Goldstone won't attend bar mitzva

S. African judge says he isn't put off by threat of Israeli protests.

April 17, 2010 21:02
2 minute read.
Goldstone in Gaza.

Goldstone in Gaza 311 ap. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


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JOHANNESBURG — The internationally respected South African jurist who wrote a UN report on 2009's Operation Cast Lead said on Saturday that he would not be attending his grandson's bar mitzva ceremony in Israel, but did not confirm reports he was put off by possible protests.

There had been reports that the former judge Richard Goldstone's critics had threatened protests on his grandson's big day, but Goldstone said he decided not to attend the bar mitzva only after discussions with a South African Jewish group that has sharply criticized his findings that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza.

"In the interests of my grandson, I will not be attending the bar mitzva ceremony," the retired member of South Africa's highest court said in an e-mail to The Associated Press Saturday. "At this time, I am not prepared to say more than that after consultation with the rabbi and leaders of the congregation at the Sandton Synagogue, to which the South African Zionist Federation was a party," he said.

The Zionist Federation has called Goldstone's UN report "flawed and biased." The group's chairman, Avrom Krengel, told The Associated Press he could not comment on the bar mitzva until after the affair, under an agreement with the Goldstone family. Neither he nor Goldstone would say when the bar mitzva, a Jewish milestone heavy with religious, cultural and family implications at which 13-year-olds traditionally come of age, was scheduled.

"It is a day of celebration and we don't want to detract from it," Krengel said.

Harelle Isaacs, office manager at the synagogue, told The AP, "As far as we're concerned, Judge Goldstone is welcome on our premises. No one has asked him not to come.

"We actually don't know where that's coming from," Isaacs said.

Talk of protests has roiled on blogs.

In a statement Friday, South Africa's Jewish Board of Deputies said it was concerned the bar mitzvah "would turn into a divisive issue within the Jewish community."

In what could be taken as a veiled rebuke at any planned protest, the board called for tolerance, and said the exercise of the right to free speech must take "into account, with due sensitivity and understanding, the feelings of others."

Goldstone is a respected figure in South Africa. In addition to serving on the country's Constitutional Court, Goldstone once chaired a South African commission of inquiry into apartheid-era political violence, and was a prosecutor for the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He currently holds a visiting post at Georgetown University in Washington.

But he has faced heavy criticism at home and abroad for his Gaza report. Some of the criticism from fellow Jews has been especially pointed, but other Jews have supported him.

The United States said the report did not fully deal with the role of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the conflict. It also objected to a recommendation that Israeli actions be referred to the International Criminal Court, saying such moves could damage efforts to restart peace talks.

Goldstone has expressed disappointment at the criticism and rejected any suggestion politics played a role in the findings in his 575-page report.

"We believe deeply in the rule of law, humanitarian law, human rights and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm," Goldstone told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last year. The council commissioned the report.

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