Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lozowick & Durkin Disagree

Ten days ago I posted a letter I had sent to Niel Durkin, a press officer at Amnesty International. To my mild surprise, he responded, and then responded again to my next letter. It was a correspondence, not a polished article, but I think we touched upon some significant issues. The correspondence has now petered out - eventually there wasn't much more to say - so I'm posting it all. Durkin was so kind as to permit me to post his parts.

October 4th, my letter:


In your blogpost of September 16th you made a number of revealing comments.
Israel rejects the 575 pages of the Goldstone report (presumably without
reading any of them) because the UN fact-finding mission was a UN Human Rights
Council investigation, a body that Israel considers to be biased against it.

Well, not really. As you note, the report is 574 pages long, and it took a moment for the lawyers of the Israeli Foreign Ministry to read it all carefully. However, as soon as they had, they issued a 24-page detailed rebuttal of the Goldstone report. You ought to read it. I await a correcting post on your blog once you have.

Your sentiment is patronizing, of course. What precisely did you mean when you "presumed" the opposite of the truth, and what does it tell us about you and your organization that you see the world in such terms?

Most revealing of all was your comment that an Israeli official used a "florid, biblical phrase – “born in sin”. You may not be aware that this phrase is a perfectly reasonable term in Hebrew; the fact that it's biblical is, of course, profoundly fundamental to the matter. The Israelis are, after all, using the language of the Bible, in the land of the Bible, because this has always been their language and their land. At the end of the day, that's what the conflict is all about, isn't it? Your comment clarifies your position - rejection of the Jewish right to determine their own destiny - better than any long and verbose analysis ever could.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts,

Dr. Yaacov Lozowick

Durkin's response, October 5th:

Hello Yaccov.

I don't think there's anything particularly patronising in referring to the fact that Israel had dismissed the Goldstone fact-finding mission as biased before it had read the report when that is what they had done.

My post was not an attempt to match the rebuttal that later emerged from the Israeli authorities to a very lengthy report. It was simply to make the wider point that Israel's dismissiveness of human rights criticism seems to be growing and that - in some quarters of the blogosphere at least - the Garlasco affair has been seized on as a supposed way of dismissing HRW's substantive human rights criticisms out of hand.

And extrapolating from my description of Regev's "florid, biblical phrase" (about the origins of the Goldstone report) to arrive at a supposed "clarification" of my "rejection of the Jewish right to determine their own destiny" is, I have to say, far-fetched and entirely wrong.

Best wishes,
Neil Durkin
Media Unit, Amnesty International UK

I next wrote Neil on October 6th:

Well, Neil, at the time you wrote your blog post, you hadn't read the report, either (have you since?), but that didn't stop you from writing about other people. Had you said something along the lines of "none of us has yet had time to read it, but we're all responding, me too", that would have been a different kettle of fish. But you didn't put it that way. The only people you singled out for not reading the report were the Israelis.

Second point: Prof. Irwin Cotler - a man with decades of proven activity in the field of human rights - explained at length about a month before the report was published, why it's findings couldn't be reasonable. You might have touched upon this in your post, but you didn't, because you don't see any problem with the way the mission was set up, staffed, and operated.

Third, the findings as they were announced by the members of the mission, before anyone had had a chance to read them, were ridiculous. I apologize for being so blunt, but I see no softer way to say it. Their methodology was, a-priori, never tenable. The moment they allowed themselves to make statements about Israel's intentions, as against Israel's actions, they demonstrated their biases and intellectual shoddiness. The only way to know about Israel's intentions is by researching those intentions: the decision-making process, the plans drawn up, the orders given and so on. These things can't be inferred from the results, they can't be learnt from talking to Palestinians, and they certainly can't be deduced from ruins of homes which could have been knocked down by all sorts of things including Hamas weapons.

If the Israelis won't give you access, you can't say what they were thinking, not unless you have access. Sad, perhaps, unfair, perhaps, but true. Someday, 50 years from now, historians will be able to pore over the documents whether the authorities like it or not, because we're a democracy. At the moment, however, if the Israelis refuse to talk and to cooperate, there's no way to say what they were thinking.

Since Goldstone and his colleagues made clear from the moment of publication that they had found Israel had intentionally targeted the Palestinian population, at that moment their intellectual credibility was destroyed. The Israelis then followed up by reading the report and demolishing its findings, but the rejection didn't have to wait.

I suggest, Neil, that you stop and think about this before simply writing me off. I'm being very serious here, and I'm telling you something very fundamental, and that is that Israel did not have the intention of hurting the civilian population of Gaza, You don't know me, you certainly don't know my sources of information, but I assure you the reading of the Goldstone commission (which I'm slowly reading - it's ghastly) is factually wrong. It's not true. You can wave the report from now till doomsday; you can take comfort in the large numbers of people around you who agree with you; you can talk about international law and human rights to your heart's content - none of this can change the reality, which is that the basic finding of the Goldstone fact finding mission is a blatant lie. Since it was clearly stated up front, it's no wonder that the official Israeli responders, who do know the facts, sharply rejected it.

Remember: Israeli intentions are about Israelis. The Israelis had them, the Israelis decided upon them, the Israelis know what they were. Take a deep breath and count to ten before you tell us what we were thinking - as the Goldstone team so foolishly did.

Finally, your comment about the florid biblical phrase. You might want to brush up a bit on your psychoanalysis studies from when you were at university. A Freudian slip is not simply a snippet of three words chosen at random. A Freudian slip is the three unthinking words which tell about the unconscious frame of mind of the speaker. I have no doubt that were I to take the time to read everything you've put in the public domain, I would have no problem showing how this little slip of yours fits perfectly into all your carefully crafted statements. I don't think I'll take the time - life is too short. So you'll simple have to live with the fact that seen from our vantage point - which is, after all, an important one in the context we're discussing - your denigration of Israel as identifying with the Bible is a deeply telling indication of how you see the world.


On October 8th I sent Neil another quick note:

Hi Neil - I expect I'll put our little correspondence on my blog. My words are, of course, mine to do with as I wish. Your's, aren't. So kindly indicate if you'd prefer me to paraphrase on your words, or simply to quote them as you wrote. Yaacov

Neil responded on the same day (October 8th) to both my mails:

Hi Yaacov.
First, I have not, as you say at the end of your email, denigrated Israel per se. I've expressed a view about the behaviour of the Israeli government and the IDF, not the whole country and its people. There's a very big difference. Similarly I spoke of Hamas and not all Palestinians.

It is you who talks about the "Israelis" and "us" in the same sentence, apparently presuming to talk on behalf of all Israelis. I am sure there are many Israelis who completely disagree with you. Similarly many British people would disagree with me, though I would never talk about Britons and "us" in this way.

Similarly, you talk about Israeli "intentions" and your "sources" in a way I never did. I do not presume to know what those intentions were, I'm simply basing my comments on findings from Amnesty and other organisations.

On the response to Goldstone, I think it is right to say that the first official Israeli responses (Marc Regev et al) were extremely dismissive. Similarly Hamas have rejected criticism rather than engaged with criticisms made of their conduct - including those from Amnesty.

Regev's use of biblical language is his affair but when discussing the merits or demerits of a big investigation into matters of law, the conduct of war and international relations in 2009 it seemed designed to muddy the issue not lend clarity to it.

And I would prefer to be quoted rather than paraphrased.

Neil DurkinMedia Unit, Amnesty International UK

That evening (still October 8th) I responded to Neil:

Hi Neil,

Well, since we're having this nice chat, and you wish to be quoted not paraphrased (I applaud your decsion), why not keep it going a bit before airing it on cyberspace. Who knows, maybe at the end we'll decide to post the correspondence jointly to both blogs - though I rather doubt the Amnesty folks would be amused.

I think we've got two serious issues on the table at the moment. There's the one about identifying Israel's intentions. If I'm following you, you bring to your defense that you're merely citing other people: I do not presume to know what those intentions were, I'm simply basing my comments on findings from Amnesty and other organisations. So I repeat my point: the only people who can say what the Israeli intentions were, are the Israelis (or researchers using Israeli sources in a professional way). Of course Amnesty has often had the hubris of doing this, and the Goldstone report reeks of hubris, but numbers don't make for truth.

Please note: I'm talking logic, not politics. The more reports you bring in which people with no access to the relevant facts none-the-less presume to know what they're talking about, the larger will be the group of sloppy thinkers and shoddy propagandists. Even if they're "Amnesty and other organizations". You bet Israel is extremely dismissive of those organizations: they have labored long and hard to deserve our derision, and they've richly earned it.

Live with it.

The second point is the distinction between parsing and grouping. You write: I have not, as you say at the end of your email, denigrated Israel per se. I've expressed a view about the behaviour of the Israeli government and the IDF, not the whole country and its people. There's a very big difference... It is you who talks about the "Israelis" and "us" in the same sentence, apparently presuming to talk on behalf of all Israelis. I am sure there are many Israelis who completely disagree with you... I would never talk about Britons and "us" in this way. Indeed, an important distinction. Yet it tells at least as much about you as about me.

First, for the record: I do my best to cleave rather closely to the center of the Israeli consensus. It's not that Israelis don't disagree - they do, all the time. Yet even as they do, there is a strong fundamental consensus, in a way the British may indeed have lost, if they ever had. So, no, you'd be hard-pressed to find many Israelis who disagree on the basic positions I'm taking in this discussion. There a a few thousand on the far left, and there are of course a few thousand on the far right, but that still leaves a very large majority. That majority regards itself as "us", as "we", as a group which in some ways is almost a large family. Kol Yisrael haverim, or Kol Yisrael arevim ze laze" - All Israel are friends; all Israel are responsible for one another. Those are two ancient statements which are banal phrases in modern Hebrew; they go part of the way to explain why there still is a community of Jews more than 3000 years after it first appeared - and going strong.

So when our government takes steps most of us thought it should take, that's us who is responsible. And it's we, too. Not to mention that when you talk of the IDF, that's us and we in the most simple meaning: it was I when I was young, it's my son right now (and in Gaza last January), and I guess it will be my grandsons in the wars we'll still be waging 30 years from now.

Regev wasn't trying to muddy a discussion. He was putting it in our terminology. You may wish not to appreciate this, you may wish to dictate to us what the "proper" terms need to be in 2009, but we don't ask for your permission on such matters.

Nor does Hamas, by the way. Palestinians also speak in terms of "us" and "we". So do many national groups the world over. Jews may do so with greater intensity, but I dare say there are more people in the world who do it "our" way than "yours".

Finally, here's a thought for you. Over the years prior to the Gaza campaign, as the Palestinians shot more than 10,000 projectiles at Israeli citizens in the Sderot region,we did our best to look away. It was far from the large cities; doing something about it would have inevitably have included hurting Palestinian civilians because Hamas uses them as shields; doing something would have brought the rage of Amnesty and HRW and the UN and the BBC on our heads... so we dithered. Year in and year out we refrained from action. Eventually, we began to admit to ourselves, this callousness of ours was eating away at who we are, at those Kol Yisrael statements I told you about. It became harder and harder to look ourselves in the eyes, knowing that we were prefering the suffering of the few to the trouble to all.

Eventually, our patience broke, and we acted. WE acted. In OUR name. So far as WE can tell, Most of the actions WE took were moral, legal, and justified; if there were minor exceptions, WE'll deal with them. At the moment, close to a year later, it even seems to have worked, and no-one, not Israelis nor Palestinians, is getting killed. And we're whole again.



Anonymous said...

I never understand how people can claim ignorance of the intent behind Israeli actions. Israel is an open society (unlike her neighbors). Anyone with an internet connection who understands English or Hebrew can learn exactly what Israelis of all political stripes think, and anyone examining Israeli media in the run-up to the Gaza War, or listening to the statements of Israeli leaders as the war unfolded, could not fail to understand Israel's intentions. It is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Less work, though.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand how you have the patience to argue with these folks.

I ask them one simple question: If they had the choice of being human shields in our war with Hamas, where would they rather sit: Gaza or Sderot?

All the human shields I have ever read about always go to the side of the less moral fighter because they KNOW FOR A FACT that Israel and the US would never intentionally harm them.

They also KNOW FOR A FACT that Hamas, et al, don't give a damn whether they die or not if they were sitting in Sderot.


PetraMB said...

This is just to register as an Israeli who is delighted to have Yaacov Lozowick speaking for me/us!!!

Anonymous said...

Why isn't it obvious that one cannot discover the intentions of Israel by asking what Palestinians think Israel's intentions are?

Shalom, Cherry Hill said...

Hi, Yaacov,

Do you think that being a parent, with years of experience in dealing with irrational and immature children, is helpful in dealing with people like Durkin?

Likewise, do you think that it would be wise for someone hoping to eventually become a parent to engage them, in the hope of being a better parent when the time comes?

Best wishes,

Darryl Dempsey said...

Way to go.

Darryl Dempsey

Yaacov said...

Hi Shalom -

I don't know. For most of their childhood, my children were more or less rational. They were, at times, exasperatingly childish; at the peak of adolesence they may even ocasionally have been irrational, but mostly I could see where they were coming from when they were staking outlandish positions... Unless it's just what I think now. Perhaps I'm repressing...

Where they are now, it's a joy to be with them. Not something I expect ever to say about the Durkins of this world and his many many ilk.

Victor said...

Yaacov, I'm so sick of these latte sipping internationalists making moral judgement calls about issues they know nothing about. Why does Mr. Durkin hold a preconceived bias about Israeli intentions? Because all his internationalist friends, who he both identifies with and seeks to emulate, hold that bias and institutionalize that bias in fancy reports.

You're exactly right, and I've noticed a similar trend - the anti-Israel movement has been institutionalized on the basis of lies, and grows further removed from the reality on the ground with each passing year.

In Mr. Durkin's circle of friends - and in his professional capacity, it seems - no one has ever presented the ideas you have. The man is stuttering... well, my friends all think the same thing!

You definitely came off as aggressive, which is cathartic, but is it the best approach? On the other hand, how else does one pierce the insulated intellectual comfort comfort of with which internationalists approach Israeli issues, however?

The other approach is to build a long term relationship and, over time, building on mutual respect, explain your ideas in a way that the other person will not reject out of inertia.

The second approach only works when the other person doesn't have a stake in the discussion. I tried building such a relationship with a Palestinian friend. We're still friends, but Israel issues are simply off the table. She always assumed I would budge in the face of her emotion and passion. I always thought I could weave a more complicated narrative into her perspective. We both failed, five years on.

Anonymous said...


Thanks very much. Your argument was very powerful.

I think that it was very revealing that Durkin never dealt with your point that the Goldstone commission repeatedly claimed to know Israeli intentions when they simply had no basis to do so. Of course, this is a much larger problem than the Goldstone report since Amnesty and Human Rights Watch themselves do this kind of thing all the time. Given this context, I find his complete unwillingness or inability to address the point very disturbing (although not surprising).

David E. Sigeti

annie said...

You have my sincerest admiration for the civil way you conducted your correspondence with Durkin. I would have been reduced to swearing and name-calling after the first paragraph. I don't know how you kept your cool. Unfortunately I doubt it will dent Amnesty's self-righteousness in their absolute conviction that Israel is always wrong.

And yes, you DO speak for me too :-)

Chaim said...

This is great stuff - please see to it that you submit this correspondence to Richard Landes for the Goldstone supersite!

4infidels said...

The Durkins of the world never--NEVER--would ridicule a Muslim official for quoting the Koran or making some statement that resembles a religious comment.

The fact that he takes a morally superior tone against Regev for saying "born in sin" shows him for the coward he is. I bet if he went to Gaza, he would say "inshallah" in every other sentence, just to show the locals that he respects their culture and religion.

But the Israelis are a supposedly white and Western people and so they are expected to be above such things as religion, culture, history, nationalism.

The Jews have expressions in their own language that might resemble something in the Bible, because those expressions probably made it into the Bible precisely as a result of being the way people spoke in Hebrew.

YMedad said...

As the phrase goes, kudos. And if I may, two points raised in comments:-

a) I find it amazing that many Israelis and our supporters are exasperated that seemingly intelligent people can be so critical, self-righteous and high-handed about Israel and the actions it needs to take to protect itself as a political entity and its population and then, surprised that people like you can reply in a reasoned, rational and less-than-hyper fashion. Of course that can be done. A little self-control and a lot of faith and commitment in Zionism/Jewish nationalism can be a calming influence despite what we face.

b) and, as reagrds that which we face, many of us cannot fathom the quite emotional plight our adversaries are in. Most fear being labeled anti-semites yet can't stand our fairly successful situation as a people (in the political sense; in the economic sense, well, that's a different matter), are frustrated that the Arabs are so inept, incapable and such a failure at either making peace or making war. But, since their natural inclination is to identify with the victim, no matter what the circumstances, and since the last time we were there was 1945, the Pals. (my diminutive for a group of Arabs claiming a unique heritage and identity they don't have nor deserve) will benefit from that.

Thanks for you correspondence with Durkin.

And now, I have to see what J Street is up to.

Barry Meislin said...

I think one of the more glaring, not to mention outrageous faults of the Goldstone report (and it is chock full) is the absence therein of any dismay at Israel's---there is, alas, no other word for it--- almost total ineptness at killing Palestinian civilians.

Now that we know, thanks to Goldstone and Durkin and practically everyone else, that Israel's true intentions were to kill as many Palestinians as possible, preferably women and children (and any doubts about the manner should have been clearly dispelled by Mr. Durkin's psycho-moral propensities), there can be only one conclusion:

That Israel's armed forces are extraordinary, laughably inept.

Clearly, if Israel decides not to mount its own investigation of the Gaza campaign, following Goldstone's et al. efforts and (undoubtedly) altruistic recommendations, then that country should at least vigorously, forcefully and dispassionately examine the IDFs failure to do the requisite amount of killing (they had 20 days for crying out loud!!), and serve it notice that any further failures in that department will not be tolerated.

Anonymous said...

From the Jerusalem Post, October 19:

"Amnesty International Israel on Sunday urged Yehuda Ben-Ezra, to reject his new post as head of the Oz immigration authority unit.

In a letter to Ben-Ezra, Amnesty director Eitan Epstein wrote that the agency charged with expelling illegal migrants was "born in sin," and that Ben-Ezra should refuse the post...."

What is it with Israeli spokesmen and their florid, biblical phrases designed to muddy issues, not lend clarity to them? Perhaps Neil Durkin can explain why it's different when it's the Amnesty spokesman doing it.