The Goldstone gefuffle – an easy guide

April 7, 2011
Richard Kuper

Goldstone_Horowitz-et-alOver the past week we have published a selection of the many articles that have appeared since Richard Goldstone published his Washington Post op-ed on 1st April – twenty-one at the last count! They were grouped in two postings: The Goldstone conundrum and Why did Goldstone do it? , a division in practice with much overlap.

What follows is an attempt to give a brief guide to the main issues raised in the various pieces and to provide direct links to them here.

Richard Goldstone, Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes is the the inevitable starting point, with its “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” In particular, Israeli investigations to date “indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” [emphasis added].

Adam Horowitz takes Goldstone to task for his uncritical acceptance of both the quality and the good faith of the Israeli investigations in Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes. He argues that Goldstone’s conclusions about intentionality are directly contradicted by the experts’ report he himself cites.

The Magnes Zionist, Jeremiah Haber, is interestingly supportive of Goldstone, but reads him differently from the Israeli hasbaristas: “Goldstone’s latest op-ed…does not challenge a single concrete finding in the entire report, and he has not conceded absolutely anything to his critics in that way.” Yaniv Reich’s Reconsidering Goldstone’s reconsideration, which Haber draws on for a detailed evaluation of the op-ed concludes that this is “a sad, integrity-damaging turn for a man who had singlehandedly done so much to protect people from war crimes in Israel, Palestine, and elsewhere”- a judgment not shared by Haber.

For Omar Barghouti of Pacbi, Goldstone should never have been chosen to lead  the Fact Finding Mission in the first place because of his Zionism; and the Washington Post op-ed simply  reflects the fact that “Goldstone’s ideological commitment to Israel and Zionism has won over his relatively professional commitment, making him lose any veneer of respectability or credibility.”

Aluf Benn believes that the Goldstone retraction shows West’s changed attitude toward Israel in light of Arab world turmoil and that Israel achieved a major public relations coup this weekend”, that shows that while “Israel isn’t perfect, but it’s much closer to Western standards than its enemies.”

Ben White, Goldstone: ‘retractions’ vs facts makes a variety of good, brief  points not least of which is that the original report was written by four eminent jurists, not simply by Goldstone, that its findings were corroborated by other groups and investigations, that Israel’s investigations are not independent and so on. (In an interview, Hina Jilani another member of the commission stresses tat, evne knowing what is known now, “Ultimately, the UN Report would not have been any different to what it was”.)

Noura Erekat, a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist, who was very recently involved in a debate with Goldstone, is equally critical of critical of his uncritical acceptance of Israeli investigations. In Goldstone: An act of negligence, she writes of her fear that he hasnegligently, one hopes not deliberately, undermined the laws of armed conflict and emboldened those states, like Israel, who believe that it is a surmountable nuisance.”

Akica Eldar reminds us that it was not Netanyahu and Lieberman who sent the troops to bomb Gaza, but Tsipi Livni and Ehud Olmert and uses the op-ed as an occasion to investigate “the real face of Kadima… the real face of the alternative actually looks like”. It doesn’t come up smelling of roses.

A joint statement by a number of Israeli human-rights organisations – Acri and many others – stress that Goldstone’s Statements Support Our Consistent Positionin demanding an independent invstigation; while the Coalition of Women for Peace appeal to Goldstone “to do all that is in your power to enable the international community to hold Israeli leaders accountable” and saying that:” As it stands now, your statement is already used to justify and legitimize future crimes, even before the next war has started.”

Jonathan Cook too, in Goldstone’s rethink, stresses the ways the report is being used to try to re-establish impunity: “Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, immediately called on the United Nations to shelve the Goldstone Report; Ehud Barak, the defence minister, demanded an apology; and Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, said Israel’s actions in Gaza had been “vindicated”.” Like other commentators he shows how little Goldstone actually gave away.

MJ Rosenberg, too, argues that Goldstone’s Edit Changes Nothing while Bradley Burston , in an early response argued that in The next Israel-Arab war, Goldstone will be there, that the report has changed the face of any future war Israel undertakes.

A Guardian editorial credits Goldstone for honesty in changing his mind, but it shows clearly he didn’t change his mind on most of the issues raised in the Report. For example, the Report “said that Operation Cast Lead was ‘deliberately disproportionate’ and intended to ‘punish, humiliate and terrorise’. That charge stands unanswered. Indiscriminate warfare, as opposed to deliberate killing, was undoubtedly state policy.”

As if he felt he was being deliberately misinterpreted, Goldstone himself intervened again on 6 April in an interview with Associated Press in which he sought to limit the poitical use of his op-ed to exonerate Israel: “Goldstone makes clear in Associated Press interview that he feels only one correction needs to be made in the war report regarding ‘intentionality on the part of Israel.’” This is the theme of Miri Weingarten’s article , Justice Goldstone’s reversal and the question of intent, showing how any of those groups which might be in a position to cast light on Israeli intent are now coming under sustained pressure as “unprecedented attacks (mount) against dissenting voices within Israel”. This includes “the public crucifixion of Kamm and Blau” as well as new legislation “to deter potential leakers of proof of intent of war crimes”.

Jessica Montell rises to defend B’tselem, one of the groups whose evidence was extensively drawn on by the Fact Finding Mission. Although she says that “Goldstone’s praise of Israel’s investigations seems a bit premature” she nonetheless seems to want to distance her organisation from the original report saying that it was “flawed” and that its “ shortcomings contributed to a polarization that left little room to address the complexity of the issues involved.”

Various Palestinian human-rights organisations produced a strong rebuttal of Goldstone’s haverings in their Open Letter to Richard Goldstone, published in Comment is Free on 7 April entitled Justice for Gaza conflict victims: a response to Richard Goldstone.

John Dugard is a reknowned international lawyer and a former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine. He finds the op-ed makes “strange reading”, failing “to disclose any information that seriously challenges the findings of the Goldstone Report”. He expressed great sadness that someone like Goldstone, who has “devoted much of his life to the cause of accountability for international crimes should abandon this cause in such an ill-considered but nevertheless extremely harmful op-ed”.

As Israel makes noises similar to those in the days preceding Cast Lead, we have Gideon Levy writing in Old Testament prophetic voice, that Goldstone has paved the path for a second Gaza war a view that Uri Avnery (below) shares.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network together with the International Federation for Human Rights also made a statement, the title of which says it all: Goldstone’s  Washington Post op-ed: No basis to deny justice to victims of the Gaza War.

Uri Avnery is his usual acerbic self, weighing in with The Gold and the Stone” “Goldstone, the Man of Stone, has become Goldstone, the Man of Gold. A man of conscience! A man to be admired!” Avnery begs to differ and alongside interesting reflections (“War itself is a crime, never to be justified unless it is the only way to prevent a bigger crime”; “terrorism is the weapon of the weak… [so] Goldstone’s indignation [about Hamas] seems a bit surprising) he concludes that: “Altogether, Goldstone has now paved the way for another Cast Lead operation which will be far worse…”

Finally our very own Jewish Chronicle. Hard to sum up the froth of indignation our editor has worked himself into in Judge Goldstone: Too little, too late, and the absence of any relationship between what has been written (by Goldstone as well as others) and what he wants to believe. Goldstone is simultaneously praised (the “admission that he got it wrong is indeed to his credit”) but he is nonetheless guilty (of “the idea that writing an article admitting his mistake somehow wipes the slate clean is, to put it mildly, breathtakingly”).  “The harm done by the report is incalculable. It has, for instance, directly aided terrorists…” But why should I spoil the fun. Read it for yourself here.

Once again: Why did Goldstone do it? Various articles try to answer this question: a Los Angeles Times editorial, What’s behind Goldstone’s flip-flop?; Jeremiah Haber, Judge Goldstone’s Washington Post Op-Ed – Why Now and Why?; Middle East Monitor, Lieberman hints that Israel exerted pressure on Goldstone to recant his UN Report’s findings; Gil Ronan, Yishai: Goldstone to Visit Israel; Ilan Pappe, Goldstone’s shameful U-turn; and MJ Rosenberg, Why Goldstone Backtracked. To make a finding, and then partially retract it for uncertain motive.” Personal weakness? His own sense of honesty and integrity? Community pressure after his virtual excommunication in South Africa and Israel? Coordination with Israeli hasbaraniks? It’s put well by Roger Cohen in his New York Times op-ed The Goldstone Chronicles in which he defines a new verb “to goldstone” as “To make a finding, and then partially retract it for uncertain motive.”

A bit like Chou-en-Lai when asked on the two-hundredth anniversary to assess the significance of the French Revolution, replying that it was too early to tell. We honestly don’t know.


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