Ron Radosh

New Apologias Emerge for Judge Goldstone and his Report

A controversy has broken out over an investigation of the Goldstone Report published last week in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. The main revelation was that Justice Richard  Goldstone, as a judge during the height of the apartheid regime, approved sending 28 black defendants to the gallows. As the newspaper noted, Goldstone should “look long and hard in the mirror and to do some soul-searching before he rushes to criticize others.”  Goldstone, the investigation claimed, took part in some of the most indefensible actions of what it called “one of the cruelest regimes of the 20th Century.”

Readers of this blog know that PJM previously reported, as Jennifer Rubin noted at Commentary’s “Contentions” blog, that we spotted  “Goldstone’s apartheid record a few months back.” If you follow the link to her citation, you will find my old column and the link to documented reports that show more evidence of Goldstone’s actions in support of apartheid. In particular, the lengthy article by Ayal Rosenberg, who knew Goldstone, contains further revelations about his sorry record as a judge.

Goldstone’s record should be harder to ignore now that one of Israel’s major papers has spoken out. So far, there have been two kinds of takes on this. Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic is among those who believe the new information compromises Goldstone’s record.  Goldberg responded:  “Obviously, [Goldstone] was comfortable enforcing the death penalty — and torture penalties — on behalf of a racist state. Perhaps he reformed the system in ways he has not explained, but I’m reasonably sure the four men he ordered whipped did not think of him as a great reformer.” And Alan Dershowitz forcefully hit Goldstone head on with his column:

Goldstone was — quite literally — a hanging judge. He imposed and affirmed death sentences for more than two dozen blacks under circumstances where whites would almost certainly have escaped the noose. And he affirmed sentences of physical torture — euphemistically called “flogging” — for other blacks. He also enforced miscegenation and other racist laws with nary a word of criticism or dissent. He was an important part of the machinery of death, torture and racial subjugation that characterized Apartheid South Africa. His robe and gavel lent an air of legitimacy to an entirely illegitimate and barbaric regime.

Dershowitz also points out that Goldstone consciously hid his past from colleagues. He writes:

I recall him at the lunch and dinner tables in Cambridge describing himself as a heroic part of the struggle against Apartheid.  Now it turns out he was the ugly face of Apartheid, covering its sins and crimes with a judicial robe. How differently we would have looked at him if we knew that he had climbed the judicial ladder on whipped backs and hanged bodies.

Others, like Jonathan Chait at the New Republic, don’t think the verdict is so clear cut. Chait writes that “it’s morally murky territory — the ultimate question is whether and to what degree a white South African could take a position such as a judge for a regime that had such despicable laws. I don’t think the answer is clear.” He adds a few days later that many human rights groups “attract a lot of individuals who take a deeply unfriendly view of Israel. Thus the Goldstone Report, while raising some very valid criticisms of Israel’s misguided assault on Gaza, also makes a lot of misleading claims.”   On the other hand, Goldstone’s defenders have reacted in predictable ways.

First, we have comments from Matthew Yglesias, who says that he’s “inclined to give [Goldstone] a pass.” Why? Because the African National Congress (ANC) “always seemed to regard Goldstone as credible.”

Is that surprising? As soon as the situation began to shift, and it was clear apartheid was about to fall and the ANC win, Goldstone shifted his stance and suddenly became an ANC partisan — also ruling against its opponents who wanted to expose the ANC’s own reign of torture against would-be dissidents. The ANC, as one should acknowledge, was in a firm alliance not only with the Stalinist South African Communist Party, but was aligned with the major totalitarian enemies of the West — including Libya, the Soviet Union, Cuba — you can name all the rest. If one even raised the issue of the human rights abuses of these regimes, ANC spokesmen would say “that is an internal matter and a violation of the sovereignty of socialist states.” This from the same people who asked for international boycotts against the government of South Africa.

Yglesias claims, incorrectly, that the Goldstone Report criticizes both Israel and the Palestinians  for their conduct when they are wrong — which of course, is precisely what the Goldstone Report does not do. Its criticism is addressed exclusively to Israel, and it lets Hamas off the hook for its very documented war crimes.   Yglesias writes that “the simple fact of the matter is that adhering to international humanitarian law makes it very difficult to wage war, which I think is a good thing but many people disagree with that. This is an important debate, but it actually has nothing to do with anti-Israel bias or Goldstone’s alleged status as an amoral comformist.” This is quite simply meaningless balderdash. Those who defend international law do not necessarily oppose the fighting of war; they fully realize that sometimes war is necessary to defend justice and to attain real peace. And Goldstone is not “amoral,” but more accurately, immoral. This is what Yglesias does not comprehend.

But if Yglesias does not understand the issues, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a senior editor of Foreign Affairs,  writing on the website of Foreign Policy, has a more foolish apologia:

Goldstone’s apartheid-era judicial rulings are undoubtedly a blot on his record, but his critics never mention the crucial part he played in shepherding South Africa through its democratic transition and warding off violent threats to a peaceful transfer of power — a role that led Nelson Mandela to embrace him and appoint him to the country’s highest court.

Actually the de Klerk government, with Mandela’s support, began the shepherding of South Africa to democratic transition, much to the consternation of Afrikaaner hard-liners who wanted to hold out towards the end. And Goldstone’s sorry role was part and parcel of his now documented opportunism.

Scores of other white judges, professionals, doctors and lawyers opposed to apartheid left South Africa, preferring exile to raising their children in the confines of an inhuman oppressive state which they opposed. Goldstone, however, stayed in South Africa during apartheid and its aftermath, putting career first and serving both masters — Botha and his successors and later Mandela — allowing himself to rise in the ranks of the judiciary and to render decisions serving the interests first of apartheid and later of the ANC.

Second, Palakow-Suransky pulls a clever trick — that of conflating the actions of a state, however morally questionable, with the actions of an individual who can take a moral position and oppose and question the actions of a government in which he lives.  Polakow-Suransky brings up the well known fact that in the 1970s through the 1990s, Israel was an arms supplier to the apartheid government in South Africa. The author writes that this military aid  “did far more to aid the apartheid regime than Goldstone ever did.”

The truth is that all governments have and do make alliances of necessity that many find objectionable. There were plenty of people in and outside Israel who criticized this policy at the time. Others argued that Israel’s enemies themselves made unsavory alliances. Indeed, the ANC and the African liberation movements as a whole supported the most pro-Soviet and  totalitarian states including the Soviet Union, as well as corrupt African and Arab regimes that gave them support. No one’s hands were entirely clean at the time.

None of this can serve as an excuse for the actions of Judge Goldstone, who could have used his position to rule against apartheid when it might have helped destroy it, or could have with many of his contemporaries gone into exile in protest. Instead, he stayed in the judiciary, first serving the apartheid regime and then shifting as the tides turned to support the ANC. Obviously, career and power was his first concern.

In Polakow-Suransky’s eyes, there is nothing that anyone should apologize for, except the state of Israel. That, of course, is precisely the thrust of the Goldstone Report. The logic is that of the political left world-wide, and this blogger at Foreign Policy does not depart from it.

The truth about Goldstone, whatever rationales people come up for him, is now out. No wonder that this week, the judge is most probably not a very content man.