Richard Goldstone’s legacy

At a recent debate on a panel with the South African judge, I started feeling sorry for him.

April 3, 2011 22:22
Judge Richard Goldstone

Goldstone 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Last Monday, I debated with Richard Goldstone about the controversial Goldstone Report at Stanford Law School. Three days later, Justice Goldstone finally admitted, in The Washington Post, that, contrary to the report’s assertions, Israel did not intentionally target civilians. A Palestinian outfit called the International Middle East Media Center carried a story this weekend lamenting that two “racist Zionists” at the debate – Peter Berkowitz and I – were responsible for convincing Goldstone of the error of his ways. Sadly, this is, at best, only partly true.

The debate at Stanford was not designed for enlightenment. Besides the moderator, there were five of us debating under a format that let Goldstone avoid responding directly. The debate had too many participants, too large a topic and too crimped a format to allow a serious probing of the report’s defects. The International Law Society, which organized the debate, tipped its hand by inviting an organization called “Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel” to cosponsor the event.

Even with the friendly format, Richard Goldstone cannot have enjoyed the criticism. As I watched him sitting through the debate stone-faced, his wife sitting next to him, and as I thought back on his lengthy resumé, I recognized the enormous tragedy of a man, once lauded as a champion of human rights, becoming a shill for a terrorist organization.

Goldstone had been proud to take credit for his work in prosecuting war criminals before such institutions as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. And now he had to listen to his professional colleagues demonstrate how the Goldstone Report distorted international law and, as The Washington Post editorialized, made a “mockery of impartiality, with its judgment of facts.”

When the Goldstone Report was first published in 2009, with a brew of blood libels and legal fallacies that exceeded even the usual anti-Israel vitriol produced by the UN Human Rights Council, Goldstone went on a PR offensive. He took to the airwaves to try to sell the idea that the report, which conspicuously and repeatedly denied or whitewashed nearly all of Hamas’s crimes, was accurate in accusing Israelis and Israel’s leadership of the most monstrous crimes and motives. Even then, Goldstone’s going was not easy. The Economist, generally cold to Israel, condemned the report as “deeply flawed,” and a “thimbleful of poison.” A barrelful is more like it.

Now Goldstone has produced less than a thimbleful of contrition. He still refuses to acknowledge the cocktail of lies and distortions that comprise the Goldstone Report. Goldstone has refused to disavow the report’s attempt to eliminate laws against terrorism from the international legal codex, and its refusal to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization. He has not renounced the preposterous characterization of Gaza as territory under Israeli occupation, or the report’s shocking claim that Israel’s limited economic sanctions against the Hamas government are an unlawful form of collective punishment. He continues to remain silent on the report labeling all Israelis liars to stamp Hamas’s anti-Israel libels with the imprimatur of truth. He has not yet expressed remorse about the report’s gratuitous inclusion of anti- Jewish slurs, such as its endorsement of the bigoted claim that Israeli Jews are dehumanized and paranoid.

Goldstone said during the debate that no one has disputed the report’s factual allegations. But this is demonstrably false and Goldstone knew it, because he was looking right at me when I reminded him of this fact during the debate. He did not repeat the claim in The Washington Post.

At Stanford and afterward in The Washington Post, Goldstone took credit for prompting and helping internal Israeli investigations, and claimed that the report’s main demand was for further investigation, but this is a lie.

None of the report’s nine demands directed at Israel included a call to investigate. Instead, after falsely accusing Israel of crimes, the report scandalously slandered its entire legal system and called for the “international community” to prosecute Israelis while economically punishing the Jewish state.

Israel’s investigations started before the Goldstone Report, just as they do after every major IDF combat operation. Being professional and thorough, Israeli investigators gathered all the relevant evidence, and continued for as long as it took to arrive at answers that would hold up in court. Unsurprisingly, the investigators could not corroborate even one of the Goldstone Report’s accusations as printed.

The Palestinians, by contrast, never have and never will impose any criminal price upon Palestinians for crimes against humanity victimizing Jews; indeed, both the Fatah-led and Hamas-led Palestinian governments still name public buildings after terrorists. No one has investigated Hamas’s use of civilian shields, its commandeering of hospitals and ambulances, or many of its other war crimes.

Goldstone excused the report’s harsh pronouncements of Israeli guilt on the grounds that his mission did not have contrary evidence. But this is both false and irrelevant. The mission had plenty of contrary evidence, including photographs and testimony, which it willfully disregarded. Where evidence was lacking, the responsible course was to admit that the mission did not know what had happened. Instead, the report repeatedly and unjustifiably presumed Israel guilty and Hamas innocent.

GOLDSTONE’S BELATED and partial acknowledgement of error has not undone the report’s damage. The reputation of the UN Human Rights Council is at a nadir. Legal scholars have observed that if the Goldstone Report’s perverted legal standards become those of international law, international law will no longer have any relevance to modern warfare.

Hamas enjoys newfound legitimacy as it pursues its express goals of destroying the Jewish state, waging eternal war on the Jewish people, and subjecting its own citizens to its puritanical and xenophobic interpretation of Islamic law. The UN continues to falsely claim, like the Goldstone Report, that international law requires Israel to assist Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Israelis, meanwhile, are harassed around the world by opponents of the Jewish state hiding behind the report’s distorted version of international law; last week, President Shimon Peres was threatened with arrest in Switzerland by activists claiming that the Goldstone Report “proves” his guilt.

It is a legacy to be ashamed of. And it is now Richard Goldstone’s.

The writer is a professor at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law and the University of San Diego School of Law. He participated in a debate on “The Goldstone Report and the Application of International Law to the Arab-Israeli Conflict.”

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