Saturday 10 October 2009

Three South African Jews and the Gaza War

A side story arising from the Goldstone Report on the Gaza War has run in newspapers in certain parts of the world. The story surrounds the role played by Lt. Col. David Benjamin, an Israel Defence Force (IDF) reserve officer serving in the Military Advocate General's office during Operation Cast Lead. In these stories it is alleged that Benjamin committed war crimes in this role during the Gaza War.

I have known David Benjamin since we were at university together in Cape Town during the late 1980s. We were both leaders in different Zionist youth movements encouraging the Jewish children in South African to identify more strongly with their Judaism, and with Israel as the Jewish state. After completing his law degree in South Africa, he moved to live in Israel. Soon after making aliyah, Benjamin joined the IDF where he held many legal positions during the time of his service. He ultimately was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel when serving in the Military Advocate General's office as the head of the international law department. Although he had already resigned from the IDF prior to the outbreak of Operation Cast Lead, he is reported to have returned to his former position in the Military Advocate General's office during the Gaza War.

So why the focus on Benjamin? After all, he was not the Military Advocate General. Surely any accusations of war crimes directed against lawyers who advised field commanders as to what actions were allowable should be directed against the legal chief rather than somebody like Benjamin?

The twist is in the fact that Israel did not sign up to the 2002 Rome Treaty that brought the International Criminal Court into existence. As such, the ICC does not have jurisdiction to indict its citizens. South Africa, however, did sign up to the Rome Treaty. When Benjamin immigrated to Israel, he retained his South African citizenship whilst taking on Israeli citizenship. By virtue of the fact that he is still a citizen of South Africa, Benjamin falls under the jurisdiction of the ICC. It is claimed that the ICC in the Hague had been alerted to this fact by various pro-Palestinian groups and had begun an investigation into Benjamin's role in committing "war crimes". This was initiated following an interview that Benjamin conducted with In this interview, he confirmed that the international law department was intimately involved in the planning of the Gaza War.

An opportunity to act further on this case presented itself when Benjamin travelled to South Africa after he was invited by the South African Jewish community to attend a conference on international law during war time. During his trip, South African prosecutors were asked to open an investigation that Benjamin had committed war crimes. In order to avoid any confrontation, Benjamin departed South Africa earlier than he had planned.

Whilst this opportunistic behaviour is no less than could be expected from those whose sole purpose in life is to damage and discredit Israel at every opportunity, some of the responses by members of the South African Jewish community were less than acceptable. In particular, the remarks issued by the director of the conference, Professor Dennis Davis, were shameful. Davis is a district court judge in South Africa and a lecturer in international law at the University of Cape Town. Davis is an outspoken and active member of the Jewish community in Cape Town and formerly had Benjamin as a student in his class when he was a law student. Davis spoke out against the comments made by Benjamin at the conference that Israel did not commit war crimes. Davis is quoted as saying that if Benjamin was still a student in his class, he would fail him!

It is not enough that a Jewish South African called Richard Goldstone is responsible for publishing a report into the Gaza War that does not attempt to reflect the extremes to which
Israel went in order to fight a war of necessity in a fair and moral way. His report accuses Israel of war crimes, and recommends the indictment of Israelis on these charges. We now have a Jewish South African judge in the form of Dennis Davis who adds insult to injury by going further than Goldstone in singling out an individual like Benjamin on such crimes.

Although both Goldstone and Davis are great legal minds, unfortunately their legal acumen is misguided in this case. There is no harm in holding Israel and the IDF responsible for its actions when these actions are independently contrary to accepted norms and standards. In the case of the Gaza War, however, the extremes to which the IDF went in order to protect the innocent civilians despite the despicable behaviour of Hamas in trying to exploit this fact, is deserving of commendation and not criticism. The time has come to speak out in favour of the wonderful job done by Benjamin and his colleagues. The time has also come to speak out against Goldstone, Davis and other self-hating Jews. I am ashamed to be a South African Jew when I am classed alongside such individuals.

It is my fear, with the increasing threat to Jews around the world and in South Africa, that the Jews living outside of Israel will be forced to turn more and more towards Israel to protect them and their Jewish heritage. Perhaps this is what is required for individuals like Goldstone and Davis to recognise the wonderful job done by Benjamin and other soldiers in the IDF to protect Jews and Jewish freedom around the world. It is a shame that certain Jews in the diaspora still cannot appreciate the value of the risks taken and sacrifices made in Israel to keep them safe wherever they are. Be assured that, in the unfortunate event of a Jewish emergency anywhere in the world, Israel will always take seriously its responsibility to protect and provide a safe haven for all Jews, even those who have turned their backs on Israel during a time of need.

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