Goldstone Report, Israel, and the Call for More Debate on Just War Theory

This is I think the longest response of any I’ve seen in the US to the UN Golstone report released last week on the Israeli activities in Gaza. It is, alas, as critical as anything you’ll see in an American newspaper. The whole article follows on from the questions the report doesn’t ask. The mind reels:

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

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

Goldstone Report: Who knew it was supposed to facilitate just war discussions?

Goldstone Report: Who knew it was supposed to facilitate just war discussions?


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

via Op-Ed Contributor – The Gaza Report’s Wasted Opportunity – NYTimes.com.

None of this is news, of course, but this is ridiculous in the extreme. Should not op-ed writers be made to read the reports they cite? Goldstone’s report is valuable for raising exactly these questions—and answering them. These are not open questions. These are settled aspects of international law. If you want to have that debate, go ahead. If Israelis want to have that debate, let them. In fact, they did not need this report to have this debate and what’s mysterious about the whole conceit of this editorial is to claim that Goldstone’s report “should have been” about producing an internal debate in Israel. Just let that wander around the mind for a minute: the death, starvation, and mass internment of Palestineans is still for this author a matter of internal debate in Israel—a debate, by the way, that is ongoing and far more livelier than in the US.  UN reports are not there to open debate, but to help settle them. And there is no debate in this Op-Ed about these facts, unless suggesting that the report prove the unprovable is really taking issue with it. I mean, no one can prove intentions more than detailing minutely and patiently sets of facts that would result from such supposed intentions.

But according to this Op-Ed, this isn’t what the Goldstone report should do. No, by condemning this activity, by patiently setting out what every NGO that has looked into the same set of facts has agreed, Goldstone has “thwarted …honest debate.” If such a debate can’t begin with the set of facts that he lays out, how pray tell, could it be “honest”? You can deny this report only by deliberately responding to the set of fact it displaying, not by suggesting that it was not supposed to make any factual claims, but merely start a philosophical conversation on just war theory—a debate that outside of this context finds generally agreed answers. Because for the Palestineans, it matters little whether there is “deliberate disregard for innocent human life” or simply “disregard for innocent human life.” And isn’t that enough to condemn it? Or is this really about keeping a debate going on in Israel while the lives it takes in its untenable apartheid structure (one ultimately destructive to the Israeli state) continue to mount? These are great questions for a philosophy class. For a UN report, not so much.

Has anyone tried it?

I’m working on two different things at the moment, both of which ended in procrastination. First, I was playing the intrepid reporter that I once thought I would be, but am not, and used the magic google machine to pull up most egregious blogposts on woman by senior faculty in positions to hire (potentially–not literally in the sense of having jobs listed in the JFP). Wow, that left me even more sad. Not surprisingly, if you see the word “gender” or “feminism” on a site devoted to anything like phil of logic of phil of math, it’s generally not headed anywhere good. I’ll post my favorites (worsts?) later.

But second, I found this “how to write like Agamben site,” since I happened to be trying to get a pdf of an article on his latest book. It’s been online for a while. I wonder if it works. It was strange to see this right after a way-too-glowing review of Il regno e la gloria that I found. I won’t quote it here, not least because a book review is there to send you to read a book, and so it may not necessarily hold that what an author thinks is important is what she thinks is right. So quoting it to critique it is unfair.

Anyway, I was wondering if anyone produced some actual prose off of this. I wouldn’t pick the Old Testament, though. Too eastern. It has to be Roman. Also, one must say it “was the first time” x happened (though you can think of other examples can be thought of well predating it); it must say “it was the hidden juncture” of the whole Western paradigm, which itself has remained hidden (until this book appeared); and it must contradict exactly what you’ve either just said, or said in a previous book. And bonus points if you don’t ever mention your change in views: how, say, your claim that sovereignty in the West in Il regno is theological at its base completely contradicts the political case made in Homo Sacer. Oh and double bonus points if Foucault discussed it and you can say you now are “completing” his project by accusing him of neglecting the very point he first raised.

On England

The striking thing about driving down from Scotland to England was the simple somberness of England: the cloudy, rainy skies, the overcast streets, a people seemingly crushed in on themselves under the weight of their umbrellas and the pelting of rain.

I refer not of course to the weather, but to the horrific break up of Oasis. Will this proud people ever recover?