Over the past few weeks much of the talk around the coffee tables of former South Africans in Israel has been about the United Nations Human Rights Council report on Operation Cast Lead, commonly known as the Goldstone Report.
The report's author Justice Richard Goldstone until recently enjoyed iconic status within the South African Jewish community as a respected international jurist championing human rights, but today many of them feel betrayed. As one remarked: "The only human rights he has neglected, are those of his own people."
Metro spoke to former South Africans to gauge the level of feeling raised by the report authored by their former countryman. Criticism of Goldstone was overwhelming, and this writer found not a single Goldstone supporter prepared to be quoted.
"The man is over-ambitious and wants to take over from Ban Ki-Moon as Secretary-General of the United Nations," says Bernhard Lazarus of Tel Aviv, a member of the Board of Governors of Tel Aviv University and a former head of the Jewish community in Durban, Natal, who made aliya in January this year.
"If [former UN Human Rights Commissioner] Mary Robinson - no friend of Israel - had reservations of taking the position, why did he? Sheer arrogance," asserts Lazarus. "Goldstone had been out of the limelight of late and possibly believed he could build on his reputation of his earlier high profile prosecutions of the thugs following the civil wars in Rwanda and the Balkans."
Another new immigrant who shares this view is Mark Reichenberg, who is the Chief Financial Officer of a company in the Sharon. Reichenberg made aliya from Johannesburg in July.
"I have followed the Goldstone debacle with great interest and tremendous sadness, and I wonder how far a man's ego takes him that he can sell out his people and his own integrity for personal advancement," Reichenberg comments.
Reichenberg has no doubt Goldstone is chasing the top spot at the UN. Questioning the Judge's liberal credentials, Reichenberg asks, "Where was Goldstone when racism was at its horrific peak in South Africa, when detention without trial was the order of the day, when families were routinely separated, enforced by racial legislation, and when death of black dissenters in police custody was commonplace? Did he then stand up in world forums and cry out against the 'crimes against humanity' perpetrated by the state in his own country? No, instead, he in 1980 accepted an appointment as judge during the apartheid era when other advocates more visibly liberal were ignored or declined the position."
While acknowledging his chairmanship in 1991 of the "South African Standing Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and Intimidation," later known as the "Goldstone Commission," Reichenberg says "this was already when the tide had turned. It was the twilight days of apartheid." Mandela was released in 1990 and emerged as President of South Africa in 1994.
Reichenberg sees Goldstone as a shrewd opportunist who is "quick to pick up which way the wind blows" and set his sails accordingly.
Retired businessman Maurice Ostroff from Herzliya is well-known within the local South African community for his constant battle against global anti-Israel bias. His exchanges with politicians, scholars, academics , military personnel and activists are widely circulated. In the build-up to the commission's report, Ostroff engaged Goldstone in an exchange of emails amounting to a robust debate on the core issues of the war in Gaza.
Disappointed, Ostroff decries the report's "missing testimony."
"One of the glaring defects was the mission's failure to live up to its designation as 'fact-finding'," laments Ostroff.
It failed to seek out Palestinian witnesses "who had fled from Hamas and who spoke about the abuse of ambulances and hospitals." He was astonished at how the mission dismissed a video clip showing Fathi Hawad, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, boasting of using human shields. In its report, the UNHRC investigative commission stated that, "We did not consider it to constitute evidence that Hamas forced Palestinian civilians to shield military objectives against attack."
Also disappointing for Ostroff was Goldstone's failing to live up to his public undertaking to rely strongly on military advice. "My recommendation that he interview Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and adviser to the UK cabinet and who had expert knowledge of warfare in conditions similar to those in Gaza, was dismissed. No doubt they were not happy with his BBC interview where he expressed: "I don't think there has been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF in Gaza."
Ostroff describes as incomprehensible Goldstone's reply to him that they ignored Col. Kemp "because the report did not deal with the issues he raised regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas." This is astonishing, says Ostroff as the "entire fact-finding mission was precisely about military operations in civilian areas."
One former South African who feels Israel bears some of the blame for the Goldstone Report is former Pretorian Dov Randel from Tel Aviv. Randel today laments his role (while working for the Histadrut's Political Department), in initiating the meeting between Yossi Beilin and Terje Larson that led to the Oslo Accords, but he feels that Israel erred in not cooperating with the Goldstone mission.
"It left the field open to Hamas exploitation, and allowed their narrative to dominate the report. That was a mistake and we are being judged partly by default," he said.
No stranger to holding top leadership positions in her community both in South Africa as well as in Israel, where she was for many years the wife of an Israeli judge before his passing, Annette Miliner-Giladi of Kfar Saba is incensed.
"Goldstone may have proved a disappointment to our community, but to our people and to world Jewry, a disaster," says Miliner-Giladi, adding that it was "inexcusable" for him to "cast Israel as the perpetrator and Hamas as the victim."
"If all so-called 'Zionists' were like Goldstone," she adds, "we would not have a Jewish state. Whether he intended it or not, Goldstone is now Hamas's champion."
ORIGINALLY FROM Cape Town, Charles Abelsohn is a lawyer with a large Israeli corporation. "As a Jew, he [Goldstone] will be perceived as a 'Quisling'; as a justice, his reputation tarnished," says Abelsohn, who quotes one example after another through the 570-page report that he believes exposes failings in the methods of questioning witnesses and the weighing of their testimony. Most striking, according to Abelsohn, were the instances of "leading the witness."
He cites the example of one of the commissioners, Colonel Desmond Travers, who prefaced his question to the witness with "it may be not within your expertise" and then continues to say "there have been instances of the shooting of children in front of their parents. As an ex-soldier I find that kind of action to be very, very strange and very unique."
"'I would like to ask you,'" Abelsohn continues to quote, "'if you have any professional insights as to what mindset or what conditioning or what training could bring around a state of behavior that would cause a soldier, a fellow human being to shoot children in front of their parents. Do you have any professional insights into that kind of behavior?' And this is after Travers has admitted that the witness was hardly qualified to answer the question!"
This line of questioning, argues Abelsohn, "was to paint the age-old picture of the Jew as a child-killer. It was nothing less than indulging in a blood libel, and Goldstone, who could have stopped this disgraceful and leading questioning, was happy to let Travers proceed."
Abelsohn summed up his feeling by saying: "If, as he has said, he has hoped to contribute to the peace process, he has achieved quite the opposite - the probable suspension of serious peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
"I live in Kfar Saba, a few kilometers from Kalkilya - well within potential rocket and mortar range," Abelsohn continues. "I supported Rabin and the Oslo process and I advocate the 'Two State Solution,' but until the laws of war have been clarified providing the right of a nation to defend itself, Israel will be unable to relinquish any further territory. Suicide is not an option, and with Goldstone having negated Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist organizations engaged in anti-civilian warfare, the journey ahead to peace has been extended, not shortened."
"This has been Goldstone's contribution," he adds.
Reactions have been not only individual: community institutions have also slammed Goldstone. The South African Zionist Federations both in South Africa and in Israel (Telfed) published press releases condemning the report. SAZF chairman Avrom Krendel wrote that Goldstone has tarnished his legacy "from his previous career of prosecuting crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda," and that the report should "be treated with contempt having given legitimacy to terrorists' initiatives while ignoring the obligation and right of every country to defend itself."
Maish Isaacson, Chairman of Telfed, disdainfully described the report as "legal manipulations" designed to "turn reality on its head" by falsely accusing "our sons and daughters serving in the army as behaving like criminals."