David Landau’s Criticism of Goldstone: Even the Self-Absorbed See a Problem

Even hyper-self-critic David Landau, whose astonishingly self-destructiive advice to Condaleeza Rice, I’ve discussed before, finds Goldstone unpalatable. And yet, he remains firmly inside his moral narcissism, obsessing over the four-dimensional Israeli soul, implicitly treating Gentiles as three-dimensional bit players, and the Palestinians as two dimensional cardboard figures whose moral angency does not even exist.

Even for Goldstone, getting criticized by someone like Landau has to hurt. From fashlah to fadihah.

The Gaza Report’s Wasted Opportunity
Published: September 19, 2009

ISRAEL intentionally went after civilians in Gaza — and wrapped its intention in lies.
That chilling — and misguided — accusation is the key conclusion of the United Nations investigation, led by Richard Goldstone, into the three-week war last winter. “While the Israeli government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercises of its right to self-defense,” the report said, “the mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.”

The report has produced a storm of outraged rejection in Israel. Politicians fulminate about double standards and anti-Semitism. Judge Goldstone, an eminent South African jurist and a Jew, is widely excoriated as an enemy of his people.

The report stunned even seasoned Israeli diplomats who expected no quarter from an inquiry set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which they believe to be deeply biased against Israel. They expected the military operation to be condemned as grossly disproportionate. They expected Israel to be lambasted for not taking sufficient care to avoid civilian casualties. But they never imagined that the report would accuse the Jewish state of intentionally aiming at civilians.

Israelis believe that their army did not deliberately kill the hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including children, who died during “Operation Cast Lead.” They believe, therefore, that Israel is not culpable, morally or criminally, for these civilian deaths, which were collateral to the true aim of the operation — killing Hamas gunmen.

It is, some would argue, a form of self-deception.

When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?

Note that we have yet to even reach the Palestinian starting point — target civilians deliberately… or, in short, terrorism. This simple observation, not on Landau’s radar screen because he doesn’t really think about Palestinians as human beings (i.e., moral agents), but only as victims (i.e., as innocent creatures), will become especially important in noting how the Goldstone Commission used the “T” word only to refer to Israel and never to refer to Hamas.

But that is the point — and it should have been the focus of the investigation. 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.

“…that attack the civilized society’s civilians from within their own civilian population, making non-retaliation a recipe for further aggression and retaliation an excruciating moral dilemma.”

Are widespread civilian casualties inevitable when a modern army pounds terrorist targets in a heavily populated area with purportedly smart ordnance?

That, of course, depends on your definition of “widespread.” For the Sri Lankans, and their allies in the UNHRC, which commissioned Goldstone’s investigation, 20,000 civilians were a fair price to pay in order to wipe out the Tamil Tigers. Even by Palestinian figures — which are undoubtedly exaggerated — the Sri Lankan operation has “widespread” civilian casulties of an order of over 20 times the magnitude of Palestinian civilians.

Are they acceptable? Does the enemy’s deployment in the heart of the civilian area shift the line between right and wrong, in morality and in law?

Duh, yes. That’s the whole point; and according to the Geneva Convention, the civilian deaths are the fault of the military that hides among the civilians. The case for responsibility to the latter is further sharpened when the civilians among which the enemy army has hidden has voted in “democratic elections” for that army. But again, Landau poses the question as if it were answerable in the negative — “No, the enemy’s deployment does not shift the line [and allow attacks with civilian casualties].” For him, Hamas’ culpability does not even enter into the equation.

These were precisely the questions that Israeli politicians and generals wrestled with in Gaza, as others do today in Afghanistan.

Because the generals and politicians in Israel and the US live by principles that value human life even the lives of the enemy, and have free MSNM to keep them honest. They are, to a significant extent, self-policing, even when it harms them tactically (e.g., Abu Graibh).

It is possible, and certainly arguable, that the Israeli policymakers, or individual Israeli field commanders in isolated instances, pushed the line out too far.

But 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.

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.

Many Israelis were profoundly troubled by this arithmetic even though they supported Israel’s resort to arms in the face of incessant violation of their sovereign border by Hamas’s rain of rockets.

Note three things:

  • 1) the “many” Israelis represent, by and large, the amazing shrinking Israeli left where Landau hangs out; many more Israelis felt it was an unfortunate but necessary move.
  • 2) they were profoundly troubled by the numbers, which are themselves, figments of PCHR operatives’ imaginations channeled by NGOs and MSNM. Would they have been as troubled had the figures come — as they plausibly may — with a 3:1 combatant/civilian casualty rate, the best by far in the history of urban warfare?
  • because Israelis have such high standards, they are troubled by figures which still have them in the front ranks of armies fighting against terrorist armies hiding among civilians.

Landau can only gaze, obsessively, at his own navel, agonizing over every Palestinian casualty. He welcomes the UN commission’s harsh gaze, because it can “stir the conscience of the nation.” But he would be incapable of saying,

    Had the Commission investigated more carefully the behavior of Hamas, and they ways it deliberately sought to endanger its people, they might have stirred the conscience of the Gazans, who voted for them despite (or because of) their open claims to want war with Israel, and of Hamas, who would stand before the court of world opinion, shamed for their victimization of their own people and their hypocritical accusations against Israelis.

Instead, it’s the four-dimensional Jew — couldn’t we have done better in sparing innocent lives?!? — vs the two-dimensional Palestinian — poor folks, they have no choice but to be genocidally vicious. Once again Israeli self-criticism contributes to a Western epistemological crisis.

Judge Goldstone could have contended that just as Israeli leaders themselves have frequently called off pinpoint assassinations of terrorists because civilians were in the line of fire, so too they should have refrained from bombing and shelling Hamas targets in Gaza when that bombing and shelling was bound to exact a large civilian toll.

And thereby published a roadmap for real terrorists, played right into the hands of people for whom such moral scruples are laughable. What’s the alternative here? Ask the UN to come and explain to Hamas how it’s not right to bomb Israeli cities?

By approaching the Gaza war, and his report, from this perspective, Judge Goldstone could have opened debate and prompted reflection in Israel. Instead, by accusing Israel — its government, its army, its ethos — of deliberately seeking out civilians, he has achieved the opposite effect.

David Landau was the editor in chief of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz from 2004 to 2008.

Damnit Goldstone, by being so ridiculously harsh, you’ve let Israel off the hook! Alas!

23 Responses to David Landau’s Criticism of Goldstone: Even the Self-Absorbed See a Problem

  1. nelson says:

    The point is:

    the so-called international community and its representatives won’t read Landau in these terms, that is, they won’t take his text as proof that the Goldstone report is so biased, so absolutely dishonest that even a hardcore leftist cannot help criticizing it (a little bit);

    on the contrary: they will see it as proof (as if one more were needed) of how vicious the Jews are, even those who play at being hardcore leftists;

    thus, his text won’t be taken seriously as a criticism of Goldstone’s, but rather as clear proof that, when push comes to shove, Jews are Jews, only Jews and nothing but Jews, that they always end up siding with their own, that they’re moved not by ethical but by ethnic considerations and motives;

    instead of Goldstone’s report, it’s Landau’s “betrayal” of the progressive cause, of the “fight for peace”, that will be taken as the real subject of discussions, it’s his leftist credentials that will be questioned and eventually denied (even by his Haaretz colleagues).

    There’s simply no way out: you cannot be both a Jew and right at the same time.

  2. Cynic says:


    I think Nelson has a point here because won’t read Landau in these terms
    corresponds nicely with the phraseology I think you used (forgive me if I erred) in a comment with regard to Goldstone’s NYT excuse in which you subtly called into question the intelligence of that readership.

  3. Eliyahu says:

    Nelson has a point. It is interesting that some Israelophobes today go after those Jews/Israelis with reputed pro-“peace” reputations, like Martin Buber.

    Saint Edward {“the Confessor”) Said made it a point to especially attack Buber in writing about his own childhood. This story is in Justus Wiener’s masterful expose of Said’s dishonesty [Commentary, 1999]. Buber, we know, belonged to the Brit Shalom group of mainly German-Jewish intellectuals in Israel [with former HaArets publisher Salman Schocken, etc] who called for a bi-national state with the Arabs, for limiting Jewish immigration into Israel, even when no country wanted Jewish refugees, etc. Said claimed that Buber and his family had moved into the abandoned home of the Said family in Jerusalem, in the Talbieh Quarter, after Said and family had been driven out in December 1947 approx. by Jews.

    Said and his family in fact did not regularly live in Jerusalem, although his father’s brother did [Said’s father had come to the USA before WW One and become a citizen of the USA and fought in the US army in WW I, settling in Egypt after WW I]. Said’s family lived in Egypt where he grew up in the lap of luxury. Said was only born in Jerusalem because his mother thought that the medical facilities here were better after the unfortunate birth experience of Edward’s older sibling in Egypt.

    Edward’s uncle built a 2-apartment house in Talbieh. One of the apartments was leased for a long term to Buber in the 1930s, and Buber made changes to the apt to suit his own needs. After Edward’s uncle died, the widow, Edward’s aunt by marriage, wanted Buber’s apt for herself and went to court to break the lease. She succeeded at this and Buber and his family were forced out before the Israeli War of Independence began at the end of November 1947, after the UN GA partition recommendation was approved by the GA.

    So, in order to prove that Buber moved into his family’s apartment, Said put forth several lies.
    1) that he and is family were living regularly in Jerusalem up to the start of the war.
    2) that Jewish forces drove little Eddie and his family out of their home in Talbieh, a house that actually belonged to Said’s uncle and his family]
    3) and that Buber had subsequently moved into the home of an Arab who had been driven out [i.e., the Said family], whereas in truth Said’s widowed aunt had forced Buber out of his home by breaking the lease in a British court.

    So it is quite reasonable to expect Landau, who considers himself a pacifist, friend of Arabs, etc, to be vilified for not being loyal enough to the Arab cause, etc. After all, if Buber can be vilified, why not Landau????

  4. oao says:

    nelson has an OBVIOUS point.

    these things are so routine and so stoopid that they have become boring. how many times can you digest such repetitive crap?

  5. E.G. says:

    Sorry oao,

    Sometimes what seems obvious to some is less for others. And even when it isn’t, it’s often useful to clearly state it.
    I’ve read more redundant and less valid points than Nelson’s.

  6. oao says:


    no, no. i should have been clearer: the last sentence did not refer to nelson’s comment, but to the article heading this thread.

  7. oao says:

    the one by landau.

  8. Cynic says:


    Pipe’s Peace Process or War Process? from your link above requires that the US do something positive; and that seems highly unlikely at the present time.

    Like all outsiders to the conflict, Americans face a stark choice: Endorse the Palestinian goal of eliminating Israel or endorse Israel’s goal of winning its neighbors’ acceptance.
    To state the choice makes clear that there is no choice — the first is barbaric, the second civilized. No decent person can endorse the Palestinians’ genocidal goal of eliminating their neighbor. Following every president since Harry S Truman, and every congressional resolution and vote since then, the U.S. government must stand with Israel in its drive to win acceptance.

    and given the facts to date it seems highly unlikely that such an about face will emerge.

    From 2003 when Syria entered the Iraq war with help for the insurgency American foreign policy faltered by not permitting a required quid pro quo.
    We all know the results.
    The US wouldn’t even stand with its own troops.

  9. Lianne says:

    Elder of Ziyon has a good discussio on the Maqadmah mosque

    Read the comments, includes the identity of Ibrahim al-Maqadmah after whom the mosque is named…

    (This connects with Halevy’s arguement)

  10. Lianne says:

    On the inability of people to make appropriate comparisons

  11. noah says:

    Re: EG’s WSJ article. My 2-copper

    I have problems with the WSJ Article. International lawyers are split as to whether pre-emptive warfare is part of Article 51. Those against the legality of pre-emptive warfare, “Restrictionists”, under the UN Charter focus on the language of Article 51, “armed attack occurs.” Meaning a state can’t attack till another stack attacks. “Counter restrictionists” focus on the “inherit right of self-defense” language in Article 51. Whether a pre-emptive action is part of an inherit self-defense in a post-UN Charter world is ambiguous at best, especially considering approved state action- the Cuban missile crisis comes to mind.

    Most international lawyers recognize exceptions to Article 51, situations that don’t quite fit the paradigm of 1945. A surgical operation to rescue captured nationals is one (Entebbe) as well as Humanitarian wars (Bosnia, Somalia).

  12. Michelle Schatzman says:

    Yagil Henkin’s article on the Adelson Institute web page is absolutely remarkable. This is one of the best class of arguments that I ever read. Thanks for pointing it out, Lianne.

  13. nelson says:

    It’s pretty difficult to prove it theoretically or conceptually, but I have no doubts left by now that anti-zionism IS the (main, strongest, most dangerous and insidious) contemporary for of anti-Semitism.

    Though it has become fashionable or even automatic to begin any discussion of anti-zionism by stating that not every criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic, it is high time not only to stop this defensive way of arguing, but also to goe over to the offensive, declaring clearly that ALL anti-zionism is anti-Semitism until convincing contrary proof is presented. It’s useless to give anti-zionists the benefice of doubt: theirs, not ours, is the burden of proof.

    Anyway, nobody should underestimate how clever anti-zionism is. It doesn’t only have deniability built within itself, but is has another quite important advantage, that is, it is a form of anti-Semitism that can recruit willing (or usefully idiotic) Jews. Deniability is one of the keys of its success and much of this deniability originates in the visible presence of quite a few Jews among its most fanatic followers.

    This is pertinent to the subject of this thread because of the trap anti-zionism sets for the Jews in general. Whatever a anti-zionist Jew thinks, whether he/she considers him/herself Jewish or not, his Jewishness is of the utmost importance since that’s what protects the non-Jewish anti-zionist from the accusation of anti-Semitism, taking the burden of proof off his/her shoulder.

    Thus, while he/she is an anti-zionist, a Jew goes on being considered a Jew, but a useful Jew who, for the time being, won’t be treated (openly) as such. On the other hand, whenever an anti-zionist Jew starts to suspect that there’s more to it than mere neutral criticism of a country’s policies, he becomes a bad Jew, and is dealt with in this way.

    Jews who want to “belong” tend to believe that they’re accepted in certain circles not because or in spite of being Jews and their consequent usefullness, but as thinking individuals, leftists, liberals, whatever. It’s only when they criticize or turn against the anti-zionists and their cause that they discover (if ever) how important their Jewishness had actually been all along.

    First they’re accepted as good Jews, then they’re expelled as bad Jews — but all time, probably without even knowing it, they were first and foremost Jews.

    That’s one of the things that are really brilliant about anti-zionism: it is a form of anti-Semitism that, unlike the earlier ones, has both tactics and strategy, allowing thus, at least for some time, the anti-Semites to manipulate (willing or stupid) Jews against each other.

  14. E.G. says:


    That’s very true. But just calling them anti-Semites is hardly helpful (responding to such “insults” enters the tactics).

  15. Eliyahu says:

    Anti-Zionism is the anti-imperialism of fools.

    The mass of anti-Zionists are manipulated and prejudice-laden, hate-ridden fools. But some very clever folks manipulate these fools, creating images, sentiments, even a false people, “the Palestinians,” a people that never existed in history. It seems that the notion of a “palestinian people” was invented by British psywar/cogwar experts back in the 1940s or 1950s. Moreover, a whole set of arguments to accompany this notion was also created, plus a set of rejoinders to criticism, such as “They smear all critics of Israel as anti-semites.” The approach is very clever, really.

  16. […] She’s talking about David Landau, famous for his “Oh Condi, it’s been my wet dream to tell you to rape Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians” remark, whose reflections on the Goldstone report I fisked here. […]

  17. […] flying pig, but someone from the Leftist Ha’aretz criticizing the Goldstone Report is already old news. Nobody knows yet when the next war will break out. Maybe in a decade, maybe in a year, or maybe […]

  18. […] David Landau’s Criticism of Goldstone Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict, Fisking, Goldstone Report, Most Valuable Idiot of the Day, Self-Criticism, Sri Lanka — Richard Landes @ 1:58 am — Print This Post Edit This […]

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