Haaretz met with United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to discuss the Senate's unanimous vote to retract the United Nations sponsored Goldstone report on the Gaza war in 2008-2009. The report accuses Israel of committing war crimes against Palestinians and targeting civilians during Operation Cast Lead.
An op-ed published in the Washington Post by Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the report, has put some of its allegations against Israel in question, with the South African judge writing "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document."
The Senate unanimously passed Resolution 138, urging the UN to rescind the Goldstone Report, but Judge Goldstone has made clear he has no intention of asking the UN to retract the report. Other members of the commission continue to endorse its contents. Why did you introduce this resolution?
I first raised my concerns about the inherent bias in the Goldstone Report and its conclusions two years ago and immediately called for its repudiation along with a bipartisan coalition of Senators. Now that Justice Goldstone has confirmed our earlier concerns, my Senate colleagues and I have again expressed our strong position that the UN should not legitimize these unsubstantiated and biased allegations against our close ally.
This biased and one-sided report sends a dangerous message to countries defending themselves against terrorism, and we can not let it go unchallenged. From my understanding of the UNHRC process, the Council members can take steps to repudiate the report's findings or stop working on the report's recommendations without Justice Goldstone taking any further action.
Skeptics would say that the Senate's vote has no chance of influencing the UN decision. Would it be realistic to expect that it will have an impact, other than sending a message of support to Israel?
The UN needs to face the facts. A report that was problematic at best from the start has now been undermined by its key author. By unanimously passing this Senate resolution, we have sent a strong signal to the UN, and to our fellow member states, that the US does not support the Goldstone related UN activities. We expect that message will be heard.
Recently it seems that the U.S. Administration is preoccupied with other important countries in the Middle East that are undergoing major changes. It seems that with the regional unrest, Israel is not a top priority. What is the Senate's take on this?
The bond between our countries is unbreakable and Israel will always be a key American priority. While it is certainly a turbulent time in the region, our relationship and shared interests are as strong as ever. That is why when we see anti-Israel sentiments in world bodies like the UN you see such a strong and immediate outcry from a broad bipartisan coalition of members in Congress. From my vantage point as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I can tell you that we continue to work closely together on a number of important issues.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to give a speech in May at Congress. Do you expect him to present a new Israeli initiative? Do you think the U.S. initiative makes more sense? Or perhaps there is no point in trying to push a peace agreement now, with so much uncertainty in the region?
I look forward to his speech. I first met the Prime Minister when I spent time in Israel in 2009, and have had the opportunity to discuss Israel’s security challenges and desire for a peace agreement several times since. All parties must continue to move the peace process forward.
The Prime Minister has already made many concessions to seek peace, it is time for the Palestinians to do the same, and get back to the table for direct negotiations. Peace can only be achieved by the parties on the ground – it can not be driven unilaterally at the UN. That's why I successfully opposed the UN Security Council resolution last February. While there have been new challenges in recent weeks, Israel is a strong country that can count on the United States' alliance, friendship and support.
The 2012 elections campaign has already begun and the budget battles last week made it clear that there is little reason to expect a less partisan atmosphere in the next 20 months or so. What impact do you think it might have on U.S. foreign policy? And do you believe when people talk about serious budget cuts, there is still justification for providing foreign aid– including to Israel?
We do have to make difficult budget choices here at home, but I believe that aid to Israel will continue with strong bi-partisan support. There is wide recognition that this program, which is a very small fraction of the U.S. budget, benefits the economies of both of our countries.
It seems that the war in Libya and its effect on oil prices has made the sanctions against Iran less successful. Do you see any way to change this, perhaps through additional legislation?
Iran is a threat to the United States, Israel and the fledgling democracies in the region. Sanctions must continue. I am pleased the U.S. and Europe have added important sanctions since the Arab Spring began.
In the Senate, we are considering important legislation that I co-sponsored this year called the Transparency and Accountability Act. When companies do business with Iran, they fund Iran’s nuclear development and endanger the security of America, Israel, and all of our allies.
This bill strengthens current sanctions by increasing reporting requirements and making sure that banks and companies that do business with Iran don't get the benefit of the U.S. economy.
If we can bring greater transparency to all investments being made in Iran, we can defund the nuclear militarization of one of the world’s most hostile nations.
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