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April 5, 2011 12:19 pm

Retraction, Renunciation, Rejection, Repudiation: Reconsidering the Goldstone Report

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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South African judge Richard Goldstone.

At the close of a week heavy with international change, natural and political trauma, as the American nation awaited news about its economy and its President’s second term candidacy, Richard Goldstone, retired South African justice, former U.N. International Criminal Tribunal prosecutor, and chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict slipped a late evening “op-ed” into the venerable Washington Post. Mea culpa, “oops, bit of a mistake, sorry, didn’t mean to denigrate the efforts and ethics of millions of Israelis – should have done better background checks.  Thus, Judge Richard Goldstone claimed, additional knowledge gained since he chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council had made him realize his report should have been “a different document.”

The U.N., through its “committee of independent experts,” recognized that Israel had “dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza,” while “the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.”

In his op-ed Goldstone admitted “allegations of intentionality by Israel” were unfounded; “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” by Israel.  Even his original report had noted that “the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional— its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.”  Somehow, that statement was overlooked in the anti- Israel fury the “Report” engendered and invigorated.

Acknowledging that “the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council… was skewed against Israel” which “like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within,” and that the U.N. Human Rights Council has a “history of bias against Israel,”  Goldstone still defended his pronouncements saying “our recommendations were based on the record before us, which unfortunately did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government.”  I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.” Still, he claims the report “has led to numerous “lessons learned only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards.”

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Admitting he was “unrealistic” in his expectations of Hamas, and that “hundreds more rockets and mortar rounds have been directed at civilian targets in southern Israel,” and that “there has been no effort by Hamas in Gaza to investigate the allegations of its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity,” At long last, Goldstone does suggest “the U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.”

What was the catalyst that opened Goldstone’s eyes and loosened his pen?   What brought the author of the libelous report to write a retraction and apologize in the pages of the Washington Post?  What synaptic flash of intelligence caused Richard Goldstone to call for The U.N. Human Rights Council to “condemn the inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their bed?”

Was it the murder of innocents that influenced the timing of Goldstone’s pubic rejection of his own report?

Ah, hindsight – such a wonderful lens. Goldstone’s September, 2009 document was the kick-off point of an anti-Israel political, economic and legal campaign. In the Washington Post he wrote, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.  “Civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy, thereby refuting one of the most heinous allegations contained in the original report. Goldstone continues, stating that, had his committee had this evidence then, “it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes” on the part of Israel. Still, he defends, saying “our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding.”

Gerald Steinberg is a political science professor, director of NGO Monitor, a pro-Israel advocacy group, and a harsh critic of the report.  He acknowledged that the report did push the Israeli military into more rigorous investigations. “Clearly, the Goldstone report was the catalyst that tracks the work of nongovernmental organizations critical of Israel.”  “Before, the army high command did not understand the centrality of such accusations and the damage they could cause,” Professor Steinberg said. “Now they do, and that is a good thing.” Nonetheless, he added, the damage wrought by the report far outstripped any benefits.

What does that single insertion on a Friday evening actually do to rectify the damage already done?  Anti Israel (dare we say, anti-Semitic?) exploiters have used the document as a United Nations’ sanctioned document to attack Israel in every possible way from the economic to the cultural to the academic.  Israeli diplomats or military personnel traveling outside the country faced the threat of arrest as “war criminals.” Far stronger action, including “formal renunciation by the United Nations is needed,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “Israel did not intentionally harm civilians… The fact that Goldstone backtracked must lead to the shelving of this report (by the U.N.) once and for all.”

The Israeli press echoed the Prime Minister’s demands.  Yediot Aharonot said Goldstone “contributed to creating the modern Dreyfus trial for the State of Israel… (promoting) modern anti-Semitism under the cloak of human rights, seeking “to undermine the state’s legitimacy as a home for the Jewish people.” The paper called Goldstone “a Jew who was prepared to collaborate with the Devil.”

“The effect of the Goldstone report has been stamped on a world of seven billion people,” wrote Maariv. The author’s acknowledgement of mistaken conclusions, it suggested, has value “in relation to the future…Israel has been armed, this week, with an important tool: Goldstone.  Said columnist Ben Caspit, “the despicable and shameful act that he perpetrated is contrary to the most fundamental moral values, natural justice and common sense, to the extent that it negates his right to absolution.”   Yisrael HaYom stressed the need for Israel to prepare for a “prolonged, patient policy that could bear public diplomacy fruit throughout the world only in a few months.”  “As important as refuting the libel in the Goldstone Report may be, it will not distract the Americans and the Europeans from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Jerusalem Post waxed philosophical, and, editorially, was far more forgiving, even offering Goldstone praise for his “decision to break with the tendency of Jewish self-hatred, and “a high level of honesty and integrity, two truly Jewish traits.” Moshe Halbertal, a professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University and co-author of the army’s ethics code, was less forgiving:  “By raising a completely false accusation, he masked in some ways the real complex issues of such a struggle,” (which) have to do with to what degree soldiers assume risks in order to minimize collateral harm to civilians. This is where the moral challenge lies. His retraction could now force the international community to look at these problems in a more serious way rather than by propaganda.”

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick expressed support of the IDF, as it “continued to strike Hamas targets. Israel-bashing …did not convince the government to stop defending the country….If the government remains faithful to the truth and to our rights, it will empower our supporters throughout the world to rally to our side. If we are good to our friends and bad to our enemies, we will know how to reward our friends and punish our enemies. And if we boldly assert our rights even in the face of international condemnation, we will see that in the fullness of time, the rightness of our position will carry the day.” Columnist Isi Leibler warned that “No statement or action can undo the immense damage that Goldstone’s blood libel inflicted… his report became the most effective component of the campaign of demonization and delegitimization against us… these evil lies are likely to remain embedded in the consciousness of people for hundreds of years. There is no way to express our rage over the damage that this dreadful man inflicted upon his people.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would work to reverse the damage of the Goldstone report. One must ask, how much can be undone?  Much like telling a jury to disregard what it has heard, the world court sits in judgment of Israel.  Gabriela Shalev, now a law professor, was sitting Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations when the Goldstone Report was promulgated.  She commented on Israel Radio that “One point of light regards future actions: if we have to defend ourselves against terror organizations again, we will be able to say there is no way to deal with this terror other than the same way we did in Cast Lead.”

What was Goldstone thinking? The Goldstone Report, now acknowledged even by its author to contain false statements – in simple terms, lies – raised the indignation of the State of Israel which, despite intense international pressure, did not buckle.  The State’s position has proven valid and strengthened the voices raised to attack this blood libel. Jewish activists did not stand silent, but attacked the lies.

Mr. Goldstone declined to comment beyond his article.

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  • Maureen Gavin

    I am ashamed as a South African and a Jewess of Judge Goldstone’s despicably short sighted close mindedness.
    One wonders what turned his head????? and closed his eyes to truth. I thought he was better than that

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