to the gentiles, to the Jews, and to Goldstone. I attended, with no idea of writing something, but was so appalled I felt I had to

    Justice Goldstone at Brandeis
    https://questionofpalestine.net/2011/06/19/justice-goldstone-at-brandeis/

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