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Sullivan and Company Go on the Attack

Ronald Radosh

I have been called a lot of names in my life, especially since breaking with the political left of which I once was a part. Usually the accusations come with words such as “counter-revolutionary,” “renegade,” “traitor to the left,” “he went over to the right-wing to get their money,” “FBI or CIA agent,” etc. etc. etc. But Andrew Sullivan today comes up with a new charge: “pro-Israel fanatic.” Faced with a choice between all of those I list, I think I’ll live with this one. To be called this by Sullivan, who previously referred to those who defend Israel as a bunch of “Likudniks,” is a badge to wear proudly, especially when it appears on his own Hamasnik blog.

When he accuses me and others of engaging in the politics of “personal smear,” however, he misses our major point. It is a quite simple one, which Sullivan and some of those who have posted comments hostile to my blog post yesterday do not understand. We are not trying to “stifle debate” on the Middle East. Calling attention to the still rather unknown record of Justice Richard Goldstone as an apartheid era judge who ruled in favor of the Afrikaner state is not a smear; it speaks to Goldstone’s very credibility of his pose as a moral exemplar whose report critical of Israel is supposed to be taken seriously.

Moreover, in my case, I was not depending for my view on the newspaper investigation that appeared in Yedioth Ahronoth, but particularly on the report I linked to in a few of my blogs, the one written by a South African who knew Goldstone well in those days, Ayal Rosenberg. He documents how Goldstone had what he calls “an illustrious career in the service of apartheid.” My blog readers and Sullivan and anyone else can read this report themselves. I find it most instructive that to date, he and others have failed to comment on and analyze the very scrupulous and newsworthy analysis that Rosenberg gives in what he calls a “Critique of Self-Apotheosis.” He notes that Goldstone’s career dovetailed with the years of the worst repression, during the reign of P.W.Botha. He gives chapter and verse on how Goldstone portrayed himself as a defender and supporter of Both, his government, and the system of lawlessness known as apartheid.

That is why the comments in the other critique offered today, that by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a senior editor of Foreign Affairs, also fail to address the issue. Writing on the Huffington Post website, Polakow-Suransky argues that it does not matter whether or not Goldstone served apartheid, since those accusing him support Israel, which was in fact “the most significant arms supplier to that regime throughout the 1980s.” To criticize the Goldstone Report is one thing, he argues; to smear Goldstone is however a case of “character assassination.” And that, he argues, is “hypocritical.”

Really? Think a moment. We are talking about the role of an individual, who in a time of moral crisis voluntarily chose not to oppose the evil apartheid system of his own country, not even to simply live as a citizen privately opposed but not doing anything to strengthen the regime — but who chose to enforce its laws and to create “justice” by judging as if they were legal and right. As Ayal Rosenberg argues in his critique, this is what the Nuremburg trials were all about — judges ruling as if the regime they served was legal and constitutional, and ruling in order to justify legally and enforce its barbaric edicts.

Sullivan takes another tactic: He cites out of context words I used yesterday in my blog post, when I wrote: “The truth is that all governments have and do make alliances of necessity that many find objectionable.” Cannot Sullivan read accurately? It is clear from the entire paragraph in which these words appear that I was not arguing that I and others justify or support that particular Israeli policy of the time. Sullivan leaves out the words that follow immediately those he quotes. They are: “There were plenty of people in and outside Israel who criticized this policy at the time. Others argued that Israel’s enemies themselves made unsavory alliances. Indeed, the ANC and the African liberation movements as a whole supported the most pro-Soviet and totalitarian states including the Soviet Union, as well as corrupt African and Arab regimes that gave them support. No one’s hands were entirely clean at the time.”

The rest of the paragraph gives my words an entirely different meaning. Let me be more specific. The United States for a time supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against Iran — a policy I found reprehensible and unsupportable at the time. Does that mean the turn in policy to support the liberation of Iraq was wrong? On this issue, I would suggest Sullivan read the careful discussion that is in Christopher Hitchens new memoir Hitch-22, which deals with this in detail.

During World War II, the United States entered into an alliance with Joseph Stalin that was necessary to defeat Adolf Hitler. In so doing, it made compromises that were morally reprehensible and often led to questionable policy. Does that mean that the United States is to be permanently held to account and condemned for ages because of foreign policy mistakes that later generations question?

The ANC, led by Mandela’s comrades while he was in jail, made unsavory alliances with left-wing terrorists and pro-Soviet states that were themselves repressing their own people. As others have documented, the ANC engaged in brutal torture and repression in its own camps out of South Africa against those it suspected of being the movement’s internal enemies or dissenters from policy; within the country, they supported and backed burning people to death in flaming automobile tires. Does that mean the overall aim of liberating South Africa from apartheid was in itself wrong?

That is what I meant by saying that no one and no country was pure in the tactics and policies they pursued. Of course, some on the far left, especially Noam Chomsky, reject the United States in principle as a nation that was taken by force from Native Americans, and that in and of itself was formed unjustly and hence can never play any positive role in the world. Indeed, as Hitchens points out in his memoir, Chomsky writes as if he believes it would have been better had the United States never been formed. Few of us believe that.

Polokow-Suransky argues that I ignore the fact that when he was a pro ANC judge at a later period, Goldstone helped expose the apartheid government’s support of covert operatives who sought to prevent a democratic transition and to derail elections. This does not prove his point or Sullivan’s, for that matter. It does just the opposite. No one disputes that when he switched from a pro-apartheid judge to being an anti-apartheid judge, he ruled in a way that helped the ANC and the end of apartheid. That speaks to Goldstone’s careerism and ability to move from one side to the other not out of principle, but out of careerist and opportunistic motives.

In attacking Goldstone’s contemporary critics — instead of challenging the one-sided Goldstone Report — his defenders are the ones guilty of hypocrisy, and of using sleight of hand to level their criticism at the one state that the world is moving to condemn exclusively for criminal behavior — the state of Israel. With friends of Israel like these, Israel and its defenders are smart to look elsewhere for those who it knows can be counted on when the going gets rough.

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