Goldstone critics ponder their roles in about-face

Stanford law debate and informal correspondence may have been the inspiration for ‘Washington Post’ op-ed.

Judge Richard Goldstone 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Judge Richard Goldstone 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
Bar-Ilan University law professor Avi Bell said he can’t swear he was responsible for changing Judge Richard Goldstone’s mind. But Bell can’t help but note the timing of Goldstone’s opinion piece in Friday’s Washington Post, in which he said he erroneously accused Israel of targeting innocent civilians in Gaza in his infamous report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2009.
On March 28, Bell was among a number of academics who participated in a debate with Goldstone at Stanford University Law School.
'Goldstone says he'll work to nullify report in UN'
British gov't opposes call to retract Goldstone Report
Five days later, Goldstone published his opinion piece.
However, he did that after The New York Times, on March 22, rejected an opinion piece he wrote which bore no relation to The Washington Post piece.
So, Bell said, something changed in that week.
Bell recalled for The Jerusalem Post how there was a moment in the debate where Goldstone claimed he stood by the facts in his report. “I had cited contradictory evidence and I stared at him – a minute later he backed down,” Bell said.
He added that he would not say that the debate, which occurred in front of some 200 people, was the reason that Goldstone decided to rescind a critical allegation in his report.
“But it strikes me that it is reasonable to speculate that this was a factor,” he said.
Bell believes that as time has gone on, Goldstone has become increasingly concerned by the rejection of the report among his judicial peers and the Jewish community.
In his Washington Post piece, Goldstone stated that he was influenced by a follow-up report to his document, submitted to the UNHRC on March 18 by Judge Mary McGowan Davis.
“I do not think that has anything to do with it,” said Bell.
“He is using it as a ladder to climb down from.
“He is running into a hard time in audiences that are important to him, academics and Jewish groups. I suspect these encounters are making him very uncomfortable,” he added.
Peter Berkowitz, who chairs the Hoover Task Force of National Security and Law at Stanford University, and who debated Goldstone along with Bell, said that the March event was a follow- up to a debate with Goldstone held in January.
Unlike Bell, he did not want to speculate as to what changed Goldstone’s mind. But he said he spent time in the debate attacking the assertion in Goldstone’s report that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians.
While he said it was reasonable to conclude that Goldstone could have been influenced by the McGowan Davis report, even in 2009 Goldstone lacked the evidence necessary to reach the conclusions in his report.
Bell is not the only person to believe that he may have influenced Goldstone.
Maurice Ostroff – a South African-born industrial engineer who fought during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 before making aliya in 1980 – began exchanging letters with Goldstone in 2009, when the judge began to prepare his report.
“When the Goldstone mission came to Gaza, I sent several memoranda to them, and Goldstone replied very courteously – even though I was highly critical of the way it went about,” he said. “I never attacked him personally; I never do that in my writing. We found an intellectual common ground... He started writing personal letters, but the understanding was that I don’t publish them, which I don’t,” Ostroff said.
“The newspapers have given the impression this has been a sudden epiphany,” he continued. “At one of the panels he was asked by a participant how would he feel if his report was proved wrong; his answer was that he’d be rejoiced. It’s been a gradual process, nothing sudden.”