Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Goldstone's Aerial Flip-Flop

By Richard Edmondson

For the past 18 months, since the release of the Goldstone report, South African jurist Richard Goldstone has been smeared by critics on three continents at least—and probably more. Still, one might have thought the Washington Post was pulling off an April fool’s joke last Friday when it published an op-ed piece by Goldstone basically retracting the report of the fact finding mission that came to bear his name.

In that now-famous report, released September 15, 2009, Goldstone concluded that Palestinians “have the right to freely determine their own political and economic system, including the right to resist forcible deprivation of their right to self-determination and the right to live, in peace and freedom, in their own state.” He also found that in their assault on Gaza, Israeli forces committed “grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva convention,” including: “willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” A “competent court,” in looking at the imposed restrictions on Gaza, including denial of the means of subsistence, might reasonably also find the Jewish state guilty of a crime against humanity, the report went on to state.

But now Goldstone sings a different tune. “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 mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report,” the newly-packaged jurist reported, with an air of contrition, in his April 1 op-ed piece. “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

So what does Goldstone know now that he didn’t know then? Primarily, it seems to boil down to what Israel found when it undertook its own investigation of itself—findings which Goldstone evidently now accepts at face value: “While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.” Approximate translation: “Israel found its leaders motives to be pure and that’s good enough for me.”

Indeed, it all seems to come down to a genuine honest error. Take the shelling of a house belonging to the Samouni family in the neighborhood of Zeitoun on January 4, 2009, an attack that left some 29 members of that family dead. “The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image,” Goldstone says. He goes on to note that an Israeli officer is currently under investigation in connection with that incident and pronounces himself “confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly.”

It should be noted here that Amnesty International has described the Israeli investigation (and, to be sure, the Palestinian one as well) as “seriously flawed.” But apparently this is a view not shared by Goldstone, whose objection to the Israeli investigation seems to be largely a certain lack of promptness displayed by those carrying it out. “While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway,” he says, and he also allows that maybe, just maybe, it would have been sorta kinda better had the Israeli proceedings been “held in a public forum.” All in all, what we have here coming from Goldstone is an acrobatic flip-flop.

The last 18 months have obviously not been easy ones for the South African judge. In September of ’09 the pro-Israel group CAMERA charged that the UN Commission had based its report on “unreliable witnesses”—and that was one of the more civil and printable criticisms. Staunch Zionist and Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips accused Goldstone of “perpetrating a blood libel against Israel,” while the wearisome, and seemingly ubiquitous professor Alan Dershowitz denounced the report as “a defamation written by an evil, evil man.” Dershowitz is also reported to have severed his ties with Goldstone after years of friendship, saying, “I regarded him as a friend, but I now regard him as an absolute traitor.”

Commenting on Goldstone’s new about-face, Michael Bagraim, president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said, “Our community has felt very strongly that the probe was unfair to Israel and it’s almost like we’re ‘saying we told you.’” David Hersch, national vice chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, viewed the original report as an insult and a blot upon Israel’s reputedly good name—comparable, he said, to calling someone’s sister a prostitute:

“There’s a famous story about a man standing up at a shul and saying somebody’s sister is a prostitute. Then it turns out not only that she isn’t a prostitute but that he doesn’t even have a sister, but the rumor is out there. This is the same thing.”

Hersch went on to say he believes that Goldstone, despite his retraction, will never be forgiven. “He went too far and did too much damage. He will actually fade away and be ignored, settle into well-deserved obscurity,” he said. However Bagrain disagreed, saying there is a possibility that Goldstone’s rift with the Jewish community might be healed. “This (the retraction) will go a long way to repairing that bond,” he averred.

In addition to enduring public disfavor such as the comments inventoried above, Goldstone has also had to deal with problems in his personal life. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Last year there were doubts over whether the Jewish judge would be able to take part in his grandson’s bar mitzvah in South Africa in light of the community’s animosity towards him. After negotiations Goldstone eventually attended the Jewish rite of his grandson accompanied by several bodyguards.

Additional insight on the bar mitzvah kerfuffle can be found here. A key passage:

The renowned South African jurist, who works in Washington, was effectively barred from attending the traditional ceremony at an orthodox synagogue this month after Jewish groups threatened to disrupt it if Goldstone was present. In the ensuing row, which spread from Johannesburg to America and Israel, Goldstone accused South Africa’s chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, of “brazenly politicising” the bar mitzvah. Goldstein has been at the forefront of a global campaign to discredit and vilify Goldstone over the UN report, which accused Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes in Gaza during last year’s fighting. The chief rabbi has called the former South African supreme court justice a liar, accusing him of “delegitimising Israel”. Three weeks ago, Goldstone announced that his family had asked him not to attend his 13-year-old grandson’s bar mitzvah because militantly pro-Israel Jews said they would picket the synagogue during the ceremony. The synagogue elders had also expressed concern about the threat of disruption. Although the source of the threats was unclear, they were linked by Goldstone’s supporters in the Jewish community to the South African Zionist Federation and the chief rabbi.

So in essence we have rather a battle of “Goldstein” versus “Goldstone.” The story goes on to say that the beleaguered Goldstone finally was allowed to attend the bar mitzvah after the brokering of an agreement “under which his critics will not disrupt his grandson’s bar mitzvah in return for the former judge meeting Jewish organisations to hear their fury at his Gaza report.”

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quite pleased with the new development, and little wonder: Israeli officials will now have less reason to fear being arrested when they journey abroad.

“Everything we said has proven to be true: Israel did not intentionally harm civilians, its institutions and investigative bodies are worthy, while Hamas intentionally fired upon innocent civilians and did not examine anything,” said Netanyahu. “The fact that Goldstone backtracked must lead to the shelving of this report once and for all.”

In choosing a Zionist, even one of Goldstone’s stature, to head up its Gaza inquiry, the UN obviously erred. It is elementary logic that war criminals should not be in charge of investigating themselves, but equally as elementary is that those with perceived loyalties to them should not be either. No future investigations into Israeli war crimes (and almost undoubtedly further such crimes will be committed) can be left to any Zionist Jew regardless how good or honorable his or her intentions may be. Aside from the self-evident fact that no Zionist, from a sheer fairness standpoint, should be commissioned to investigate Israeli leaders or military commanders, there is also the not-insignificant consideration that any finding contra the Jewish state will subject such a person to a merciless wave of tribal persecution. Even if, in the course of the inquiry, the jurist were able to summon the desired impartiality, the fear of repercussions afterwards would almost surely weigh heavily and carry the potential of compromising the findings. Or perhaps, at very least, lead us into the ambiguous, “it-was-all-for-nothing” sort of terrain in which we presently find ourselves.

With his op-ed in the Washington Post, Goldstone has executed an aerial somersault worthy of an Olympic gymnast.

Above: the body of 4-year-old Ahmed Samouni, killed in January
of '09 in the Israeli attack on Zeitoun Below: Ken O'Keefe in a recent
interview with Ahmed's mother.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

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