Most people, most of the time, reserve their sarcasm for when they’re on fairly solid argumentative ground. Being wrong is one thing. It happens. But strutting around insufferably and then being wrong and then getting called out for it—well, that’s kind of embarrassing. So most writers develop something of a rhetorical sliding scale, from circumspection in domains of uncertainty to confidence in regions of knowledge.
And then there’s Andrew Sullivan. Struggling to cope with Richard Goldstone’s repudiation of his September 2009 report on the war in Gaza, he’s taken to inveighing against the “vile neocon media machine” and sneering at opponents. Since he appears to know little about the Report or its background, however, a little stylistic caution might be more appropriate.
A recent Sullivan post examines Goldstone’s “I couldn’t have known” excuse, repeating the familiar complaint that the Israeli government declined to participate in its own lynching. Instead of having a mix of Israeli and Palestinian witnesses, the argument goes, the Goldstone Mission had to take fantastical Palestinian tales at face value. That’s not persuasive to anyone who has studied the Report and its background—more on that in a bit—but Sullivan apparently finds the reasoning impressive and wishes to pass it on to his readers.
But Andrew Sullivan has to know that Andrew Sullivan doesn’t really know anything about the Goldstone Report. He has to know that he’s cribbing from shallow anti-Israel propaganda outlets, since he’s the one who’s doing the cribbing. Shouldn’t his post reflect those limitations, as opposed to whatever this is?
I don’t know how Goldstone could have known these exculpatory details without Israeli cooperation. Telepathy? . . . Beneath the extreme rhetoric, the implication is that Goldstone should have presumed that the awful human toll of the Gaza war—almost entirely on one side—was not a deliberate targeting of civilians to put pressure on Hamas. But his job was to find facts and precisely not to presume anything.
You’d have to be an idiot, in other words, not to recognize that Goldstone couldn’t have known he was peddling a blood libel. How could he have known anything about any incident without the Israeli government’s telling him, after all? Telepathy?
It turns out that there are answers to that question. Sullivan is specifically writing about the Samouni Clan incident, so let’s take that as an example. This one is a favorite of the anti-Israel crowd, covered in paragraphs 704–42 of the Report. Somewhere around 20 members of a family were killed when an Israeli bomb hit the house in which they had taken shelter.
The incident was classified by the Goldstone Report as a “deliberate attack on civilian populations,” and described by Goldstone as “the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on.” The conclusion is premised upon the testimony of Palestinian witnesses who swore there was no fighting in the area; ergo, the Israeli attack must have been deliberate. No attack on civilians, no war crime. The Palestinian witnesses were found to be “credible and reliable.” How could Goldstone possibly have known otherwise, short of telepathy?
• Goldstone could have looked at reports from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which identified numerous armed clashes around the neighborhood.
• Goldstone could have examined freely accessible Palestinian sources showing that members of the family entering and leaving the house were Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives who were active in the nearby fighting. The PIJ issued statements and posters to that effect.
• Goldstone could have noted that Palestinian testimony was riddled with contradictions about who was attacked, when they were attacked, and where they were attacked—to say nothing of how they were attacked, since the Israelis are at various times supposed to have used shortrange weapons, RPGs, helicopters, and mortars.
• Goldstone could have suspected that Palestinian testimony was on its face too theatrical and staged to be taken seriously. Palestinian witnesses insisted that inter alia IDF soldiers: ordered bleeding Palestinians to “go back to death”; hissed at women that they were “bad Arabs”; riddled a man with bullets as he was docilely handing over his ID; sprayed gunfire into a living room of children; and made “white stuff” come out of a poisoned baby’s mouth. Since Israeli soldiers aren’t comic-book villians, none of that seems especially tenable.
The same dynamic plays out across all the incidents in the Goldstone Report. Anti-Israel partisans usually pretend that there have been no substantive answers to the contents of the Report, ignoring thousands of pages of Israeli pushbacks and the incident-by-incident debunkings that bloggers and activists have compiled at Understanding the Goldstone Report (full disclosure: I’m involved in that project).
Now those partisans have moved on to pretending that Goldstone couldn’t have known that the refutations would forthcoming, since the Israelis didn’t cooperate during the investigation. The new pretense is different than the “no substantive answers” line, but what lacks in unblinking shamelessness Sullivan and his class are trying to make up for with grating condescension. Ambitious.