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Goldstone Retracts Israeli War Crimes Claim

Author of eponymous report asserts Israel did not target civilians

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Richard Goldstone.(NYT)

Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who headed the U.N. Human Rights Council investigation into the 2008-9 Gaza conflict, announced Friday in an op-ed that, basically, he was wrong: Contrary to the Goldstone Report’s finding that there was evidence that Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, new evidence—stemming largely from Israeli probes into the Israel Defense Force’s conduct—demonstrates that there was no Israeli policy of targeting Palestinian civilians, which was the main basis of allegations of potential war crimes. (That Hamas, by contrast, intentionally targeted Israeli civilians “goes without saying,” he said.)

Here is the key paragraph: “The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”

So the man whose name is literally synonymous with the allegation that Israel committed war crimes during the Gaza conflict now says Israel did no such thing. (Haaretz reports that he may have felt swayed by a debate last week at Stanford over the Report, which he attended.) What might be even more validating than Goldstone’s admission itself is who and what he attributes it to: The Israeli army. He wrote his op-ed, he said, in light of a new report, released several months ago, that found (he quotes from it), “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza.” For Israel’s army to be vindicated through its own honorable scrupulousness is quite a thing. Those (like myself) who worry about the trajectory of Israel’s government should feel consoled that its increasingly right-wing and religious character has apparently not bled much into the military.

Having said that, most of the people reading this blogpost were already quite sure the Report was wrong, and didn’t need Goldstone to tell them so. As Goldstone aptly explains it, the Report essentially saw dead civilians and, without any further evidence, assumed intentionality, when in fact, the IDF’s track record of attempting to minimize civilian casualties, combined with Hamas’s track record of using civilians as human shields to either deter retaliation or provoke outcry when retaliation kills civilians, should have moved the mission to find unintentionality; in this case, according to Goldstone himself, subsequent evidence proved them right and him wrong. (Incredibly, he is still doing this: “Our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion,” he writes, when the notion that Israel was not deliberately targeting civilians was—given that it turned out to actually be true—probably a pretty reasonable conclusion to draw.)

Goldstone’s mea culpa will also mean little to the (I’d guess smaller) percentage of readers who will just not believe the man, or will argue that Israel nonetheless maintains overwhelming responsibility for those civilian deaths. Certainly broader criticism of Israel’s Gaza policy have not been wiped out by one man’s admission that his extreme accusations turned out to be wrong.

So the question becomes: What is the result of Goldstone’s admission?

I think the shaping Israeli consensus, as reported by the New York Times, gets it right: While much of the damage the Report did cannot be undone, the next time Israel is responding to rockets aimed at its civilians—whether it is Hamas from Gaza or Hezbollah from Lebanon—the international community (and particularly, I would suspect, Western officials) will likely grant Israel much more of the benefit of the doubt in assessing how it responds than they otherwise would have.

I think translating Goldstone’s op-ed into Turkish is a great idea that isn’t going to accomplish very much.

I think it’s odd that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and various American groups are calling on the United Nations to retract the report altogether. If your original position was that the report was illegitimate, then this shouldn’t change anything. Besides, from a realpolitik standpoint, if I were Israel I would think twice about implicitly lending the U.N. its endorsement, given the Palestinian strategy to achieve statehood via the international body.

I am not sure what I think about Goldstone’s argument that, had Israel cooperated with him from the outset (which it completely refused to do), he would have found this evidence back then, the Report would have been “a different document,” and there wouldn’t be this mess in the first place. Just as likely, much of the evidence Goldstone now relies upon took more time to uncover than his mission spent, and so the mission, with its faulty assumptions, would have made similar findings. Still, it is an interesting counterfactual, and if there is another occasion for a similar mission, the experience of this one may affect the next one in a way that does credit to Israel’s vindication here.

Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes [WP]
Related: What Made Goldstone Change His Mind About the Gaza War Report? [Haaretz]
Israel Grapples With Retraction on U.N. Report [NYT]
If Goldstone Doesn’t Speak Turkish, It Won’t Make Much Difference [New Voices]

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Bennett Muraskin says:

The IDF has not been completely vindicated. Goldstone also found that the IDF used excessive force and wantonly destroyed Gaza’s civilian insfrastructure. He has withdrawn one charge, but not the others.

The mere fact that 1,500 Palestinians, including many civilians, were killed in the Gaza war vs.14 Israeli soldiers proves that Israel engaged in overkill.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

Mr. Tracy, your hard-line left wing myopia & tunnel vision never ceases to amaze me. Within the stringent limits of 1883 characters:

a) Never rely on the NY Times to accurately reflect what Israelis feel or think about anything.

b) The Jerusalem Post’s David Horovitz provides a far more accurate dissection: http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=214866 Some of the commentators in the mainstream Hebrew media were even more acidic in their response to Goldstone (RG)’s mea culpa.

c) “Israel’s … right-wing and religious character has apparently not bled much into the military”. Your anti-religious bigotry is showing. Given that ~1/3 of the combat unit officers are religious, & that religious youth are much more likely to volunteer for combat units (see Y.K. Halevi: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703440004575548293319965002.html) especially among those who fought in Gaza (like my son, a tank commander (we are a religious family, complete with horns and pointed tails)) without committing war crimes, just maybe your simplistic stereotyping of religious Israelis in general & religious soldiers in particular, is fatally flawed?

d) The RG commission was inherently biased against Israel from the start, led by a certified useful idiot. Do you really think they had the intellectual honesty to objectively listen to Israel’s case had Israel cooperated? For the record, unofficially Israel did pass on what info it had at the time to the Commission & some Israelis did testify. The info & testimony was assiduously ignored; RG himself nodded off during much of the testimony.

e) No one really knows what moved RG including Ha’aretz. Many possibilities have appeared in the Israeli media.

f) The IDF investigations cited by RG took a long time to do & could never have been completed in time for the commission. Consider interviewing the officer who ran the investigation, Military Advocate General, Gen’l Avichai Mandelblit. BTW he’s religious.

J’lem

Bill Pearlman says:

I’m sorry that the Jewish body count wasn’t higher Bennett. Maybe next time will be better for you. Its too bad Goldstone isn’t Japanese. Then he would do the right thing and kill himself.

Bennett Muraskin says:

It is not that the “Jewish body count” was too low, it was that the Palestinians body count was too high.

You might as reasonably argue, and with merit, that Hamas was at the very least negligent, not to say cynical and cruel, in deliberately placing their weapons installations amid the civilian population, thereby insuring that there would be casualties in the inevitable reprisals.

It’s worth reading David Bernstein, over at the Volokh Conspiracy, on the composition of Goldstone’s panel, and how it’s biases foreordained a finding of Israeli guilt:

“No foregone conclusion? Of the three other panelists besides Goldstone, one had already accused Israel of war crimes before the investigation and (verdict first, trial later), and another is so wildly anti-Israel that he holds an acknowledged grudge against Israel for purportedly murdering Irish U.N. peacekeepers (an event that never happened), and who also disclaimed his willingness to give any credence to photographic evidence of Hamas crimes presented by Israel. Goldstone himself was serving at the time as a board member of Human Rights Watch, which has hardly shown itself to be a neutral observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And indeed, NGO Monitor has shown that big chunks of the Report’s accusations were lifted from unsubstantiated HRW material.”

Gene says:

Muraskin, if the ratio of civilians killed in a conflict could prove anything then in WWII Americans were the bad guys and Nazis were the good ones.

Bennett Muraskin says:

Hamas was indeed negligent, cynical and cruel but that does not take the IDF off the hook for using excessive force and destroying civilian infrastructure.

Further, Hamas had been observing a cease fire and offered to renew it just before the war began. Israel said no.

Binyamin in O says:

Goldstone gives only one source for his claim that new evidence has emerged to rescind the finding that Israel acted intentionally to harm Gaza civilians — the McGowan Davis report commissioned by the UN. Goldstone is dead wrong to conclude that his report should be “reconsidered” based on the findings of the McGowan Davis Committee. The McGowan Davis Report actually trashes Israel for failing to promptly bring charges against the IDF leaders who were responsible for the 36 war crimes the Goldstone report identified. McGowan Davis also questions whether Israel is simply stalling until no prosecutions can be brought. It is one thing to “investigate”, it’s another to convict. A few quotes from her report:
“The Committee is able to report that, to the best of its knowledge, nineteen investigations into the serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law reported by [the Goldstone Report] have been completed by the Israeli authorities with findings that no violations were committed. Two inquiries were discontinued for different reasons. Three investigations led to disciplinary action. Six investigations reportedly remain open, including one in which criminal charges have been brought against an Israeli soldier. The status of possible investigations into six additional incidents remains unclear.

“The Committee has strong reservations respecting the promptness of some investigations of individual incidents referred to by the [Goldstone Report]. More than one-third of the 36 incidents in Gaza are still unresolved or unclear. The status of investigations into incidents in Israel and the West Bank is also unclear. Presumably this serious issue respecting the ability of the military justice system promptly to investigate allegations of wrongdoing during military operations is under careful review by the Turkel Commission.
“Finally, the Committee is concerned about the fact that the duration of the ongoing investigations into the

Bennett Muraskin misses the point that legitimate war time actions are not tit-for-tat exchanges of “we may only kill x number of their dudes because they killed x number of our dudes.” The rules of war allow a state to do what is necessary to eliminate a threat so long as they do so within the law. Combat personnel are legitimate targets.

The primary criminal charge was “Did the IDF, as a matter of policy, intentionally target non-combatants?” Goldstone now says “No.”

The secondary charge is that of negligence “Did the IDF exercise care to minimize risk to non-combatants in the combat zone?” Goldstone now says “Yes.”

The tertiary charge is “Is the IDF engaged in proper inquiries into individual soldiers who may have of their own volition, and against orders harmed non-combatants or acting in a negligent manner towards non-combatants?” and Goldstone now says “Yes.”

You have that completely backwards. Israel offered to renew the ceasefire. Hamas refused and commenced its volley of rockets. Even Hamas apologists acknowledge this.

Binyamin in O says:

“Finally, the Committee is concerned about the fact that the duration of the ongoing investigations into the allegations contained in the [Goldstone] report — over two years since the end of the Gaza operation – could seriously impair their effectiveness and, therefore, the prospects of ultimately achieving accountability and justice.”
McGowan Davis Report is here: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/16session/A.HRC.16.24_AUV.pdf

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

Why is my earlier comment awaiting moderation?

When will it be completed?

hg

Diogenes the Jew says:

@Muraskin: Goldstone just admitted that he bore “false witness” and you take it as an opportunity to reincite against Israel and the IDF with your accusation of “overkill”? To what end? Since I doubt you were in IDF uniform in Gaza, your accusation against the IDF must also belongs in the category of self-masturbatory, self-serving “hearsay” testimony. For another example, did you actually believe that “Hamas had been observing a cease fire”? Why, then, did Israel reinvade Gaza? Bloodlust? Is that your accusation with the term “overkill”?
It can be amusing to play games with abstractions and “Jewish” labels (like Marc Tracy’s superfluous use of the less-than-meaningful but emotion-laden term “right-wing” in an otherwise descriptive article) but reality should intrude before you bear “false witness.” Clearly, you are not concerned about “divine” retribution.

“Muraskin, if the ratio of civilians killed in a conflict could prove anything then in WWII Americans were the bad guys and Nazis were the good ones.”

That’s only correct if you are only counting American civilians and German civilians. If you are counting total Allied civilians, total Axis power civilians, Soviet civilians, and Holocaust deaths, then your numbers are completely off.

Gene says:

Ian, that could get a little bit too complicated. How would you count Hungarian Jews – as Axis civilians? (Hungary was part of Axis). My point was that larger amount of civilians killed in a war means that the other side had more power. Nothing more. (More Allied civilians were killed during only the first half of the war when Germans had more power. In the second half more Axis civilians were killed). What important is the intention and not the amount.

Marty Janner says:

My personal view is that Gladstone came to his analysis, was based on information available to him at that moment.

After further information was available, he saw that his original judgement was incorrect! One must look at relative casualty figures and damaged property, and perhaps say to one’s self “perhaps Israel did over react during this event”. War in every sense’s purpose is to defeat the opposition! This was done with propriety on the part of the Israeli’s!

The thing that most bothers me, is the attempt to destroy this man’s character. The pressure he was subjected to, was demeaning and misleading. I, fully understand that the supporters of Israel may do this due to their experiences related to the Holocaust, and the previous wars with the Arabs, However take a moment, enjoy this P.R. victory. and say to yourselves,”could it have been differently”?

Binyamin in O says:

Gene: It’d just ain’t so that their is ANY equivalence between civilian deaths caused by the Allies in WW2 and the Axis. See this excellent chart from Wikipedia, and the accompanying article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WorldWarII-DeathsByAlliance-Piechart.png.

And yes, body counts are strong proof of intentionality. The Nazis caused tens times the proportion of civilian deaths as the Allies because they intended to. From their perspective, Jews, Slavs and other “sub-humans” were not really civilians, because they weren’t people. That’s why the Nazis were among the most vile criminals of all human history.

And yes. its quite relevant to Gaza, where the Israelis admit to 400 civilian casualties, out of 1200 total. (I hasten to add that although the IDF did commit war crimes, they are infinitesimal in comparison to the Nazis, and no analogy can be drawn between the two without diminishing the horror of the Shoah.)

Gene:

Jews in Axis and Axis-occupied countries were stripped of citizenship. They were effectively stateless people, not Axis citizens.

Bennett Muraskin says:

If every time Israel strikes at Palestinians, it causes civilian casualties, it sets a pattern.

There is a difference between intentional murder and criminally negligent homocide, but both are still crimes.

Larry says:

This is addressed to that bigoted moron, Bennett Muraskin. You haven’t lived long enough to know what the term overkill means. The US bombing of Tokyo a few weeks before dropping the A-Bomb killed 80,000 people. The US and UK bombing of Dresden when the war was almost over killed 30,000 people. Pol Pot killing 1,5000,000 Cambodians, Stalin starving millions of Ukrainians to death, this id overkill. I could go on and on but I think your to stupid to understand. I know your devastated that more Israeli’s aren’t killed in their wars with the Arab world but that’s life.

brynababy says:

The reason there are fewer Israeli deaths in any of the Palestinian/Israel conflicts or exchanges, is because Israel does not use civilians as shields and because, Israelis, inured to violence from all sides, have fortified their homes, set up warning systems, built tunnels to which Israelis has 30 seconds to run to, etc. The protections and security in Israel have attempted to secure the safety of as many Israelis as possible. We have seen that Hamas operates quite differently.

Bennett Muraskin says:

Is there a moderator? Does Larry get to call me “bigoted moron?” Is name calling permitted?

PLEASE ANSWER THIS QUESTION.

The Gaza war was totally onesided. Half of the Palestinians killed were civilians. 1,400 Palestinians vs. 12 Israelis is not overkill?

Further power plants, schools and other facilities with purely civilian uses were destroyed. It was collective punishment, pure and simple.

The war was indefensible. Its goals went way beyond stopping the rocket attacks to punishing the Palestinians for electing Hamas.

The war was planned well in advance. Israel was looking for an excuse to attack.

Both sides committed war crimes. Goldstone was correct.

Abbi says:

Thank you brynababy. Bennett, whenever you care to learn what actually happens here in Israel and in Gaza, you will learn it bears little relation to the fantasies you spew here.

Abbi says:

Bennett, but you are a bigoted moron if you really believe these things. The war was planned? Of course, Israel is constantly preparing for war on every front. It’s part of living here. Punishing Gazans? Yes, punishing them for allowing their government to shoot 7,000 rockets at our country. 7,000. That’s 6,999 too many to wait for a response. It’s completely intolerable. You don’t want an army raining bombs on you? Don’t shoot rockets over the border. It’s that simple.

You have no idea what the concept of “indefensible” means, if you think it’s indefensible for a country to defend itself against rocket attacks.

Israel did not commit war crimes. It’s a fact. Deal with it.

Bennett:

Please explain what facilities were destroyed that had purely civilian uses? There were well documented instances of facilities being “militarized” by converting them in weapons storage or launching pads, control centers, and weapons factories. It was hardly “pure and simple.” The onus is on you to demonstrate a deliberate pattern of such destruction, rather than simply say it is the case because it is what you want to believe.

As far as the claim that “half the Palestinians killed were civilians” even Hamas doesn’t make that claim.

Not really sure what it means to be “looking for an excuse to attack.” What evidence do you have that Israel wanted to go to war?

Bennett Muraskin says:

That makes two people who called me a “bigoted moron.” How sad this is how we talk to teacher.

The onus is on me? Read the Goldstone Report! All of the evidence is there, whether or not Israel delibrately targeted civilians.

The insensitivity of many correspondents on this list to the misery Israel has inflicted on the Gazan population is apppalling.

I expect your seders will emphasize “pour out thy wrath” rather than “do not oppress the stranger.”

I am done on this topic.

Bennett Muraskin says:

I mean talk to “eachother.”

Too bad that Liel didn’t get the assignment to write this post instead of Marc. That would have been entertaining.

Gene says:

Muraskin, misery on Gazan population inflicted not Israel but Palestinians themselves. If, instead of building and firing rockets they would build tractors and water retaining facilities – maybe they would not have so many casualties. What do you think?
As to the data on WWII – once again, it depends what year you are looking at. Allied casualties were high when Germany had power to inflict them. Axis causalities became higher than Allied in 1944 and 1945 when Allied forces gained more power. It is all about power. If Palestinians had more powerful rockets (like the ones Israel has) then Israeli casualties would be much higher. Don’t you understand that? It is all about power. Israel could wipe off from the face of earth the entire strip if she had such an intention, if intention was to inflict casualties on civilians. Why it is so difficult to understand?

tillkan says:

“. If, instead of building and firing rockets they would build tractors and water retaining facilities”

Then Israel would bomb the tractors and water facilities.

Dani ben Leb says:

Bennet go to bed. You have no space here. You do not understand the conflict and are outing yourself as someone who has no clue, militarily or politicly. Go write at mondoweiss or EI.

justicegirl says:

Mr. Muraskin forgets that the Palestinians of Gaza voted in Hamas; Hamas is the movement they choose to follow. They are subject to the consequences of their choices.

Dani ben Leb says:

The Real story is not the retraction but the outing of the manipulation of Hamas and the Palestinians of the discourse in the West, especially on the left.
This is the lefts Flotilla Incident.
It borders on the surreal that Israel fights a defensive war in Gaza after many calls by Olmert to stop the rockets into civilian areas and the video footage of the Love Boat of Turkish Islamofascists beating Navy Commandos and then screaming bloody murder. Clown Bennet here, holds the flag for the brain washed fools pushing Hamas’s wares, with righteous indignation. THAT is the outrage and NOT 700 civilian dead in Gaza, the IDF should be commended for going into an urban battle ground and managing a kill ration of 1fascist:1civilian.
When a Gaza missile hits an Israeli kindergarden what will the kill ratio be? 16 children:0 soldiers.
What the IDF dead in Gaza was a military feat, and any soldiers knows this. Had the US done something similar, there would have been many thousands dead.

The IDF is an incredible army. Probably the most sophisticated high tech army in the history of armed conflict.

tillkan says:

justicegirl forgets the Israelis elected Avidgor Lieberman. Or maybe she is proud of that. Never mind.

Tillkan: actually Lieberman’s party Yisrael Beitanu received 12% of the vote in the 2009 election. I shudder to think what kind of parties could be elected with 12% of the vote in American if we had a proportionally elected multi-party parliamentary government.

Hello Bennett—et al. As a long-time lefty but independent and hard headed, all I can say is that this is bad for liberals and lefties, and besmirches the good name of the Honorable Mr. Goldstone. When you think of all the strum und drang that this caused and all the ill will towards Israel (I am a Zionist BTW, albeit a “labor” (socialist) and post-modern Zionist), I am upset with Mr. Goldstone, very upset. His credibility as a spokesman for the victims of genocide has been heavily tarnished. Shame, Mr. Goldstone, shame.

Diogenes the Jew says:

Hello, Jack and Bennett, We’ve met briefly in Jewish contexts (though I doubt either of you’d remember me).
The whole point of this event is that Goldstone recklessly (one may continue to speculate about his motives) gave his “imprimatur” to the blood libel against Israel, and the news reports flaunted his “Jewishness” prominently. He has now retracted it (mostly) after much damage has been irrevocably done.
@Jack: if you’re truly independent of the left’s PC party line, I hope we shall see more skepticism from you about the left’s apriori assumptions and “final solutions” to the “illegitimacy” of any and all Israel’s actions.
@Bennett: appealing for a “moderator”? One might think you’ve found “religion.” Agreed, name-calling is juvenile, but so (even more so) is the reflexive continued indictment of Israel’s villainy, and even more so after the most prominent accuser has himself admitted to “perjuring” himself. Perhaps, also, some of the name-calling would be restrained if you argued your case as an compassionate equal rather than as a “teacher” about the sins of Israel.

manny says:

This man was not credible then and is not credible now. Now he feels completely isolated and ostracized, a coming attraction to what he will feel in HELL. He has lied and debased himself and his family; he has been responsible for hundreds of death after CAST LEAD and his conscience can bear it no longer. I am awaiting his coming suicide which will not take too long.

manny says:

Marty Janner:
“If i knew then what i know now”. This is what the naif and simpleton Janner believes. I told Goldstone that he did know it then and knows it now. That what he said had absolutely nothing to do with the the truth. Nothing has changed for him except his own motivation. Anyone, including the above, who believes differently should call me if they want to participate in the toil booth profits i have title to on a major bridge in NYC
With regard to maligning his character, i submit that this would be impossible. If you looked for it you couldn’t find it.
HE HAS NO CHARACTER AT ALL.

fred lapides says:

It is always useful to read comments such as these in order to ensure that my conception of the Right versus the Left remain as they have been for a long time. Nothing changes. We see the world not as it is but as we are.

Yaakov Hillel says:

Calling Muraskin a bigoted Moron is justified. Muraskin if he lived in any country on the face of the earth, under a daily barrage of missles aimed at civilian targets,homes hospitals,schools, kindergartens over a period of ten years, by a country who claims that they will not stop until Israel is annihlated. Israel has every right to invade and clean out the problematic powers involved. If Israel would have dropped two bunker blasting bombs on central Gaza city, where Israeli soldiers did not even come close to, it would have made shock wave igniting all the underground(tunneled)thousands of tons of explosives wiping Gaza city off the face of the earth including a half million brainwashed Muslims who think that it is better to be dead by killing Jews than remain alive. A Gazan woman whose child was recieving treatments at rthe same hospital the Gazans targeted had no shame in saying that her child healed by Israeli doctors will grow up to be a shahid in order to kill as many Jews as possible. Israel by sending forces into the Gaza strip new that Israeli soldiers would die in the battles, the Gazans were phoned to their home in literally thousands of calls, and leaflets were dropped for civilians to leave areas being attacked. no army has ever gone to so much trouble to protect civilian lives. Many Gazan fighters would not let people leave or let children be taken out of kindergartens.You would expect the situation after the attack to change we are again today living in terrified cities not knowing if the next missle or mortar shell has their name wriyyen on it. close to two million Israelis live in the area where te Gazan missles can reach. It is not humane to have a great amount of people terrorized by people like Abu Mazzen and Ismail Haniye. Israel actually has no choice but to recapture Gaza or dropping bunker blaster bombs on the stocks of ammunition in Gaza, which will change this twelve year war. Israel Gave Gaza its freedom but Islam wants to wipe out Jews

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Goldstone Retracts Israeli War Crimes Claim

Author of eponymous report asserts Israel did not target civilians

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