(Another) open letter to Judge Goldstone

Why ignore the critique and preach only to the choir, because the choir was the worldwide community of human rights, who fete your accomplishment continuously.

Richard Goldstone 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Richard Goldstone 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Dear Judge Goldstone, I am one of those who have read your report, and have followed closely your (and your fellow mission members’) subsequent comments about it. I just read your most recent statements in The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz. Once again you repeat, unchanged, claims you’ve been making all along, including two prominent ones: 1) If only the Israelis had cooperated, things might have been different; and 2) that no substantive criticism has arisen to challenge your findings.
Now your first is counter-factual, hence open to considerable speculation, and even then it’s misleading. While Israel didn’t cooperate officially, through various channels (Israeli NGOs, even the visit of Daniel Reizer, the head of the international law department of the IDF) Israel submitted extensive evidence to your committee. You not only ignored it, but to this day refuse to put it up on the UNHRC Web site devoted to your mission.
Your second claim, however, is more concrete; and here the evidence against your is formidable. There is an extensive and substantive critique of your report which most close readers of it – even neutral ones – find shockingly below standard. These are easily available on-line (collected at a handy Web site), and your denial that they have any substance contradicts your second claim categorically. Why would it have made any difference if Israel had participated in the mission’s work since you seem so singularly uninterested anything that contradicts your findings?
TAKE, FOR example, the recent publication of a 350-page compilation of evidence that Hamas used human shields, which your report explicitly denies repeatedly. You, by your own admission, chose not to investigate Hamas’s misuse of Shifa Hospital, of mosques, of ambulances, etc. Indeed you found Hamas involvement in only one of the incidents you examined. Is this irrelevant to your crucial conclusions about Israeli “war crimes” and “possible crimes against humanity,” which depend on the IDF deliberately firing on civilians?
As one Gazan (who apparently did not testify before your mission), told a journalist: The Hamas militants looked for good places to provoke the Israelis. They were usually youths, 16 or 17 years old, armed with submachine guns. They couldn’t do anything against a tank or jet. They knew they were much weaker. But they wanted the [Israelis] to shoot at the [civilians’] houses so they could accuse them of more war crimes.”
By ignoring the issue, you have played into this cannibalistic strategy.
Certainly Hamas reads your report this way: All paragraphs in the Goldstone report convict Israel and totally exonerate Hamas from any misconduct. For instance, the report exonerates Hamas from the accusation of using civilians as human shields and attributes this accusation to Israeli forces. Even when the report is dealing with the rockets that were launched from Gaza, it speaks about military groups without naming Hamas.
These are terribly serious criticisms. They suggest that, far from supporting international human rights, your report allowed an organization which has no respect for them to victimize its own people in a PR campaign against Israel.
By only (and, as it noticed, indirectly) criticizing Hamas for war crimes in targeting civilians, you only charged it with deeds of which it is proud. The really embarrassing material – its targeting of its own civilians, its cruel engineering of a “humanitarian crisis” by, for example, blocking medical supplies and ambulances at the Egyptian border – you avoided. This suggests that what you wanted from the Israelis was not testimony about the way Hamas fought, but their defense against accusations you found, a priori, “entirely credible.”
If you have actually read any of the substantive critiques of your report, and really do think they’re “marginal,” it calls into question the soundness of your judgment. They may be wrong, but that is for you to show. You say Israel should want to be held to the highest standards of human rights; surely you wish to be held to the highest standards of legal reasoning, no?
And yet, you have avoided doing precisely that. CAMERA, one of your more severe and always substantive critics, actually submitted a formal inquiry to you about specific but vital aspects of your report. After repeated requests for acknowledgment, you responded, “I confirm receipt of your letter. I have no intention of responding to your letter.”
This is part of a pattern in which you avoid either debates, or potentially critical interviews, a pattern followed by the other members of your mission. It is as if you felt you could safely ignore the critique and preach only to the choir, because the choir was the worldwide community of human rights, who fete your accomplishment continuously.
But this is the kind of behavior that leads to emperor’s new clothes scenario. If you just listen to those who flatter you and shun those who speak their mind freely, then you become a legend in your own mind, and you mistake your reputation for reality. You end up shoring up a grotesque parade of “international human rights” which actually promotes all the forces most hostile to your cause.
If international law is going to defend human rights, it must do so onthe basis of a fair assessment of the evidence, not by following thelatest fad of assuming the innocence and honesty of the Palestinianunderdog. As Bertrand Russell pointed out, it’s a fallacy to assume thesuperior virtue of the oppressed, especially when their elite oppressesthem and blames others.
If you have any respect for the biblical tradition of jurisprudentialwisdom, you might spend some long hours meditating on the warning: “Donot favor either the powerful or the poor in judgment, but judgejustly.”
If you have any respect for your own intellectual integrity, or for theglobal audience you address, you will take your critics more seriously,and respond to them, both in writing and in public exchanges.
The writer is a professor of medieval history at Boston University. Heblogs at the Augean Stables and maintains two websites, one on themainstream news media (Second Draft) and one on the Goldstone Report.
A version of this text appears on the Augean Stables.