Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Storm is Brewing

Israel is considering forming a panel to examine the quality of its investigations into alleged wrongdoing stemming out of last year's Gaza conduct.
Under Barak's proposal, which is acceptable to Netanyahu and to [IDF Chief of Staff Gabi] Ashkenazi, the committee would focus on two main issues: the quality of the investigations conducted by the IDF of incidents and of the decisions taken by the cabinet, the security cabinet and the IDF General Staff regarding the policy of the use of force in the operation. The committee will have to determine whether the internal investigations met the relevant international standards. On the civilian side it will ask whether there is a basis to the Goldstone report's claims - which are categorically rejected by Israeli officials - that the operation was planned in advance as a punitive campaign against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.

Hmm. Note that the panel is not meant to replace the aforementioned IDF probes, but to review them -- it does not have the authority to call operational commanders into testify. The problem I see is that all the questions being asked are the sorts that Israel can only give one answer to. Perhaps the committee might indict the decisions of the cabinet (anything to spite Tzipi Livni, after all). It also could revise doctrines regarding the use of force, which would be an interesting development. The IDF probes will likely be exonerated, as in all likelihood they did meet formal thresholds of fairness -- the question is whether they actually were dispassionate inquiries, or whether they had the trappings of neutral procedures but were really predetermined, and that's the sort of accusation I doubt a panel like this will make (possibly because it isn't true -- I don't mean to prejudge). The final question -- whether the operation was planned as a punitive campaign against the civilian population of Gaza -- will assuredly be answered "no".
The intention is to include on the panel Israeli jurists with international standing and perhaps also an international jurist. One name that has been mentioned in discussions is Prof. Alan M. Dershowitz.

Oh, now wouldn't that be a trip? I am conflicted about the selection of Professor Dershowitz, though not for the reasons one might expect. I don't think that a reputation for being pro-Israel is a disqualifier for impartial service on a judicial inquiry (see Pennsylvania v. Local Union 542, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, 388 F.Supp. 155 (1974) (Higginbotham, J., rejecting motion to recuse)). Professor Dershowitz has on plenty of occasions saw fit to criticize Israeli government policy; the objection to him is not his inability to admit critique of Israel, but his refusal to do so on the terms of the state's most harsh opponents. And while I suspect that Professor Dershowitz's presence on the panel would be used to discredit it as biased, I am willing to put my foot down in rejecting the notion that either "non-Jewish" or "anti-Israel" is a prerequisite (if not the definition) of non-biased. We all come from a perspective, Jewish or not, pro-Israel or not, and to label some perspectives "biased" and others invisible is just a replication of (in this case) anti-Semitic hierarchy.

No, my worry with Professor Dershowitz on this panel is that given the particular contours of the panel's mandate, I'm not sure he has the right outlook to insure fairness and justice are done. Dershowitz is primarily a defense attorney, and in effect the panel's review is to determine whether the IDF probes were too deferential to the defendants (Israeli soldiers, commanders, etc.). Even putting Israel out of the picture, this is an area where Dershowitz would likely begin from a position sympathetic to the status quo. Now, as per above, I don't think that being a defense attorney is disqualifying for service on such a panel -- it is important that someone concerned for the rights of the accused and attuned to both the possibility of rushing to judgment or using grunts as scapegoats to ward off international pressure be represented on such a panel. I just don't necessarily think that's the role that the international jurist needs to play; I suspect someone who fits that mold can be found from within Israel's own legal ranks.

Perhaps a better fit -- someone less polarizing, Jewish, notably non-hostile to Israel but with an unimpeachable commitment to human rights everywhere -- would be Irwin Cotler?

1 comment:

N. Friedman said...

It seems to me that the Israelis want to have it both ways: seem to support the International demand for an investigation (which would be an idiotic endeavor because it would be condemned, no matter what it finds) while supporting the integrity of their own internal review system (about which only Israelis really care).

This is all pretty foolish. The Israelis are not being judged on their morality. They are merely in the way of powerful political forces. In Europe, those forces want to use the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs the way that Europe used Arabs as a wedge into the dying Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century (i.e. as a means of finding common ground with Arabs at the expense of the Empire). The US, under Obama, perhaps wants to support Europeans on the view that appeasing European demands advances US interests in Europe.

It is a despicable show. The Israelis are fools to go half way and they would be bigger fools to accept all of the demands on them. They will be condemned no matter which way they turn.