A terrific article in the Jewish Forward today explains what was behind Judge Richard Goldstone's decision to amend his original findings on the Gaza war: social pressure.
The article describes how Goldstone's community in Johannesburg summoned Goldstone to a meeting with the Jewish Federation at which communal leaders essentially indicted Goldstone for being a traitor.
"It was a heavy meeting. They went in very hard against him. There were no smiling handshakes afterwards. Avrom's [the head of the South African Zionist Foundation] opening statement was pretty merciless."
The meeting in South Africa came on the heels of Goldstone's 11th hour decision to attend his grandson's bar mitzvah -- a decision he took only after threats were withdrawn by prominent community members to protest outside the synagogue. Did all this add up to an emotional punch that would cause Goldstone's turnaround? It may be too simplistic to reduce the process to that. But several friends cited what they viewed as the cumulative toll of a stream of calumny hurled at the famously unemotional jurist.
In other words, Goldstone couldn't handle the anger of friends and, perhaps, even members of his family. (His family's decision to go ahead with a Bar Mitzvah at a synagogue that banned the Bar Mitzvah boy's grandfather from attending seems positively bizarre).
So Goldstone decided to appease his crowd. His article in the Washington Post was not designed to repudiate his own report (and it didn't). It was designed to win back the friendship of people whose nationalist feelings were hurt.
This is all understandable, if not admirable.
It is also common. The cravenness of some progressive Jewish organizations (like the Reform movement) in supporting the Gaza war may be dictated as much by social ostracism as by donor intimidation organized by AIPAC. Even J Street, which bravely opposed Gaza, felt the need to praise Goldstone's decision to step back from his original report.
This fear of ostracism by fellow Jews severely damages the ability of progressive Jews to help end the conflict. So long as they are always looking over their shoulders to see what the status quo crowd is saying, their effectiveness is limited.
It doesn't have to be that way. If progressive Jews really believe that ending the occupation and supporting a Palestinian state is in Israel's best interests, they will turn the tables on their "mainstream" friends and ask them why they are supporting policies that will inevitably lead to Israel's demise. If progressive Jews honestly believe that the occupation is a cancer on Israel, they will say it loud and clear. They will stop being intimidated by people who have been proven wrong about pretty much everything since 1967 and who have done immeasurable damage to the Jewish state.
As for losing friends, so what? Doing the right thing is often (maybe even usually) unpopular. Do you think the abolitionists didn't lose friends and offend reactionary clergy? How about the European Christians who fought anti-Semitism in the 1930s? Or, of course, the brave South Africans who fought apartheid? Or Americans who fought for equal rights for African-Americans, women, and the GLBT community?
Progressive Jews need to break with the status quo crowd. The path of compromise will get them exactly nowhere. And it will be Israel, even more than Palestinians, who will pay the price.
POSTSCRIPT: Some of the progressives who are intimidated on matters relating to Israel are the same people who would never back down on economic issues, marriage equality, the environment, immigration, civil liberties and a host of other issues. The difference is that the mainstream Jewish community allows deviation on every single issue but Israel, the one area in which progressive Jews can do the most good. There will be no "Profile in Courage" awards for those who are progressive only when it won't cost them financial support or "friends."
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