Richard Goldstone cartoon 311 (do not publish again).
(photo credit: AVI KATZ)
SUPPORTERS OF JUDGE RICHARD GOLDSTONE’S report for the UN Human Rights Council
on the 2008-9 Gaza War are spitting with rage that he has recanted his main
finding that Israel deliberately killed civilians. They are scrabbling around to
find justification for continuing to accuse Israel of war crimes. Their
responses are understandable: They have lost a pillar of their attacks on
They blame the influence of Jews/Zionists/Israel for his
recanting article in “The Washington Post.” One of them says “intense bullying”
made him change his mind. Another speaks of a “shameful U-turn” and that “it is
his wish to return to the Zionist comfort zone that propelled this bizarre and
faulty article.” What are they complaining about? Each of us is affected and
influenced by how others react (legitimately) to what we say and
Goldstone certainly did come under colossal pressure. First, because
the damage the report inflicted on Israel’s image and standing was beyond
calculation and evoked widespread outrage among Jews throughout the
Some criticisms were extreme and hysterical, abusing him as a
“traitor” and a “self-hating Jew,” plus the distasteful attempt in his home
town, Johannesburg, to exclude him from a grandson’s bar mitzva. These
responses reached such offensive levels that they proved counterproductive,
generating sympathy for him among both Jews and non-Jews.
was left in no doubt about the harm he had caused. South Africa’s “Jewish
” newspaper probably got to the nub of it: “His loneliness over the past
year and a half must have been excruciating, including the knowledge that the
pain his family was going through resulted from his own actions.”
Goldstone made himself vulnerable to attack by accepting what was clearly a
poisoned chalice. He knew the UN Human Rights Council, which set up his
commission, had an awful record of prejudiced focusing on Israel. He knew that
the majority had already decided that Israel was guilty of war crimes. He knew
that one commission member, British law professor Christine Chinkin, was
severely compromised in undertaking any impartial inquiry because she had
already publicly adjudged Israel guilty. He must have been aware that the
council would be shocked if he produced a report exonerating Israel. The
Israeli government refused to take part, probably wisely, because this was so
obviously a hanging court.
Yet Goldstone went ahead. Did he believe his
own words: That his commission could further Middle East peace and he was the
“one person who could achieve an evenhanded mission?” Was he brave and
visionary? Naive? Or was he, an ambitious man, at the age of 71, arrogantly in
search of glory and international renown?
Whatever his motivation, the report
brought him immense attention. It did so because it castigated Israel for
deliberately killing civilians during the Gaza onslaught. The accusations became
imprinted on the world’s consciousness. Even many Israelis and friends of Israel
were shaken and ashamed.
Everyone who hated Israel loved Goldstone.
Everyone who wanted an excuse to condemn Israel for its occupation of the West
Bank, or for its right-wing government, or for its discrimination against its
Arab minority, or for simply existing, suddenly had a big stick ready to hand –
and, wonderfully, provided by a Jew who put all his Jewish and Zionist and
judicial and South African credentials behind the report. His name gave it
infinitely more power than any of the usual international reports assailing
Goldstone touted his report in celebrity television interviews,
press conferences and group meetings. He brushed aside criticisms by
people who had actually read the nearly 600-page document that it was the
outcome of shoddy research and that a large chunk of it about West Bank
occupation was nothing but a cut-and-paste job, largely irrelevant to the matter
Goldstone now says his main finding was wrong: Israel did not
target civilians as a matter of policy. His key statement has reverberated
around the world: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report
would have been a different document.”
Those will not be the last words.
The report lives on and will be used against Israel. It contains a raft of other
heavy accusations and Goldstone’s three fellow commission members stand by
everything in it. Nor have Goldstone’s erstwhile supporters given up. They are
combing through the wreckage. The London-based “Guardian
,” for example, has
shifted the focus of attack, claiming: “indiscriminate warfare, as opposed to
deliberate killing, was undoubtedly state policy.” Others want to ignore
Goldstone’s recantation and press for UN action on the report.
while the IDF carries out extensive investigations on the ground, the government
still has to answer basic and troubling questions such as: Why did the onslaught
continue for so long, kill so many civilians and damage so much property? Why
was white phosphorous used over civilian areas? Why were journalists kept out?
Richard Goldstone is now on the sidelines. He blundered into the Gaza mess and
has done himself little good stumbling out of it. Both ways he has lost public,
and especially Jewish, credibility and respect. It’s a tragedy for a man
who spent so many years working for human rights and justice. Benjamin
Pogrund, an author and journalist who reported extensively on the iniquities of
the apartheid regime in his native South Africa, now lives in Jerusalem and is
currently writing a book examining the Israel/apartheid issue.