Naomi Chazan summarily dropped as columnist by Jerusalem Post – because of Goldstone report?

In a spiraling controversy that centers on official Israeli opposition to the Goldstone report cataloging violations of international humanitarian law during the massive IDF offensive in Gaza last winter, Naomi Chazan has just been informed that her weekly columns will no longer be published by the Jerusalem Post.

Will Haaretz immediately make her an offer?

Chazan, an academic who formerly headed of the Truman Institute at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and also a former member of the Knesset (she served for a while as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset) for the Meretz party, has headed the New Israel Fund (NIF) — which, I think it would be fair to say, and as I recall once reading (though please correct me if I’m wrong) is a special local branch spun off by the massive U.S.-based philanthropic Ford Foundation.

It was Haaretz who reported her “firing”: according to an article published late on Thursday, “Chazan received an e-mail from Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz, informing her the newspaper would cease publishing her column … Horovitz declined to respond to questions from Haaretz on Thursday night”.  According to this Haaretz article, an organization called Im Tirtzu “claimed in a feature published in the Hebrew daily Maariv last Friday that it found that 92 percent of negative references to the IDF in the Goldstone report originating with Israeli sources came from organizations sponsored by NIF. The fund’s grantees include Adalah, Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din and the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights”.

Chazan has now become a victim of the mobilization by the Israeli government and its staunchest supporters against the Goldstone report — which published a lengthy description of violations of international humanitarian law that took place during the IDF Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter.  She told Haaretz that “Some organization’s only sin was signing a call to set up an independent committee of inquiry”.

She added that “As a politics professor, I know how to read reports. They concealed all the important data. They didn’t say, for instance, that many of the quotes come from IDF officers or even directly from Ehud Olmert. The whole thing seems, to put it mildly, methodologically poor and not worthy of comment. I imagine that the actual Goldstone researchers, in most cases, did not need to do anything more than go to any Israeli news site and all the information was there.” This Haaretz article is published here.

A blog posted on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website, here, wondered about the frenzied viciousness of the scene: “it’s become evident that the army is using some of the same NIF-funded evidence to examine itself as the Goldstone commission [n.b., the army has clearly said so — it said it was looking into complaints made by human rights organizations, and even from journalists] … What’s emerging — and may yet be articulated (or maybe has been articulated, I have yet to see it clearly) — is not that the evidence is bad, or manufactured, but that it was wrong to share it with Goldstone. Period”. This article also notes that ” ‘Goldstone’ has become a byword, in Israel, for ‘travesty’, and not without reason. The report includes some substantive charges, but makes its overall case — that Israel’s policy was to intentionally target civilians — on unconscionably flimsy grounds, including meaningless bluster from Israeli officials who were not involved in the war’s planning, and the bizarre claim that because of Israel’s development of precision weaponry, human error cannot be a factor”.

And for this, the article on the JTA blog argues, the Israel human rights organizations whose fact-gathering was used in the Goldstone report should nonetheless “slam” Goldstone and his report. Why? Because the report suggests that if there is no credible, independent investigation, the matter should go to the UN Security Council to hand over to the International Criminal Court.

This, the JTA article believes, is mere realpolitik, and not deeply-held conviction that international instances, and international law, are the way to go. The article concludes by saying that “Look, I understand — I think — why the NIF and some of its sponsored groups are reluctant to slam Goldstone. In politics, if you’re ignored, and relatively small, you seek a patron to make your case, and if the patron is corrupt, at least he has used corruption to accrue power. The UNHRC and Goldstone have Israel scared, goes this thinking, and changes are happening. I understand this thinking, but I also am repelled by it. Not just because it is in itself corrupt, but because I think it’s wrong … The most effective way to clear away corruption — in thought, in practice, in influence — is to clearly repudiate it”.

So, the argument is, if you don’t like the UN, or the Human Rights Council, or the Security Council, or the International Criminal Court, then you should ignore the evidence presented by the Israeli human rights groups, by journalists, and by the Goldstone report?

UPDATE: In another interesting related development, as Ma’an News Agency reported, “A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry dismissed de facto government expressions of remorse over civilian deaths as ‘misguided’, adding that Hamas used to ‘boast about suicide attacks against civilians’. The spokesman addressed Israel’s Army Radio on Saturday, responding to the document submitted to the UN earlier in the week by the de facto government. The report on progress into investigations of war crimes outlined by Justice Richard Goldstone’s mission said that Hamas ‘regrets any harm that may have befallen any Israeli civilian’.” So, only the Israeli military can defend itself by saying it had made unintentional human errors, but Palestinians can’t?
Ma’an noted that “According to Reuters, which obtained a copy of the de facto government report, the document … noted, Reuters said, that all projectile launches from Gaza were aimed at Israeli military targets and were defensive in nature … ‘It should be noted that the Palestinian resistance … is not an organised army that possesses developed technological weapons’, the report said. ‘It may target a military site or a tank position and their fire goes astray … and hit a civilian location, despite their efforts to avoid hurting civilians’.” Wouldn’t it be fair and true to say, however, that firing imprecise projectiles into unknown areas is gross irresponsibility, possibly amounting to a war crime, just as the same might be said about firing into crowded civilian areas?

Of course, the massive attacks (many very personal) on Judge Goldstone himself, and on others involved in the report, pre-date the current round of attacks on Chazan, on the New Israel Fund which she heads (and which, in recent years, has made a clear and publicly-stated decision to fund human rights activism in Israel as a means to effect change and help bring peace with the Palestinians), and on the human rights organizations funded by the NIF. The military expert on the Goldstone team, Irish Col. Desmond Travers, said in a recent interview that “The attacks on two of my colleagues have been really horrific and they have included death threats. They have also targeted family members”.

So far, there are no reports that either Chazan or the Israeli human rights activists have received death threats, although they have been targeted by McCarthy-era-style smears.

In another blow on Thursday, Chazan was dis-invited from a speaking engagement sponsored by the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) in Melbourne, Australia.  It was explained that both Chazan and the UPJ feared that “the [current] controversy would detract from fund-raising”, according to an article in The Australian.  However, the article also reported that “The President of the Zionist Council of Victoria, Danny Lamm, said his group was not involved in organising the visit but was asked to act as one of three co-sponsors for a public lecture. ‘We decided to withdraw our co-sponsorship because of Professor Chazan’s chairmanship of the New Israel Fund, which funds groups whose activities are inimical to the interests of both Israel and the world Zionist movement’ …He said that the Im Tirtzu report was ‘quite detailed in its analysis of the connection between NIF and those NGOs which produced unfounded allegations and fuelled the Goldstone report’.  He also said it was “ludicrous” for the NIF to argue an attack on freedom of speech …’NIF has plenty of opportunity to defend itself. It’s bordering on the ridiculous for a so-called human rights organisation to cry wolf as soon as it is criticised’.”  This story can be read in full here.

A day earlier (on Wednesday), the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee voted “to appoint a special subcommittee to inquire into the matter of contributions to Israeli NGOs from foreign governments and organizations. The decision comes after research by the Im Tirtzu movement [which describes itself as a small group of students and IDF reservists], which found that the New Israel Fund finances most of the Israeli NGOs which testified against Israel in the Goldstone Committee”. Likud Party MK Danny Danon said that “the committee will have to act swiftly in order to remove the strategic threat that the New Israel Fund poses to Israel,” according to a story published by Arutz Sheva here.

This same Arutz Sheva story says that South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, who authored the UN report about the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead that Im Tirtzu and some members of the Israeli government are so worked up about, is — or has been — on the board of directors of several three human rights organizations funded by the Ford Foundation, including Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights.

Haaretz did its own investigation, stating that “a Haaretz probe found that the influential forces behind the movement [Im Tirtzu] make no secret of their rightist political loyalties. Financially, Im Tirtzu is supported by a foundation that has contributed to radical right-wing organizations such as the Women in Green; Pastor John Hagee, the head of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) which contributed to Im Tirtzu, has been implicated in the past by a number of anti-Semitic statements. Ideologically, the movement’s chairman Ronen Shoval used to be spokesman of the “Orange Cell,” a student chapter at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that fought against the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and supported the settlement project … The main channel for donations to Im Tirtzu is the Central Fund of Israel. In addition to Women in Green and Im Tirtzu, it supports Honenu, an organization sponsoring legal defense to radical right-wing activists in trouble with the law. Honenu boasts of financially supporting the families of the Bat Ayin underground, convicted for trying to bomb a girls’ school in East Jerusalem in 2002; of Ami Popper, who shot four Palestinian laborers during the first intifada; Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox man who stabbed participants in a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem in 2005; and Haggai Amir, brother of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir. Im Tirtzu’s Web site asks donations to be sent through the American foundation. Shoval maintained yesterday that the American foundation’s services were used for technical reasons only. ‘We’re a small organization, and a small organizations needs a tax break for the donations it gets’, he said yesterday. ‘CFI is an organization that sends money to scores, if not hundreds, of Israeli organizations, left and right. Donations to it are tax deductable, and this is the only reason why we work with them. I am not familiar with their activities and I haven’t studied their organization in depth’.” This report can be read in full here.

(In the Israeli political spectrum, being in the “left” means opposing the occupation of Palestinian territory captured by Israel in the June 1967 war. Those working for equality and equal rights between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel are also called “leftists”. The Meretz party, Peace Now, and many Israeli NGOs — such as those funded by NIF — are considered “leftist.)

The NIF is headquartered in Washington, D.C. — its website says that “NIF has its administrative headquarters in Washington, DC and bases its grant-making and capacity-building operations in Jerusalem” — and has six other offices in the USA and a couple of other office abroad, including in the U.K., Canada, and Switzerland.

The NIF deals only with Israel, and not with the Palestinians (unless, of course, they happen to be Israeli citizens).   One of its subsidiaries, SHATIL, the New Israel Fund Initiative for Social Change,  “provides training and consultancy services for the NGO sector in Israel”.  Haaretz journalist Akiva Eldar sits on its Israeli Board of Directors.

The New Israel Fund says, on its website, that “it is the leading organization advancing democratic change within Israel. Founded in 1979, NIF has granted over $200 million to more than 800 organizations in Israel dedicated to promoting equality and social justice for all Israelis. Through an integrated strategy of grant-making, technical assistance and coalition-building, NIF nurtures and develops grassroots organizations that have become the leaders of Israeli civil society … Widely credited with building Israel’s progressive civil society from scratch, we have provided more than $200 million to more than 800 cutting-edge organizations since our inception …We fight inequality, injustice and extremism because we understand that justice is the precondition for a successful democracy – and the only lasting road to peace. The New Israel Fund’s founders wanted to connect with Israel in a way that reflected their progressive values, and thousands of Israelis and Diaspora Jews have joined with us for that reason. Our supporters love Israel, and see it clearly as striving for an ideal not yet attained.”.

Chazan took over the job at NIF about a year ago. For several years now, she has been writing a weekly column for the Jerusalem Post, an English-language-only Israeli daily newspaper which is considered well to the right of Haaretz (a Hebrew-language daily which publishes an English-language edition distributed in Israel as an insert in the International Herald Tribune, and which is also , like the more “right-wing” JPost, on the internet).

[Note: an earlier version of this post, which I did not think had been saved, made reference to Chazan recovering from a serious illness. I removed that reference because I could not corroborate it.)

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