Politics & Policy

Goldstone Undone

Nobody in recent memory has given the world such a startling example of the useful idiot as Richard Goldstone, the former South African judge who wrote a report for the U.N. Human Rights Council on the events in the Gaza Strip beginning in December 2008.  Nothing in today’s public life quite matches his performance for credulity and ignorance.

Over the years, Hamas had acquired the habit of firing rockets and mortar shells by the thousand from Gaza across the border into Israel. Enough was enough, and Israeli armored columns put an end to it. For Hamas and its ally, the Human Rights Council, any attempt on the part of Israel to defend itself is aggression, and they do whatever they can to spread this smear in order to damage and delegitimize Israel. Here was a chance to enlarge their campaign, and Goldstone was the man to lead it.

And lead it he did: The Goldstone Report is a travesty even by the standards of the United Nations. The evidence given was not just slanted but contrary to elementary legal principles. The investigation blackened Israel while forgoing any investigation into Hamas’s conduct. Goldstone’s colleagues all had a record of anti-Israel bias. No witnesses were called who might have provided corroboration of the charges. Israel naturally objected to a process specifically engineered to reach a foregone conclusion regardless of the facts, and the published report duly declared that Israel had deliberately killed civilians and was guilty as charged of war crimes.

The shock was, and remains, tremendous. News media everywhere publicized the report’s findings. Israel finds it more difficult than ever to get a fair hearing, and the campaign to delegitimize it has reached new and dangerous levels. Anyone with firsthand knowledge of the Middle East could easily have recognized that these proceedings were a malign fantasy designed to advance Hamas and its anti-Jewish ideology.

Israel, meanwhile, has been conducting a thorough and open investigation into the conduct of its armed forces, absolving all but one or two of any wrongdoing. Confronted with Israeli findings, Goldstone has published an editorial in the Washington Post offering the closest thing to an apology that we expect to see from him: an acknowledgment of the incompleteness of the evidence behind his report and an expression of “regret” that his panel did not offer a fuller picture. Reversing himself on the key issue, he now accepts that civilians in Gaza were not targeted intentionally as a matter of policy. 

More than that, he writes that if he had known then what he knows now, his report would have been a different document. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is keen on having a different document, too, saying, “There are very few instances in which those who disseminate libels retract their libel. This happened in the case of the Goldstone Report.” He is proposing that the report be formally repudiated by the United Nations.

It might be a suitable penance for Goldstone if he were to write another report explaining exactly how and why he came to find himself playing the role of useful idiot.


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