Birds of peace

While the Goldstone Report will 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.

Goldstone 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Goldstone 311
(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 exist.
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 libel.
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.”
IT WAS 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 congregation.
“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 metzora.”
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 document.”
Indeed, in a complete about-face, he accepts “that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” by Israel.
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 further conflicts.
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.
A metzora on the way to healing was required to bring two birds as an offering.
The symbolism of (chirping) birds represents the metzora’s obligation to set the record straight and hopefully bring about reconciliation.
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,” shalom.

The writer is rabbi of the Marais Road Shul in Cape Town, South Africa’s largest congregation.