Col Travers’ Elephant

This is a guest post from amie

The Goldstone caravan moved on to Westminster last week, this time hosted by Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

As we waited to go into the Committee room, a woman gushed to the Colonel: “Of course, the Irish have always had an affinity with the Palestinians; you were bashed around just like they are.”

Col Travers declared his delight to the audience at spending St Patrick’s night with this particular group of Jews, so that he could carry a message of comfort to the sorely pilloried Goldstone that here at least was one group of Jews who were cheering for him.

One of the first questioners challenged Travers on his statement in a Middle East Monitor interview that “Britain’s foreign policy interests in the Middle East seem to be influenced strongly by Jewish lobbyists” ; and then implying that the testimony of Colonels Collins and Kemp was suspect by reason of being British. Travers dismissed this with : “I have already been asked that.”

Yes, but you haven’t ever answered it, several helpfully reminded him, with increasing insistence.

I asked Travers to explain why he had rejected as false the 1200 photos and 30 videos he had examined, in particular those showing how mosques had been used as munitions stores and as missile launching pads. I wondered if he could support his rejection forensically,without recourse to a priori argument of where he would hide his weapons if he were an insurgent, [last time he claimed expertise in the subject as he had insurgent ancestry] or an appeal to Orientalism that it is a purely Western perception that using mosques is even conceivable.

[From the Memo interview: “Those charges reflect Western perceptions in some quarters that Islam is a violent religion.”]

As the Dershowitz report puts it:

“In other words, “political correctness” must trump hard evidence. As Groucho Marx once put it: “Who are you going to believe, me? Or your lying eyes?” Or in the present context, “my political bias or your lying videos?”

In reply to me, Travers claimed to have given the photos to a “military expert who said that except for one item, he could neither prove or disprove anything in/from the photos. One photo of a warhead, the expert surmised was genuine”.

He then added, inexplicably, that he could not take the photos into account because they were “not attached to anything”. In order to be considered, they had to be “attached” to an NGO report, such as to a Human Rights Watch report.

This non committal “neither prove nor disprove”, like the Report’s conclusion that “The Mission is unable to make any determination on the general allegation that Palestinian armed groups used mosques for military purposes”, is a far cry from his vehement denunciation in the Memo interview:

“I found all of these photographs to be spurious in the extreme! Collins made statements he knows to be unsound. He has to know. .he has to know this is drivel!”

I noticed an odd contrast between the moderated tone on the two occasions I have heard Travers talk and his MEMO interviews. The penny only dropped when I read in habibi’s post on Ismael Patel that Middle East Monitor is the web operation of Daud Abdullah, deputy secretary general of the MCB.

It is there that Travers feels at ease enough to swap soft shoes for boots and revel in talk of Jewish Lobbies and the only Jew in the Irish Parliament, not to mention feverish hyperbole like this:

“Gaza has now come into the history books in the same way as Guernica,Dresden, Stalingrad. Gaza is a gulag, the only gulag in the Western hemisphere; maintained by democracies; closed-off from food, water, air.”

Another questioner raised the well known argument for Prof Chinkin’s disqualification to act as a Goldstone Commissioner as she made statements prejudging the case against Israel, and for Travers on the grounds raised by the previous questioner on the Jewish Lobby issue to which Travers had still not delivered an answer.

Traver’s demeanour of quiet concern suddenly descended into sneering:

Oh dear, 50% of the Commissioners don’t make the grade, he sing songed in mocking imitation: All you can do is whinge, but none of you are able to even come near touching anything of the Report itself.

This Big Lie that Goldstone himself also propagates was galling enough: They keep saying plaintively that all the attacks are ad hominen, but they have yet to see a substantive critique of the contents of the Report, which of course they would be delighted to respond to. In fact there is a solid bank of thorough forensic deconstruction and demolition papers. See Dershowitz and also this.

But it was his “whinge” gibe that propelled me to my feet to join in, uncharacteristically, with the “What about the Jewish Lobby” hecklers: “ Whingeing? I shouted in disbelief. Is that how you dismiss being called to account for “Jewish Lobby?”

The Chair was Libdem Baroness Northover, who scolded me to sit down and have some respect, how were we going to make any progress in the Middle East unless we listened to one another. “Respect, you talk of respect when this man responds to a serious issue with taunting.” I shouted. At this point, the police attention focused on Jonathan Hoffman turned fleetingly to me.

The baroness kept chiding us firmly that we had asked our question so we should now move on. This was a novel form of Q and A, then, where the question is requited by the mere asking of it; an answer does not come into it, under this Alice in Wonderland matrix. Not quite the Queen of Heart’s sentence before verdict, but closure without answer is the Baroness’ way.

(To her credit, she calmly waved away the police each time they were repeatedly and unnecessarily called in by a member of the audience).

But the uproar finally elicited a response, of sorts, from Travers, but one that was rather extraordinary:

Can we not overlook my particular flawed pedigree and personality, and stick to the Report?

A languid long haired young chap with an air of supercilious sagacity, spoke of his 4 grandparents killed in the Holocaust, and that therefore he could speak asajew (yes! Bingo!) to declare how horrible we were being to the Palestinians. Who can argue with that: certainly not me, with only 2 Shoa murdered grandparents to my credit. Another man, choking with emotion also invoked the Holocaust as a lesson for us not to ill treat Palestinians. Fervent applause.

If there is a Holocaust industry, it is captained by those whose machinery is so finely tuned to the suffering of others but could not bring themselves to acknowledge when Jewish lobby rhetoric, which powered the Holocaust, was live in the room.

[This mindset is confirmed by an email received by Jonathan Hoffman after the event with this praise for the young man:
“Perhaps he had been reading the works of Norman Finkelstein in coming to such admirable conclusions and you would do yourself a favour by obtaining similar enlightenment.”]

A well groomed woman confronted me afterwards: What was so wrong with talking about the Jewish lobby? She was in PR and after all, that was what one did; lobby.

This woman had just fiercely accused the Chinkin challenger with:

“Have you ever been to the West Bank!” [I thought the report was about Gaza but never mind]. This woman who was not Jewish, had apparently taken the trouble to acquaint herself with the West Bank’s problems but was unable even to recognise the Elephant that was the Jewish lobby remark let alone acknowledge it. So I sketched its contours for her: nothing like, say, the “disability lobby”, but rather an ancient antisemitic trope, that Jews control the world, roots deep in the Protocols, historically the impetus for pogrom and genocide. Oh, I don’t know anything about all that, she huffed, hurriedly departing.

One could perhaps excuse her Elephant blindness, but what is the excuse of the jfjfp audience?

They choose to speak as Jews. They have no business doing so if they are ignorant of the catastrophic part these tropes played in Jewish history and still play in the Jewish present. If they are not ignorant, they have no business, asjews, choosing to skirt fastidiously around or willfully facing away from the Elephant which was not just standing there, but rampaging round the room.


Knowing Richard Goldstone a little, back in the Old Country, I expected the Report to be a document which would make uncomfortable reading, but would be informed by sound legal discipline. I did not expect anything so shoddy and inadequate, such a let down to the legal tradition which we had in common. One of the many aspects critiqued by legal analysts (never mind the Big Lie that there are none such) is the staggeringly divergent standards of proof and standards applied to the credibility of witnesses, depending whose narrative they supported.

There was a second speaker last week, International Law Professor Iain Scobbie (SOAS). He presented many points as if they were still virgin and unchallenged, whereas they have already been refuted in the various papers, but, just like Travers, he does not even allude to the existence of such counterarguments, let alone rebut them. This is characteristic of the methodology throughout the Report itself: a sedulous avoidance of properly taking into account any evidence which they did not like, and making opaque findings, with no reference, let alone transparent exposition, as to how they are arrived at.

Scobbie also made remarks about Gaza witnesses which chime with the flawed approach of Chinkin to witness credibility. Her emphasis at the LSE meeting last week was on the importance of the voices of the victims being heard. Scobbie said there were two purposes in hearing evidence: One was information gathering and the other was a “sociolegal” one, for the victims to “have their day in court”.

That surely, is the function of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Goldstone Commission had a clear mandate: to act as a fact finding mission. If facts are sacred, this report is blasphemy.