(photo credit: REUTERS)
Words create reality. The Hebrew term for “speech,” dibur, is the same as the
word for “thing,” davar. And so we read in last week’s Torah portion that one
who slanders will be afflicted with a skin condition that would render him a
metzora. Our sages point out that “metzora” is composed of two words: motzi ra,
“extracts evil.” Because not only did the offender speak negatively about
someone, he brought the negativity from a world of potential into the world of
reality. The dibur made it into a davar.
This is what made the Goldstone
Report so upsetting. Sure, our enemies keep slinging labels and accusations at
us in the hope that something will stick, but until two years ago no one had the
temerity to formally conclude that Israel was deliberately murdering civilians.
That is, until the Goldstone Report.
Historically, evil ideologies were
named by their creators. The race laws of 1948 were called Apartheid by their
authors; the term ‘Final Solution’ came directly from Hitler’s Wannsee
Conference in 1942, and America’s southern states’ slaveholders made constant
reference to the “Institution of Slavery.”
But while our enemies accuse
Israel of criminal “policies,” they resort to historical evils such as Nazism or
Apartheid to define them. This is because they can’t find a name for them. Why?
Because there are no such policies! So they have to resort to borrowing from
other ideologies to manufacture the appearance of a policy that doesn’t
The Goldstone Report concluded “without a doubt” that Israel had
deliberately targeted civilians just because they were Palestinian. Except that
the commission couldn’t find a name for such a policy, or who had instituted it
– let alone when or why. It was precisely this departure from reality that
succeeded in uniting almost every segment of Israeli society in condemning the
Goldstone Report’s central conclusion as a complete falsehood, or worse, a blood
Indeed, words create reality. For this reason, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu labeled the Goldstone Report one of Israel’s top three
strategic threats, right up there with Iran’s nuclear program, and initiated a
vigorous campaign to respond to these malicious “conclusions.”
also no surprise that many in the South African Jewish community distanced
themselves from their former proud son. I was the associate rabbi of the Sandton
Shul at the time of Judge Richard Goldstone’s visit. While I strongly supported
his right to attend shul, and the shul’s responsibility to ensure the safety of
all worshipers, I also chose to deny him any acknowledgment in that Friday
night sermon – an approach overwhelmingly supported by the
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“His residence shall be outside the camp,” decrees the
Torah of the metzora.
It is the natural consequence of one who divides
others that he himself becomes isolated.
And yet last week’s Torah
reading begins with the words, “This shall be the process of purifying the
There is a process of healing, of return, and perhaps
Goldstone’s astounding editorial in The Washington Post titled “Reconsidering
the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes” is the beginning of that process.
In the opening paragraph, Goldstone asserts that “if I had known then what I
know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different
Indeed, in a complete about-face, he accepts “that civilians
were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” by
Notwithstanding that Goldstone’s reversal is a case of too little
too late, his editorial is important for a number of reasons: 1. A belated
retraction is better than no retraction, and helps Israel prepare for any
2. By referring to Hamas’s behavior as “acts of
terrorism,” he clarifies the playing field.
3. By clearly affirming
Israel’s right to self-defense and holding non-state actors to the same rules as
nation-states, he levels that field. This makes it possible for Israel to win
the war on terrorism even within his sense of international law.
metzora on the way to healing was required to bring two birds as an
The symbolism of (chirping) birds represents the metzora’s
obligation to set the record straight and hopefully bring about
While the Goldstone Report will, in all likelihood,
continue to cause harm to Israel, and that is a “regret” its author has to live
with each day, Judge Goldstone has the opportunity now of healing through an
ongoing process of reconsideration. By calling for a retraction of the report
and taking this message to where people are chirping – on the airwaves of Al
Jazeera and CNN, in Geneva at the Human Rights Council and the UN in New York,
and at countless universities around the world – Goldstone can preach Israel’s
fundamentally just cause in a way few others can.
Let’s all learn the
lesson of the awesome power of words, and the damage they can cause. Let us all
be willing to reconsider a sour relationship and take active steps – the bird
offering – to improve it. It’s no coincidence that the Hebrew word for “bird,”
tzipor, has the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for “peace,”
The writer is rabbi of the Marais Road Shul in Cape Town, South
Africa’s largest congregation.
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