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Goldstone's Feeble Backtrack

April 3, 2011 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Goldstone’s attempt at repentance is filled with disingenuous claims and even outright lies.

In September 2009, it hit the diplomatic world like a tornado: Richard Goldstone, the respected South African jurist, issued a U.N.-sponsored report condemning Israel for “war crimes” of intentionally targeting civilians in Gaza.

“What I know now…” Goldstone wrote last week in the Washington Post, is “that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”

Something must have been eating at Goldstone’s conscience. Perhaps it was his growing pariah status, which at one point led members of the South African Jewish community to “disinvite” Goldstone from his own grandson’s bar mitzvah. Or perhaps it is the embarrassment of becoming a folk hero in Gaza, where gift shops sell souvenir keffiyeh headscarves embroidered with the name “Goldstone.” Or perhaps it is his lingering sense of hypocrisy at preaching human rights, when Goldstone – as a South African judge in the Apartheid regime – approved the whipping of blacks and sent dozens of blacks to the gallows.

Unfortunately, Goldstone’s Washington Post “teshuva” (act of repentance) is filled with disingenuous claims and even outright lies. Let’s focus on four examples:

(1) Goldstone writes:

Our report found evidence of potential war crimes and “possibly crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas.

Not true. Nowhere did the Goldstone report hold Hamas responsible for the “war crimes,” which include relentless suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. Instead, nebulous “Palestinian armed groups” are named. (See the Goldstone Report, paragraph 1784, which contrasts “war crimes committed by both the Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups.” See also paragraphs 108, 1724, 1747.)

(2) Goldstone tries to position himself as Israel’s savior, declaring that:

The purpose of the Goldstone Report was never to prove a foregone conclusion against Israel. I insisted on changing the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council, which was skewed against Israel... I had hoped that our inquiry into all aspects of the Gaza conflict would begin a new era of evenhandedness at the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted.

Is it true that Goldstone tried to reverse the U.N.’s endemic bias against Israel? All four of the Goldstone commission members had denounced Israel’s Gaza operation even before beginning their “investigation.” Three members – Goldstone, Hina Jilani and Desmond Travers – had signed a letter stating that “events in Gaza have shocked us to the core,” while the fourth, Christine Chinkin, had already gone on public record labeling Israeli actions in Gaza a “war crime.” At the time, Chinkin’s preordained conclusion did not bother Goldstone; he was “satisfied that she’s got a completely open mind.”

(3) Goldstone’s Washington Post article deceives with the contention that

the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying – its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.

In truth, the Goldstone report whitewashed the years of Hamas rocket-fire against Israeli towns. The first time the word “Hamas” appears regarding rocket attacks (outside the footnotes) is all the way down on page 453. There, Hamas is credited – not with inflicting 10,000 rocket attacks – but rather with allegedly calling on other armed groups to stop firing rockets “in the interests of the Palestinian people.” With no sense of irony, the report then glowingly describes Hamas as employing “cultural resistance,” eschewing rocket attacks in favor of “cultural initiatives and public relations.”

(4) Goldstone tries to cover up for his failings with the excuse that

our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion.

Really? It was common knowledge that the IDF took the extraordinary precautions of sending millions of warning leaflets and Arabic-language phone calls, and YouTube videos showed the IDF aborting missile strikes to prevent civilian casualties. But Goldstone seemed to have missed all that. According to one Israeli resident of Sderot who was flown to testify before the committee at U.N. headquarters in Geneva, while Goldstone was viewing video footage of Israeli children running from Hamas rocket fire, he fell asleep.

Damage Done

Whatever the case, Goldstone’s backtracking is too little, too late. The Goldstone Report poisoned the good name of the IDF. Back in 2009, the media accepted the legitimacy of Goldstone’s report, no questions asked:

  • “U.N. Inquiry Sees Gaza War Crimes; Israel Chastised” – New York Times (front page)
  • “Israel Committed ‘War Crimes’ in Gaza: UN Probe Chief” – Agence France Presse
  • “UN Report Claims Israel Committed War Crimes” – Belfast Telegraph
  • “Israel Looks to Fend Off Prosecution of War Crimes” – Associated Press
  • “UN Says Israel Should Face War-Crimes Trial Over Gaza” – The Independent (London)

A Chasidic story tells of a man who spread malicious lies about the town rabbi. Later, he began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged forgiveness, saying that he hopes to make amends. The rabbi told the man, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds. Then report back to me." The man did as instructed. When he returned, the rabbi said, "Now go and gather all the feathers.”

The Goldstone Report has fueled rabid anti-Israel sentiment. Especially in today’s Internet age, when a blood libel is spread throughout the world, it is impossible to get the genie back in the bottle.

Yet this is more than just a matter of a sullied reputation. The media coverage of Goldstone’s report had a direct, adverse affect on the possibility of peace. In 2005, Israel took the tangible risk of evacuating Gaza with the assurance that if Palestinians turned violent, the world would understand Israel’s need to defend itself. Yet when Gaza turned into a lawless enclave of Hamas-led, Iranian-backed rocket barrages, the world did not react to Israel’s response with support and understanding, but rather with accusations of “war crimes.” This sowed mistrust between Israel and the international community, discouraging Israel from future withdrawals – especially when talking about West Bank lands that lie adjacent to Israel’s major population centers. (See Danny Ayalon, Jerusalem Post, October 19, 2009.)

Beyond this, Goldstone’s biased report created new obstacles in the global battle against terror. By condemning Israel’s response to these rockets, the U.N. in essence granted immunity to Hamas, setting a dangerous precedent for any democracy trying to defend itself. This year, it may be Israel that’s the target of international kangaroo courts designed to strip it of its right to self-defense. Next year, it may be Washington that is forced to defend its actions in Libya or Iraq – not behind closed White House doors – but at an arraignment at The Hague of U.S. generals and political leaders charged with “war crimes” so serious that even President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize can’t secure a get-out-of-jail-free card. (See Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Huffington Post, October 13, 2009.)

Goldstone’s Washington Post article is filled with phrases like “I regret… I had hoped… unfortunately… regrettably… a mistaken enterprise.”

Imagine a diplomat who aided and abetted the Nazi destruction of European Jewry. An apology years later would have done nothing to save 6 million Jews. So too, the sake of Goldstone’s tormented soul, we hope that the succor he has provided to radical Islamic groups does not permanently endanger the 6 million Jews in Israel today.


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