Why Did Goldstone Retract?

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I’d don’t know what made Richard Goldstone issue his mealy-mouthed retraction of the central finding of the eponymously named Goldstone Report, just as I don’t know what led the respected jurist, with a Zionist background, to put a Jewish imprimatur on an investigation of Israel’s actions in Operation Cast Lead by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Goldstone admits in his Washington Post retraction that the UNHRC is undeniably biased against Israel, and that the commission’s original mandate assumed, prior to investigation, that Israel had committed war crimes. Each of Goldstone’s fellow panelists had long records of anti-Israel statements and at least one of them had publicly condemned Israeli “war crimes” prior to the investigation.

But one thing I know for sure: The answer to the first question is not, as Goldstone claims, that he suddenly discovered new evidence proving that Israel did not “deliberately [engage in] disproportionate attacks designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize [Gaza’s] civilian population.” Goldstone cites Israel’s 400 investigations of alleged operational misconduct in Gaza as important new information. But if he once believed Israel capable of deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians in Gaza, why should he put any faith in Israel’s investigations of its soldiers’ alleged misconduct.

Goldstone claims that in the absence of Israeli participation in his panel’s investigation there was “no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion” other than that Israel had set out to kill civilians. That’s nonsense. Goldstone knew of the thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza over a three year period, and of Israel’s great restraint in the face of those rocket attacks. He knew that those rockets were manufactured and launched from amongst Gaza’s civilian population. And he further knew that he had no answer for former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Dr. Dore Gold, when the latter challenged him in a debate at Brandeis University to specify how Israel could have defended its citizens from rocket attack without going after Hamas and other terrorists using the civilian population as a defensive shield.

Further he knew of the Palestinians’ penchant for exaggerating civilian casualties. For instance, the 52 Palestinians killed in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield (according to a subsequent UN fact-finding report), at least half of whom were fighters, became the deliberate massacre of 5,000 civilians in Palestinian propaganda and a complicit European press. (In his Post piece Goldstone acknowledges that Hamas has now confirmed Israel’s claim that the overwhelming majority of casualties in Gaza were combatants.)

Goldstone knew of Israel’s unparalleled efforts to protect enemy civilians, and of how 13 Israeli soldiers were killed in Jenin in a booby-trapped house that every other army in the world would have leveled at a safe distance. His panel heard Col. Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, and someone with as great experience in asymmetric warfare as any man alive, testify that no nation in the world goes to such lengths to avoid casualties against an enemy hiding behind civilians as Israel.

So if Goldstone changed his mind now, it had nothing to do with new facts before him. Perhaps the man who once relished the praise heaped on him by a world eager to hear the worst about Israel, and who allowed himself to be squired around Capitol Hill by the odious J Street to trumpet his findings, discovered there is a cost to be paid for selling one’s soul.

The South African Jewish community, in which he grew up, debated long and hard whether to allow him to even participate in his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Maybe he couldn’t get a Seder invitation. Sometimes, as the Haggadah teaches us, the only hope of bringing the evil son back into the fold is to “set his teeth on edge” by refusing to address him directly.

Originally published in Mishpacha, April 13.

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2 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    Question: what did he think originally?
    1)Israel targeted and killed civilians,
    2)Israel targeted/killed civilians who housed and supported terrorists to dis-incent such behavior,
    3)Israel killed civilians in pursuit of terrorists.

    I do not know, but my hunch is he may have thought 3) and even 2) but not 1) except in a limited sense.

    What did he find out that caused him to retract?
    •3) happened but only rarely and most often resulted from field operations not planned activity. In fact Israel, would punish soldiers who purposefully violated Israeli government policies in this area.
    •2) was very, very rare and represented rogue actions, that were prosecuted.
    •1) was a myth believed by his biased anti-Semitic committee members

    I think he, like many, think they can bend over backwards to work to improve the state of Israel’s standing in the world and convince its enemies of its true nature. He was naïve, perhaps pig-headed, but deserves credit for his public admission of severe errors. Many of his fellow-travelers (J street, for example) should learn an important lesson.

    I can also think of other calumnies about the state, its military and even its medical profession that have been asserted and not retracted. Those individuals often deserve similar criticism/ ostracism to what was deservedly heaped on a misguided/hapless judge from South Africa.

    I hope this answers your opening question but given your phrasing: “I’d don’t know what made Richard Goldstone issue his mealy-mouthed retraction…” I tend to wonder if you are seeking to understand.

    judging even those we oppose more charitably appears more fair than your position.

  2. L. Oberstein says:

    I first read Goldstone’s actual words today. He says that had Israel participate in the inquiry in the first place instead of boycotting it, the results would have been different. He says that Israel has indeed investigated the allegations and demonstrated that civilians were never targeted and that deaths of civilians was unintentional He also says that Hamas has not investigated charges against it and that Hamas is certainly guilty of targeting civilians. he says that he had hoped his participation would enable a fair hearing of all siges and not one prejudiced against Israel.
    I guess that the harsh rejection of him as a person by the Jewish community and the trouble surrounding his attendance at this grandson’s Bar Mitzvah had something to do with it.Goldstone tried to be even handed and came out looking like a Jew justifying charges against Israel. I don’t think that was his intention, but he may have deluded himself that his participating was good for the Jews. He erred.