Shlomo Avineri
Haaretz (Opinion)
April 6, 2011 - 12:00am

Even after Richard Goldstone retracted his statement that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in Gaza, the diplomatic and moral damage to Israel caused by the Goldstone report will not disappear, just as the Supreme Court's acquittal of Israel Kastner back in the 1950s didn't erase the terrible things said by Judge Benjamin Halevy in the district court ruling. ("He sold his soul to the devil." ) That's the power of metaphors as opposed to dry facts. As far as Israel is concerned, the lesson is simple: It shouldn't boycott international forums, even if they are clearly biased against it.

The decision not to appear before the Goldstone Commission was made after a recommendation by the Foreign Ministry. One can understand the motives, but the decision was basically mistaken. The commission's mandate was obviously biased, and the UN Human Rights Council had already proved its hostility to Israel. But the ministry's legal experts ignored the fact that contacts with the United Nations are not a legal matter in which one is allowed to expect an objective judge. Rather, they are political and public. By recommending a boycott of the commission, the ministry's lawyers caused Israel tremendous damage.

Israel should have appeared before the commission and kept it busy for weeks by calling witnesses from communities in the south of the country, who would have explained the meaning of living for years in the shadow of Qassam rockets. It should have shown films and photographs of every home that was hit, and displayed the remains of the shells and missiles that were fired into the heart of a civilian population.

Above all - and this is an aspect the diligent legal experts and experienced PR experts missed entirely - those witnesses and testimonies should have been presented not only before the commission, but before the international media that flocked to Geneva. Even before the Goldstone Commission issued its decision, for days television viewers the world over would have seen the Israelis - all of them civilians, including the Shalit family - who were the deliberate targets of Hamas terrorism.

That should have been accompanied by the appearance of a senior Israeli official who was not only familiar with the facts but also spoke fluent English and knew how to speak to the nations of the world. Because the court in Geneva was not the commission but the international television audience, into whose consciousness we should have etched the information about Hamas terror. In the absence of all that, the world saw only the photographs provided by the Palestinians and their supporters.

There is no way of knowing if that approach would have changed the Goldstone Commission's decisions, but the media and public awareness would have been filled with testimonies and pictures presenting Israel's case.

Israel made that mistake earlier when it didn't appear before the International Court of Justice in The Hague regarding the security fence. Here too it left the arena to the Arab side. Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak should have been sent to The Hague to present the Israeli Supreme Court's balanced and responsible view, which recognized Israel's right to proportionate self-defense. In light of these two failures we can only long for the days when Israel's representative at the United Nations, Chaim Herzog, tore to shreds in the General Assembly the decision equating Zionism with racism. These are things that are etched in the international collective memory. There have been boycotts in the past against UN institutions, but by the Arabs. The Palestinians boycotted the UN Special Committee on Palestine that recommended to the General Assembly the partition of British Mandatory Palestine. Usually the side that boycotts is also the side that loses. We can hope that this lesson will be learned: The United Nations and its institutions are political rather than legal bodies, and we must not give up the political struggle.


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