Goldstone’s Retraction

Everyone who hated Israel loved Goldstone. His name gave it infinitely more power than any of the usual international reports assailing Israel.

Richard Goldstone cartoon 311 (do not publish again) (photo credit: AVI KATZ)
Richard Goldstone cartoon 311 (do not publish again)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 Israel.
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 do.
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 world.
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.
But Goldstone was left in no doubt about the harm he had caused. South Africa’s “Jewish Report” 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.”
Second, 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 Israel.
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 at hand.
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.
Moreover, 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.