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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.