South African Jews on Sunday welcomed Richard Goldstone’s retraction of the accusation by a committee he chaired that Israel intentionally targeted civilians during the war with Hamas in 2009. But some individuals interviewed by The Jerusalem Post were uncertain whether the statement may help mend frayed ties between the South African Jewish jurist and the community.
Michael Bagraim, the president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said he felt “relieved” by the article published by Goldstone in the Washington Post on Friday.
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“Goldstone has relooked at the situation and decided to backtrack,” Bagraim said in an interview over the phone.
“Our community has felt very strongly that the probe was unfair to Israel and it’s almost like we’re saying ‘we told you.’ “Its findings were possibly influenced by Israel’s decision not to get involved in the investigation, but he is a highly qualified lawyer and one would have expected him to go into the facts.”
Bagraim added that Goldstone’s declaration could help rescind the committee’s conclusions, which put Israeli officials traveling abroad at risk of being arrested on grounds of war crimes.
“It can be repaired and we live and wait for that,” he said. “The real question is whether the international community condemns the report or says that it stands.
I’ve been waiting to see how those countries react.”
Other members of the community, however, said the damage done by Goldstone in his report was irreparable and would continue to plague Israel for years to come.
“There’s a famous story about a man standing up at a shul and saying somebody’s sister is a prostitute,” David Hersch, national vice chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, said.
“Then it turns out not only that she isn’t a prostitute, but that he doesn’t even have a sister. But the rumor is out there. This is the same thing.”
Relations between Goldstone and the Jewish community soured immediately after the committee he chaired published its report in September 2009 accusing both Israel and Hamas had knowingly targeted civilians during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
In its wake, Goldstone was ostracized by his coreligionists in South Africa for endorsing a committee which they felt was skewed against the Jewish state.
Last year there were doubts over whether the Jewish judge would be able to take part in his grandson’s bar mitzva in South Africa because of the community’s animosity towards him. After negotiations, Goldstone eventually attended the bar mitzva, accompanied by several bodyguards.
Some members of the community on Sunday said South African Jews will continue to treat Goldstone as a persona non grata despite his change of heart.
“I was last week at the Zionist conference in Johannesburg and I don’t think he will be forgiven,” Hersch said.
“He went too far and did too much damage. He will actually fade away and be ignored, settle into well-deserved obscurity.”
In contrast, Bagraim said he did not rule out the possibility that the retraction could eventually lead towards reconciliation of sorts between Goldstone and the community.
“This will go a long way to repairing that bond,” he said.