In a stunning and unexpected turn of events, Judge Richard Goldstone has essentially reversed himself on the findings of the Goldstone Report. He does, of course, qualify his remarks to make it appear that he has not reversed himself. What he does, in effect, is to say that if only Israel had cooperated with his investigation from the start, he would not have reached the incorrect conclusions of the now famous and highly influential report. Israel, of course, had quite good reasons to distrust Goldstone, as his report did major damage. But one would rather have Judge Goldstone now blame Israel for his original damaging conclusions than to have him blame Israel for intentionally being the major human rights violator in the Middle East.
Now, Goldstone asserts, “We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding commission.” Poppycock! As Goldstone’s numerous critics pointed out as soon as the report was issued, its many vulnerabilities were known at that very moment. One could look no further than the lengthy and devastating critique by Moshe Halbertal that appeared in The New Republic, or the many commentaries on it by Alan Dershowitz. As Dershowitz wrote at the time: “It is far more accusatory of Israel, far less balanced in its criticism of Hamas, far less honest in its evaluation of the evidence, far less responsible in drawing its conclusion, far more biased against Israeli than Palestinian witnesses, and far more willing to draw adverse inferences of intentionality from Israeli conduct and statements than from comparable Palestinian conduct and statements.”
Mr. Goldstone may prefer that we forget all this, but savvy readers will have no problem finding many sources that pointed to the report’s many flaws in 2009. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to find today that Goldstone now says: “That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.” As for serious crimes against civilians that resulted from Israeli defensive action, Goldstone now writes that “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” by Israel. The moral equivalence, thankfully, has now disappeared in the judge’s new conclusions. Moreover, where possible violations of human rights were committed by Israel, Goldstone now writes that in one case if an Israeli officer was found to have acted inappropriately, and is “found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly.”
He now argues, perhaps out of guilt or perhaps he decided his critics were correct, that “the purpose of the Goldstone Report was never to prove a foregone conclusion against Israel,” and that the original mandate of the UN Human Rights Council “was skewed against Israel.” Score yet another point for his critics. And, Goldstone adds, Israel “has the right and obligation to defends itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within.” He also stresses, although one would be hard pressed to find this in all the press reports about it, that “our report marked the first time illegal acts of terrorism from Hamas were being investigated and condemned by the United Nations.” Rather strange, then, that all the coverage emphasized Israel as the sole villain, and few could find any emphasis in the Report about Hamas and its war crimes.
If they were at all lax, and here again is Goldstone’s attempt to pass the buck, it was because they were not able to “include any evidence provided by the Israeli government,” which did not cooperate with them. Now, he says, Israel has in fact carried out investigations of rights violations in “good faith,” and yes — “Hamas has done nothing.” Surprise, surprise!
As Goldstone admits underhandedly, saying that his critics were correct,
Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hundreds more rockets and mortar rounds have been directed at civilian targets in southern Israel. That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality. The U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.
And later on, he writes that “there has been no effort by Hamas in Gaza to investigate the allegations of its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.”
Goldstone indeed writes: “In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise.” No kidding. It seems it has just occurred to the judge that a terrorist organization committed to destroying Israel cannot, unlike democratic Israel, have any stake in investigating its own human rights violations. Did the judge really not comprehend this in 2009? And as for right now, Judge Goldstone adds that “the Human Rights Council should condemn the inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their beds.” Yes, Yes, Yes! What the judge does not say, of course, is that we all know that this will simply not happen. A Council that until recently had Col. Qadaffi’s Libya as a member is not about to do this, despite Goldstone’s recommendation.
One suspects that Judge Goldstone might have read Peter Berkowitz’s recently published article, “The Goldstone Mess,” that appears in the latest Policy Review. Reviewing a new book on the report published by The Nation magazine (of course) and edited by three vociferous pro-Hamas and anti-Israeli American Jews, Berkowitz begins by quoting from the introduction written by Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, who wrote that Israel’s “misconduct” was an example of “reckless, even deliberate, destruction of life and property” — the very charges most people got out of the report, and which now Goldstone argues was not his or the report’s intention or actual conclusion.
As Berkowitz correctly writes, “even a cursory glance gives reason to believe that the Goldstone Report is more interested in taking sides than discovering the truth.” He writes — and now it is clear Goldstone himself would agree with Berkowitz — the following:
The report overwhelmingly focuses on allegations of Israeli unlawfulness; the “documented evidence of Israeli misconduct” — as opposed to victims’ testimony and unsubstantiated speculations about Israeli war aims and conduct of the war — is thin; and its urging of Hamas, which respects neither rights nor the rule of law, to undertake investigations of war crimes allegations is a risible indulgence.
It is not surprising that as a result of their reading the Goldstone Report, these three editors conclude “the specious assumption that legal liability for the death and destruction in Gaza falls automatically on Israel lie at the heart of the book” — a conclusion he notes is encouraged by the Goldstone Report’s “false equation and specious assumption” about Israel’s sole fault.
Quoting from the report itself, Berkowitz writes:
The report’s central and gravest finding, the takeaway heard around the world, was that Israel’s conduct of the Gaza operation was in itself unlawful. The report did not deny the legitimacy of Israel’s overall purpose in Operation Cast Lead, which was to stop the more than 12,000 rockets and missiles — every one a war crime — that Palestinian fighters directed at civilian targets in southern Israel over the previous eight years. Nevertheless, the report found that Israel launched “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability” (paragraph 1690).
The proof of the case is in Goldstone’s own report. So now, when Goldstone argues that this was not in it, he is dissembling. As Berkowitz puts it, “The moral, or immoral, distinction is between Hamas, whose cause the report treats with kid gloves, and Israel, for whose rights and interests it shows little sympathy.”
Berkowitz also notes that in regard to Hamas, the report “obscures Hamas’s erasure of the difference between combatants and noncombatants and prefers Hamas’s cause to Israel’s rights and interests in several ways.” It also “failed to accurately characterize Hamas,” refusing to characterize it as a terrorist organization. Most importantly, “The report misconceives proportionality, which requires that parties refrain from attacks in which expected civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects will be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.”
So whatever Judge Goldstone’s current obfuscations, and his intent to pass off his report’s failures as the fault of Israel’s non-cooperation rather than his own weaknesses and lack of impartiality, his current re-evaluation is more than welcome. Despite its limitations, Goldstone’s article today helps minimize the damage attempted by those like Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner and Philip Weiss — the left-wing enemies of Israel who compiled the volume that Berkowitz reviews.
So I, for one, thank Judge Richard Goldstone for his going public to help minimize the damage to Israel that he and his report have already produced. From this point on, his article will do a great deal to help people referring to the report as a document to be considered seriously.