To err is human, to admit is divine

Goldstone’s recent retraction once again wags a finger at Israel’s leaders. Conceding his own error highlights the perpetual failure of Israel’s leaders to ever admit they are wrong.

Judge Richard Goldstone 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Judge Richard Goldstone 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
So the Goldstone Report condemning Israel for “war crimes” in Operation Cast Leadagainst Hamas got it wrong. Along with publicly declaring that the UN Human RightsCommission erred in its findings against Israel, Richard Goldstone furtherrecognized the UNHRC’s prejudice and past animus towards Israel.
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Despite the retraction however, it is impossible to correct the heavy damage done to Israel by the initial report.
Goldstone did admit that it was naïve in the extreme to think that Hamas would conduct any of its own investigations or regret any of its actions such as the indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israeli civilian targets. A more implicit admission is that it would have been equally naïve on Goldstone’s part to believe that Israel would receive a fair and unbiased hearing from a UN commission that is blatantly biased.
And yet despite the admissions of error, Judge Goldstone still offers no actual apology for the report’s slanderous accusations, even insinuating that Israel’s non-cooperation with the commission is largely to blame for its erroneous conclusions.
The whole sordid affair was just another stunt to delegitimize Israel as part of a process that began at the notorious Durban conference and has become rapidly more widespread ever since.
Nevertheless, Goldstone is to be admired for his ability to publicly admit error. This is a trait that is noticeably absent in most public officials who perpetually insist that they have never been wrong in their decisions, statements, judgments and policies. And admitting an error of such proportions even has a certain air of nobility to it.
President Shimon Peres has never admitted that Oslo was an error. Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni or former prime minister Ehud Olmert never conceded that their support of the destruction of Gush Katif was wildly misplaced. The then-prime minister Ehud Barak has never revisited his shameful withdrawal from Lebanon, a move which led to war and the rise of Hizbullah.
Israel’s leaders, be they religious, governmental, societal and educational are never wrong. There is no personal accountability for errors in judgment and errors in policy. It is only their criminal behavior which may eventually bring them down, and even then there we scarcely witness an admission of guilt or an apology to the long suffering public. Even when found guilty, they remain innocent.
The necessity for admitting guilt and identifying one’s sins of commission and omission is a central tenet of Judaism. The Torah teaches us that no one individual, great as that person may be, is truly infallible.
Jewish tradition teaches us that the main difference between Saul and David lay inSaul’s inability to admit his error in the war against Amalek while David publicly admitted his errors and sins. Judaism recognizes that people in leadership rolesmake mistakes. Such is our human condition. But it always demands accountabilityand remorse from those leaders for those errors.
Goldstone’s report reprimanded Israel in such a scathing way that Israel and its leaders tried to ignore it. But Goldstone’s second message admitting his error should not be ignored; it should serve as a reprimand to our society and its leaders.
King Solomon in Proverbs states that “one who admits [errors] and forsakes repeatingthem will be mercifully pardoned.” Without personal admission of error there can beno pardon or forgiveness. The High Priest of Israel had to confess his own personalshortcomings on Yom Kippur before he could beseech Heaven for forgiveness onbehalf of all of Israel.
One sees throughout rabbinic literature the willingness of great men to admit that they overlooked something or that they erred in their judgment or logic in a previous decision. We see numerous instances in rabbinic responsa where a later response to an issue admits that the original response was wrong and should no longer be followed. Every author will tell you that if it were not for the insistence of the editor, no original word of that work would have been changed or corrected. It is difficult to erase or delete. It is even more difficult to admit to oneself - let alone publicly - that one has erred.
Judge Goldstone has perhaps redeemed his name from eternal infamy in Jewish history by his retraction. It is not my task to decide what type of action he should take to try and undo the effects of his original report. But I feel he is to be complimented for taking the extremely challenging first step. If only there would be more that would emulate him in this regard.