Why did Goldstone do it?
These postings are concerned with why Judge Goldstone has published the op-ed piece he did in the Wahington Post on 1st April. They are inevitably speculation. For the piece itself, and detailed commentary, criticism and evaluation see our posting The Goldstone conundrum.
Los Angeles Times editorial, What’s behind Goldstone’s flip-flop?
Jeremiah Haber, Judge Goldstone’s Washington Post Op-Ed – Why Now and Why?
Gil Ronan, Yishai: Goldstone to Visit Israel
Ilan Pappe, Goldstone’s shameful U-turn
MJ Rosenberg, Why Goldstone Backtracked
Roger Cohen, The Goldstone Chronicles
Jurist Richard Goldstone found that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians during its 2008-09 assault on the Gaza Strip. He’s now backpedaled, but his explanation that Israel gave him new data is insufficient.
Editorial, 5 April 2011
Few recent events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been as wildly controversial and polarizing as the release of the Goldstone report, a United Nations-sponsored study prepared in the aftermath of Israel’s devastating, 3-week-long assault on the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-09.
The report was the work of a U.N. fact-finding mission chaired by Richard Goldstone, a former justice of South Africa’s highest court. Although Israel had publicly defended Operation Cast Lead as a tough but legitimate response to months of cross-border rocket attacks by Hamas militants, Goldstone and his colleagues saw it differently: They concluded that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians in “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” A blunt, no-holds-barred broadside against Israel, the report was dismissed as biased and exaggerated by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which felt it gave moral support to those seeking to “delegitimize” the Jewish state. But it was taken extremely seriously by many others, because of Goldstone’s respected mainstream credentials and the U.N.’s imprimatur, and because about 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the assault, compared with 13 Israelis.
For much of the world, that’s where the story ended. Until Friday, that is, when, in a bizarre denouement, Goldstone himself disavowed one of the central claims of his report. In an op-ed article in the Washington Post, Goldstone shocked supporters and opponents alike by saying that he no longer believes that Israel intentionally killed civilians in Gaza and that “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone report would have been a different document.”
Well, uh, OK. Acknowledging one’s mistakes is generally considered a virtue. But is it really that easy? The original report contained 575 pages of damning details — attacks on mosques, hospitals, apartment buildings, refugee shelters. The fact-finding mission made three trips to the region over four months, conducted 188 interviews, reviewed 300 reports, solicited testimony and held public hearings. In case after case, the final report alleged that Palestinian civilians were targeted by Israel in violation of a host of international laws. But now the chairman of the panel says … never mind?
Goldstone explains his new position as follows: When he and his colleagues wrote that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians, it seems, they didn’t really have solid evidence. Rather, he says, they “had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion” (partly, he says, because the Israeli government did not cooperate with the investigation). Now, as a result of Israel’s subsequent investigations into some 400 allegations of misconduct, he sees that the facts “indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.” If only the Israelis had cooperated with his investigation from the start, he suggests, this unfortunate misunderstanding might never have occurred!
Goldstone gives only one example in his article: the killing of more than 20 members of the Samouni family. The report says the deaths occurred at 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2009, as a result of “projectiles” apparently shot from Apache helicopters. Goldstone and his colleagues visited the site and interviewed numerous witnesses, concluding, among other things, that the “conduct of the Israeli armed forces in these cases would constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of willful killings and willfully causing great suffering to protected persons and as such give rise to individual criminal responsibility.”
Now, however, Goldstone says that the shelling was “apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image” and that an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack.
Goldstone’s flip-flop is fascinating but mystifying, and his explanation is utterly insufficient. Deliberately killing civilians is a crime of war under international law. If civilians die, by contrast, as “collateral damage” in a legitimate operation against a legitimate military target, that’s a very different thing — a horrible and tragic but sometimes unavoidable reality of armed conflict. At the very least, Goldstone needs to offer substantially more explanation than was available in his brief op-ed article. If he honestly believed his initial assertions but now has been persuaded as a result of Israel’s follow-up investigations that he was wrong, then he ought to make the world aware of the facts that changed his mind. (While he’s at it, he might let us know whether it was perhaps irresponsible to have made such sweeping assertions in the first place.)
On the other hand, “intentionality” is only one of the allegations in the Goldstone report. What are we to make now of all the other charges? What about the charge that Israel’s military applied “disproportionate force,” and that it failed to “take all feasible precautions” to avoid and minimize loss of civilian life? How about the allegations of “unlawful and wanton” destruction of property, not justified by military necessity? What about the victims denied access to ambulances and medical care? Are we to throw all of these serious charges out the window as well, or just the ones that suggest that Israel intentionally targeted civilians?
Israeli officials understandably feel both frustrated and vindicated by Goldstone’s disavowal of one of his own chief findings. The report was a public relations catastrophe for Israel, and it’s no surprise that Netanyahu now wants the entire document officially withdrawn. On the other side, those who agreed with the report’s conclusion that the Gaza war was punitive and disproportionate are now unsure what to believe.
The charges leveled by the Goldstone report were extremely tough — tough enough to help reframe the Israeli-Palestinian debate around the world. If any of them were wrong, then Goldstone owes the world a detailed explanation so that the truth can be revealed.
(What follows is speculation and has not been shown to, or approved by, Judge Goldstone.)
In my post yesterday I wondered out loud why Judge Richard Goldstone published an op-ed expressing his views now. Had I read the op-ed more carefully, I think I would have understood the timing.
Why now? On March 18, the final report of the Independent Experts Committee of the Human Rights Council, chaired by Mary McGowan Davis, was distributed on the internet here. (For background on that process that led to that report see Jared Malsin’s report here ). According to Judge Goldstone, that committee found that “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza”. He also writes of the committee, “While I welcome Israel’s investigations into allegations, I share the concerns reflected in the McGowan Davis report that few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded and believe that the proceedings should have been held in a public forum. In other words, Judge Goldstone feels, with the Committee, that the IDF investigations were insufficient, and he thus continues his call for an independent, public, judicial inquiry.
So I think that the timing is simply the occasion of the distribution of the report, although I also imagine that Judge Goldstone has been thinking of these things for some time.
Adam Horowitz has shown that the Committee’s actual report differs significantly from the tenor of the Goldstone op-ed. In particular, Judge Goldstone appears to consider the process undertaken by the IDF MAG investigating the al-Simouni family to be – so far – satisfactory. He does not say that this is the conclusion of the committee, and in fact, it is not. What we see a glimpse of, in Judge Goldstone’s op-ed, is a tendency to cut Israel some slack with respect to some of the MAG’s investigations. Of course, there are hedges, as others have pointed out – several “appears to”s and “apparently”s and “I hope”s. But there is a certain amount of charity towards Israel that may have been lacking in the original Report and is lacking in the McGowan Davis report.
What bothers folks on the Left is not so much why now, but why? Why doesn’t Judge Goldstone sound like other members of the Goldstone mission, or, for that matter, like the McGowan Davis Committee, even if we allow for the different venues? Why has he changed so much?
As an occasional “Goldstone watcher”, I venture the following observation: the man is, and as always been, an ohev yisrael, and an ohev medinat yisrael , a lover of Jews and a lover of the State of Israel. What we see in the op-ed is what we, on the left and on the right, have been partially blind to for over the last two years. Judge Goldstone wanted justice to be served, but he also wanted the State of Israel to live up to its promise and to do its duty as a civilized, Jewish state. His relationship with one of the parties under investigation was different from the other. Judge Goldstone is a life-long Zionist, and some people opposed his appointment for that reason. He even stated that his motivation for accepting the position was due, in part, to his commitment to Israel (or words to that effect).
One can only speculate how the refusal of Israel to cooperate with the Goldstone Mission shaped the somewhat uncharitable tone of some of the report. Had Richard Falk, rather than Richard Goldstone, chaired the mission, would it have had the same tone? It certainly would not have had the same effect. Israel’s refusal to cooperate has now been criticized by mainstream Israelis like Nahum Barnea and Amnon Rubenstein, and I hope that is one lesson that Israel has learned. Even with the refusal, the Goldstone report devoted space and resources to Israel’s side of the story.
At appearances following the report, Judge Goldstone showed his discomfort and displeasure with those who wanted to use the Goldstone Report to “delegitimize Israel.” He was deeply offended by those who questioned his love of Israel. One incident is particularly telling. At Yale, a banner was unfolded with listed the Dreyfuss Affair, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and the Goldstone Report. Now imagine if that had happened to Norm Finkelstein. Finkelstein would have known how to react and what to say; he would be eminently non-plussed. But the act not only flustered Judge Goldstone; he virtually lost his composure. After that speech, the judge was accosted by the Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Shmuely Hecht, who asked him, “What are you going to do when the facts are unraveled and the evidence is clear that Goldstone report was a sham and not credible based on video and audio coverage of the war?” The judge replied, much to the puzzlement of the rabbi, “Should that occur, I will rejoice.” (Read about it here.)
That answer puzzles people on the left and the right. The left needs Israel to be publicly shamed; the right needs Israel to be attacked by “traitors”. How many people remain who will stand up and criticize Israel out of a commitment to human rights and a commitment to Zionism? (Go to the J Street Convention and to Sheikh Jarrah and count – they are all “some of my best friends”.) Heck, the lefties I hang out with think progressive Zionism is an oxymoron.
As one who is on the right wing of the extreme left , I was puzzled and somewhat pained by Judge Goldstone’s op-ed, even after I read it carefully. My immediate thought was, “Oh, no, what will the hasbaraniks do with this?” and “Will this hurt the greater cause?” But that’s me, and it is not, nor was it ever, Judge Goldstone. Let’s face it; when it comes to Zionism, Judge Goldstone and I are not in the same corner.
So I cannot really be surprised by this latest round. The Richard Goldstone of the op-ed is not precisely identical with the Richard Goldstone of the Goldstone report. Folks don’t stay in the same place, especially those who have seen their lives turned upside down.
But for those of us who have been watching the judge, this latest publication, for better or for worse, hardly comes as a surprise.
Israel’s Foreign Minister has hinted that his country pressurised Richard Goldstone to recant the findings of the UN Report he wrote following the 2008-2009 Israeli attack on Gaza. The Goldstone Report included accusations that the Israel Defence Forces committed “war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity” against the Palestinians.
Avigdor Lieberman made his comments to Israel’s Channel 2 TV news. Goldstone’s latest implied regret of the accusations he made against Israel, he said, was no surprise: “I want to congratulate Goldstone’s new conclusions, but I am not surprised by them… We knew the truth and we had no doubt that it would come out eventually.”
Lieberman added that following the release of the Goldstone Report, Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Judiciary and Military exerted huge efforts behind the scenes toward achieving that end; the public were left unawares of the campaign.
Judge Goldstone, who is Jewish, said in a Washington Post op-ed piece at the weekend that the report that he had written for the UN following the Israeli war on Gaza “probably” would have reached different conclusions on “intentionality and war crimes” if he “had known then what he knows now” about the situation inside the beleaguered territory. Goldstone paid tribute to the fact that Israel launched investigations into the conduct of its military in Gaza, but has “concerns” that most have not been concluded and all have been conducted behind closed doors. He remains critical of Hamas for not investigating charges of war crimes against Palestinians.
Commentators are already pointing out that Goldstone’s apparent recant of at least some of his findings and his “endorsement of the Israeli investigation is directly contradicted by the expert’s report he appears to be referencing”.
According to Adam Horowitz, “Despite Goldstone’s insinuation, it appears that the officer responsible for bombing the Samouni house is not being legally investigated for the incident.” All in all, concludes Horowitz, “the inconsistencies and contradictions of [Goldstone’s] op-ed only demonstrate [that] the need for a thorough legal proceeding has never been greater. Over two years since the fighting in Gaza has ended it is clear that neither Israel nor Hamas is going to conduct credible investigations into the charges leveled against them by the UN fact finding mission.”
Ha’aretz newspaper in Israel claims that Goldstone’s reconsideration of his report was prompted “partly” by a debate he attended at Stanford University in the United States.
Yishai: Goldstone to Visit Israel
Gil Ronen, 5 April 2011
South African judge Richard Goldstone has accepted an invitation to visit Israel, Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Army Radio Tuesday. The minister said that Goldstone has also promised to work to nullify his U.N. report that accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the Associated Press said.
Yishai said he phoned Goldstone on Monday to express his appreciation for his “courageous” article in the Washington Post, in which Goldstone admitted that the report he drew up for the UN’s Human Rights Commission was flawed. In addition, the SHAS minister said he invited Goldstone to tour Israel’s southern communities that have sustained years of rocket fire from Gaza.
Yishai said that “as a Jew,” Goldstone “has a good understanding of the Jewish people’s suffering … and it is very important for him to come and see this.”
The daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot said Goldstone had informed it Monday that he would visit Israel in early July as Yishai’s guest.
Yishai said that Goldstone promised to take additional steps to retract the UN report that bears his name.
MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) has written a letter to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s chairman, requesting that he invite Goldstone to address the committee. Schneller said that Goldstone’s article has many ramifications for Israel’s defense policy in the face of the “hypocrisy and evil” displayed by what Schneller termed “the United Nations Committee Against Human Rights.”
Goldstone’s shameful U-turn
Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada, 4 April 2011
“If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone report would have been a different document.” Thus opens Judge Richard Goldstone’s much-discussed op-ed in The Washington Post. I have a strong feeling that the editor might have tampered with the text and that the original sentence ought to have read something like: “If I had known then that the report would turn me into a self-hating Jew in the eyes of my beloved Israel and my own Jewish community in South Africa, the Goldstone report would never have been written at all.” And if that wasn’t the original sentence, it is certainly the subtext of Goldstone’s article.
This shameful U-turn did not happen this week. It comes after more than a year and a half of a sustained campaign of intimidation and character assassination against the judge, a campaign whose like in the past destroyed mighty people such as US Senator William Fulbright who was shot down politically for his brave attempt to disclose AIPAC’s illegal dealings with the State of Israel.
Already In October 2009, Goldstone told CNN, “I’ve got a great love for Israel” and “I’ve worked for many Israeli causes and continue to do so” (Video: “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” 4 October 2009).
Given the fact that at the time he made this declaration of love he did not have any new evidence, as he claims now, one may wonder how could this love could not be at least weakened by what he discovered when writing, along with other members of the UN commission, his original report.
But worse was to come and exactly a year ago, in April 2010, the campaign against him reached new heights, or rather, lows. It was led by the chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, Avrom Krengel, who tried to prevent Goldstone from participating in his grandson’s bar mitzvah in Johannesburg since “Goldstone caused irreparable damage to the Jewish people as a whole.”
The South African Zionist Federation threatened to picket outside the synagogue during the ceremony. Worse was the interference of South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, who chastised Goldstone for “doing greater damage to the State of Israel.” Last February, Goldstone said that “Hamas perpetrated war crimes, but Israel did not,” in an interview that was not broadcast, according to a 3 April report the website of Israel’s Channel 2. It was not enough: the Israelis demanded much more.
Readers might ask “so what?” and “why could Goldstone not withstand the heat?” Good questions, but alas the Zionization of Jewish communities and the false identification of Jewishness with Zionism is still a powerful disincentive that prevents liberal Jews from boldly facing Israel and its crimes.
Every now and again many liberal Jews seem to liberate themselves and allow their conscience, rather than their fear, to lead them. However, many seem unable stick to their more universalist inclinations for too long where Israel is concerned. The risk of being defined as a “self-hating Jew” with all the ramifications of such an accusation is a real and frightening prospect for them. You have to be in this position to understand the power of this terror.
Just weeks ago, Israeli military intelligence announced it had created a special unit to monitor, confront, and possibly hunt down, individuals and bodies suspected of “delegitimizing” Israel abroad. In light of this, perhaps quite a few of the faint-hearted felt standing up to Israel was not worth it.
We should have recognized that Goldstone was one of them when he stated that, despite his report, he remains a Zionist. This adjective, “Zionist,” is far more meaningful and charged than is usually assumed. You cannot claim to be one if you oppose the ideology of the apartheid State of Israel. You can remain one if you just rebuke the state for a certain criminal policy and fail to see the connection between the ideology and that policy. “I am a Zionist” is a declaration of loyalty to a frame of mind that cannot accept the 2009 Goldstone Report. You can either be a Zionist or blame Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity — if you do both, you will crack sooner rather than later.
That this mea culpa has nothing to do with new facts is clear when one examines the “evidence” brought by Goldstone to explain his retraction. To be honest, one should say that one did not have to be the world expert on international law to know that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza in 2009. The reports of bodies such as Breaking the Silence and the UN representatives on the ground attested to it, before and after the Goldstone report. It was also not the only evidence.
The pictures and images we saw on our screens and those we saw on the ground told only one story of a criminal policy intending to kill, wound and maim as a collective punishment. “The Palestinians are going to bring upon themselves a Holocaust,” promised Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy minister of defense to the people of Gaza on 29 February 2008.
There is only one new piece of evidence Goldstone brings and this is an internal Israeli army investigation that explains that one of the cases suspected as a war crime was due to a mistake by the Israeli army that is still being investigated. This must be a winning card: a claim by the Israeli army that massive killings by Palestinians were a “mistake.”
Ever since the creation of the State of Israel, the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed by Israel were either terrorists or killed by “mistake.” So 29 out of 1,400 deaths were killed by an unfortunate mistake? Only ideological commitment could base a revision of the report on an internal inquiry of the Israeli army focusing only on one of dozens of instances of unlawful killing and massacring. So it cannot be new evidence that caused Goldstone to write this article. Rather, it is his wish to return to the Zionist comfort zone that propelled this bizarre and faulty article.
This is also clear from the way he escalates his language against Hamas in the article and de-escalates his words toward Israel. And he hopes that this would absolve him of Israel’s righteous fury. But he is wrong, very wrong. Only a few hours passed from the publication of the article until Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and of course the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President Shimon Peres commissioned Goldstone with a new role in life: he is expected to move from one campus to the other and hop from one public venue to the next in the service of a new and pious Israel. He may choose not to do it; but then again he might not be allowed to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah as a retaliation.
Goldstone and his colleagues wrote a very detailed report, but they were quite reserved in their conclusions. The picture unfolding from Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations was far more horrendous and was described less in the clinical and legal language that quite often fails to convey the magnitude of the horror. It was first western public opinion that understood better than Goldstone the implications of his report. Israel’s international legitimacy has suffered an unprecedented blow. He was genuinely shocked to learn that this was the result.
We have been there before. In the late 1980s, Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote a similar, sterile, account of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Palestinian academics such as Edward Said, Nur Masalha and Walid Khalidi were the ones who pointed to the significant implications for Israel’s identity and self-image, and nature of the archival material he unearthed.
Morris too cowered under pressure and asked to be re-admitted to the tribe. He went very far with his mea culpa and re-emerged as an extreme anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racist: suggesting putting the Arabs in cages and promoting the idea of another ethnic cleansing. Goldstone can go in that direction too; or at least this is what the Israelis expect him to do now.
Professionally, both Morris and Goldstone tried to retreat to a position that claimed, as Goldstone does in The Washington Post article, that Israel can only be judged by its intentions not the consequences of its deeds. Therefore only the Israeli army, in both cases, can be a reliable source for knowing what these intentions were. Very few decent and intelligent people in the world would accept such a bizarre analysis and explanation.
Goldstone has not entered as yet the lunatic fringe of ultra-Zionism as Morris did. But if he is not careful the future promises to be a pleasant journey with the likes of Morris, Alan Dershowitz (who already said that Goldstone is a “repentant Jew”) between annual meetings of the AIPAC rottweilers and the wacky conventions of the Christian Zionists. He would soon find out that once you cower in the face of Zionism — you are expected to go all the way or be at the very same spot you thought you had successfully left behind you.
Winning Zionist love in the short-term is far less important than losing the world’s respect in the long-run. Palestine should choose its friends with care: they cannot be faint-hearted nor can they claim to be Zionists as well as champions of peace, justice and human rights in Palestine.
Ilan Pappe is Professor of History and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. His most recent book is Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (Pluto Press, 2010).
Why Goldstone Backtracked
April 06, 2011, MJ Rosenberg
The Israeli government and its acolytes in this country are ecstatic about Judge Richard Goldstone’s slight revision of his view of the 2008-2009 Gaza war. Of course, Goldstone did not retract the substance of his finding that the Israeli Defense Forces killed hundreds of innocent people in the war (more than half of the 1400 dead were noncombatants or children). However, his new statement that the killings were not intentional but were merely the result of reckless targeting has the Israeli and U.S. right jumping for joy. (See the facts about Goldstone’s edit here).
The remaining question about Goldstone’s published revision is why he wrote it.
And now we may know. It appears that he may have written it to pacify his most vociferous critics in Israel, South Africa, and in the United States who have deemed him a traitor for telling the truth about Israel’s conduct of the war.
Just three days after publishing his piece, Goldstone has accepted an invitation to visit Israel from one of the most ultra-nationalist, right-wing, anti-Palestinian, pro-settler Israeli politicians.
This is from the New York Times:
Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist who led a United Nations report accusing Israel of possible war crimes in Gaza and recently recanted some of its harshest conclusions, has agreed to visit Israel in July, Israel’s interior minister, Eli Yishai, said Tuesday.
Mr. Goldstone, who is Jewish and has longstanding ties to Israel, had been shunned here since his report was issued in September 2009 saying that Israel had deliberately singled out civilians and civilian infrastructure in its three-week invasion of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.
But since the weekend, when The Washington Post published an essay he wrote saying that he would have written a different report if he had known then what he knew now, many here are praising Mr. Goldstone’s courage and wondering how to use his comments to Israel’s advantage.
Mr. Yishai said on Army Radio that after sending Mr. Goldstone a letter hailing him, he called him Monday night, thanked him and invited him to come to see Israel’s southern communities, which live under threat of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.
Mr. Yishai said on Army Radio that after sending Mr. Goldstone a letter hailing him, he called him Monday night, thanked him and invited him to come to see Israel’s southern communities, which live under threat of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.
“I will be happy to come,” Mr. Yishai quoted Mr. Goldstone as saying. “I always have love for the state of Israel.”
Mr. Goldstone said in a short statement released on Tuesday night that Mr. Yishai had “informed me that he and the government of Israel were appreciative of the article I wrote.” He said Mr. Yishai had invited him to Israel “to see conditions there with my own eyes. I said I would like to do so.”
“I ended the conversation by expressing my love for Israel,” Mr. Goldstone said.
According to Yediot Achronoth, right-winger Yishai is now in trouble with the prime minister and the foreign minister. Apparently, Yishai was free-lancing. Top government officials want to exploit Goldstone in their own way. They did not welcome upstart Yishai getting the jump on them.
The question Goldstone needs to answer is this: didn’t he know how the Israeli right (and the “pro-Israel” establishment here and in South Africa) would exploit the revision of his original finding. For them, when Goldstone says that the dead civilians were not killed intentionally but merely as the result of reckless fire, he is offering total absolution. He had to know that is how he would be used.
After all, no one knows better than Goldstone the lengths that defenders of the occupation will go to preserve the deadly status quo. What was he thinking?
Roger Cohen, 7 April 2011
LONDON — We have a new verb, “to Goldstone.” Its meaning: To make a finding, and then partially retract it for uncertain motive. Etymology: the strange actions of a respected South African Jewish jurist under intense pressure from Israel, the U.S. Congress and world Jewish groups.
Richard Goldstone is an author of the “Goldstone Report,” an investigation of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009. It found that Israel had engaged in a “deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population,” for which responsibility lay “in the first place with those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw the operations.” It said both Israel and Hamas may have committed crimes against humanity in a conflict that saw a ratio of about 100 Palestinian dead (including many children) for every one Israeli.
Now Goldstone’s volte-face appears in the form of a Washington Post op-ed. It’s a bizarre effort. He says his report would have been different “if I had known then what I know now.” The core difference the judge identifies is that he’s now convinced Gaza “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”
His shift is attributed to the findings of a follow-up report by a U.N. committee of independent experts chaired by Mary McGowan Davis, a former New York judge, and what is “recognized” therein about Israeli military investigations. Well, Goldstone and I have not been reading the same report.
McGowan Davis is in fact deeply critical of those Israeli investigations — their tardiness, leniency, lack of transparency and flawed structure. Her report — stymied by lack of access to Israel, Gaza or the West Bank — contains no new information I can see that might buttress a change of heart.
On the core issue of intentionality, it declares: “There is no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead.”
It says Israel has not adequately answered the Goldstone Report’s allegations about the “design and implementation of the Gaza operations” or its “objectives and targets.” Victims on both sides, McGowan Davis argues, can expect “no genuine accountability and no justice.”
In short there is a mystery here. Goldstone has moved but the evidence has not, really. That raises the issue of whether the jurist buckled under pressure so unrelenting it almost got him barred from his grandson’s bar mitzvah in South Africa. Is this more a matter of judicial cojones than coherence?
The fact that Hamas has not conducted any investigation into its unconscionable attacks on southern Israel — rockets and mortars still fall — is appalling if unsurprising. Goldstone makes much of this. But it does not change the nature of what Israel did in Gaza, nor allay the McGowan Davis concerns about Israel’s investigative failings.
Goldstone, a Jew who takes his Jewishness seriously, has been pilloried by Israel. He fell afoul, as perhaps no other, of the siege mentality of a nation controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians but unsure what to do with them or with the world’s growing disavowal of this corrosive dominion that humiliates its victims and eats into the soul of its masters.
The charges cascaded: He was a “self-hating Jew,” a hypocrite, a traitor. For Alan Dershowitz he was “despicable.” For Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, Goldstone was up there with the Iranian nuclear program and Hamas rockets as one of Israel’s “three major strategic challenges.”
Theories already abound on the Goldstone psyche. It was an emotional meeting last year with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies that set him on the retraction road. No, it was a bruising debate last month at Stanford University. No, it was a rightist Israeli minister telling him his report fueled those who knifed West Bank settlers. He was “broken,” one friend suggests.
I don’t know. I asked Goldstone. He responded in an e-mail that he was declining “media interviews.” I do know this: The contortions of his about-face are considerable.
Goldstone expresses confidence that the Israeli officer responsible for the killing of 29 members of the al-Samouni family will be properly punished. Yet the McGowan Davis report is critical of this investigation and notes that “no decision had been made as to whether or not the officer would stand trial.”
It also notes that more than a third of the 36 Gaza incidents identified in the Goldstone Report “are still unresolved or unclear.” There have been just two convictions — and the one for credit card theft brought a more severe sentence than use of a Palestinian child as a human shield! And this gives Goldstone confidence?
Israel is celebrating what it calls a vindication. It is preparing to welcome Goldstone. It is demanding nullification of the report, even though Goldstone is only one of its four authors. Meanwhile the facts remain: the 1,400 plus Palestinian dead, the 13 Israelis killed, the devastation, the Hamas rockets — and the need for credible investigation of what all evidence suggests were large-scale, indiscriminate, unlawful Israeli attacks in Gaza, as well as Hamas’ crimes against civilians.
To “Goldstone”: (Colloq.) To sow confusion, hide a secret, create havoc.
You can follow Roger Cohen on Twitter at twitter.com/nytimescohen .