Rights groups condemn bid to quash Goldstone report

WASHINGTON (IPS) - International human rights groups have raised concern over a proposed non-binding resolution in the US House of Representatives which would call on the White House to oppose any future endorsement or consideration of Judge Richard Goldstone’s “Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.”

The Goldstone report, which detailed the laws-of-war violations by both sides during Israel’s attacks on Gaza from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, called for an independent committee of experts to examine how Israel and Hamas conduct domestic investigations into war crimes accusations.

The Israeli government and right-wing Christian and Jewish Zionist groups have vocally denounced the report as unfairly critical of the actions of the Israeli military and heavily biased in favor of Hamas.

“We agree with the Obama Administration, which has clearly said the biased and flawed Goldstone report is based on an anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council mandate, makes unacceptable recommendations and undermines the peace process,” said Josh Block, spokesperson for the right-leaning American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“In echoing the administration’s condemnation and calling for concrete action, Congress will be sending the strong message that the United States will not stand for turning the victim into the perpetrator,” Block went on to say.

The pending congressional resolution would “[call] on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the ‘Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’ in multilateral fora,” which stands in contrast to the State Department’s position on the report.

“We have serious concerns about the Goldstone report and its unbalanced focus on Israel and its sweeping conclusions of law,” a State Department spokesperson told IPS. “We believe the report should be handled within the UN Human Rights Council and we disagree with many of its recommendations including that it should be taken up by the UN Security Council.”

The resolution’s recommendation that the Obama administration oppose any consideration of the report in the “multilateral fora” struck human rights non-governmental organizations and church lobbies as a hypocritical approach to international law.

“They’re omitting to note that the Obama Administration is urging Israel to conduct an independent commission of inquiry,” Jim Fine, legislative secretary for foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker lobby group, told IPS.

“When you have Israeli cabinet members calling for an independent inquiry and members of [the US] Congress calling for no support at all then it does great harm to Israel and the values it espouses,” he continued.

“As currently drafted they must vote no,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Division director for Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “This sort of resolution sends a terrible message to the international community about American willingness to believe in international justice for all.”

“I hope that the members of Congress reject it. It’s funny because it accuses the Goldstone report of being one sided but it’s not. It’s this resolution that’s one-sided and biased,” Whitson said.

Americans for Peace Now (APN) issued a statement attacking the resolution as neither helpful to “Israel or the cause of peace.”

“However, there is much in the resolution that reflects legitimate and longstanding concerns about the UN Human Rights Council and its treatment of Israel,” read the APN statement.

“The recent US decision to join the council is a promising development. The resolution, too, accurately reflects serious and legitimate concerns about the original mandate of the Goldstone mission, as well as the implications the Goldstone report and its findings may have for Israel in the international arena,” it said.

Framing opposition to the resolution in a way that endorses elements of the proposed motion will be critical for human rights and Middle East peace groups who may believe that the resolution will pass a House vote and hope to influence a considerable rewrite of the resolution before its scheduled vote on Tuesday.

Since the resolution’s introduction by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, it has garnered 114 cosponsors.

J Street, the new “pro-peace, pro-Israel” advocacy group which just completed its inaugural conference on Wednesday supported the resolution but conditioned their support on amendments of the drafted motion.

“J Street supports passage of a resolution by the US Congress calling for the United States to oppose and work actively to defeat one-sided and biased action in the United Nations when it comes to Israel and the Goldstone Report,” said J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami.

Ben-Ami said that J Street would support a resolution that “[r]ecognises the history of bias against Israel at the United Nations, the flaws in the original mandate to the Goldstone Commission, and the dangers in pursuing resolutions in multilateral fora with a track record of anti-Israel bias.”

But Ben-Ami also requested that such a resolution acknowledge among other things: the suffering of the people of Gaza; “that the Commission’s original mandate was adjusted by Judge Goldstone himself and accepted by the Human Rights Council to include a focus on the conduct of both sides” and call on both, “Palestinians and Israelis to launch independent investigations into their conduct during Operation Cast Lead.”

South African Justice Richard Goldstone issued his own response to the proposed resolution, charging the resolution’s authors with making factually inaccurate accusations about his report and using misleading language.

Goldstone specifically took issue with the charge that his report denied Israel the right of self-defense.

“It is factually incorrect to state that the report denied Israel the right of self-defense. The report examined how that right was implemented by the standards of international law. What is commonly called jus ad bellum, the right to use military force was not considered to fall within our mandate. Israel’s right to use military force was not questioned,” said Goldstone.

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