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Always count to 10 before sending potentially offensive emails

12/11/2009

The UN General Assembly, last Thursday (5 November), adopted a resolution asking Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to deliver to the Security Council the Goldstone Report, which accuses Israel and “Palestinian armed groups” of committing war crimes during Israel’s military operation in Gaza (“Operation Cast Lead”) in winter 2008/9. Denying any wrongdoing, Israel expects the United States to use its veto power in the Security Council to bury Goldstone for good.

In the meantime I had a go at Professor Asa Kasher. An eminent Israeli philosopher, Professor Kasher, in 2004, headed a team of experts in developing a Code of Conduct for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which emphasizes how it should behave in low intensity warfare and when operating in densely populated areas.

The other day, Professor Kasher gave a TV interview which seriously upset me. Here was perhaps the most important Israeli philosopher of war discussing the IDF, “Operation Cast Lead” and the Goldstone report, leaving the impression, at least on me, that all was well with the IDF and its conduct in Gaza while, on the other hand, criticizing the Goldstone report.

Now, I am experienced enough to know that it is always a good idea to count to ten before reacting, especially to matters that really upset you. But on this occasion I simply reached for my keyboard and typed a message:

Dear Prof Kasher,
I’ve watched your interview … I have no doubt whatsoever that the perspective of history will identify a clear pattern from you being a bright, eminent philosopher … to someone who, later, became … “the national whitewasher” … someone who … at the philosophical level, gave approval for terrible, terrible things that have been done by Israeli troops, particularly during “Operation Cast Lead”.
Yours,
Ahron Bregman

It took me no longer than the time between hitting the “send” button and the “your message has been sent”, to realise that my terse message was inappropriate, something which I was soon to learn straight from the horse’s mouth:

 

Dear Dr. Bregman:
Thank you for your message.
Your views about my views seem to rest on two wrong assumptions:
1. That you have sufficient knowledge of the facts. Reading Goldstone, The Guardian, Haaretz and some NGO reports is never tantamount to becoming knowledgeable about what the IDF have or have not done.
2. More personally, that you are sufficiently familiar with my views and activities. The depiction of a person as one who is willing to sanction everything the IDF does is not less than a libel. I published (with Amos Yadlin) papers, in scholarly journals, during 2005, way before the 2nd Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. Our papers are full of arguments. One may disagree on grounds of counter-arguments, but the rhetoric of some circles is never argumentative and respectful, but always bashing and smearing. It is a contemptible style, utterly incompatible with genuine pursuit of human dignity.

Sincerely,

Asa Kasher

 

Well, I must admit that Professor Kasher inflicted a serious blow (especially in his number 2), leaving me with a bloody nose.

Having said that, I still believe that by working so intimately with the IDF, many of whose troops are now suspected war criminals, Professor Kasher caused himself an irreparable damage. For even if the Code of Conduct he helped to develop is fine on paper, and even if some elements in his criticism of Goldstone are correct (and I’ll not go into it now), still when one counts the bodies, particularly of children, left by the IDF in the streets of Gaza in 2009, one becomes suspicious of all those involved in the Gaza saga: the troops who used indiscriminate fire, the politicians who dispatched them to operate in crowded Gaza, various advisors linked to the military, including army lawyers and – yes – philosophers of war too.

Still, the “rhetoric”, as Professor Kasher put it in reference to my style, was indeed inappropriate and did little to help me convince this grand philosopher that, while the killing in Gaza was in no way his fault, it was however within the context of his 2004 Code of Conduct that the IDF did what he did there.