Goldstone op-ed misrepresented but also misleading

By Jerry Haber

It is the unfortunate fate of Judge Richard Goldstone to be condemned and praised for what he doesn’t write. The responses to his op-ed in Washington Post from the Israel advocates are laughable. Even a superficial reading of the op-ed shows that he has not retracted a single comma in the Goldstone Report, nor does he express any regret for having written the report the way it was written. He simply says that had he known then what he knows now, the report would have been different.

In fact, he has been saying for over a year that had Israel cooperated with the Mission instead of boycotting it, the report would have looked different. In the op-ed he gives good marks to some of the IDF investigations, though he does not say that he finds the investigation entirely adequate (more on that below.) Some cases of killing civilians which looked prima facie intentional have now been explained to his satisfaction. Yet he refers approvingly to the UN final report which does not find that investigation adequate. He says that the IDF has investigated better than has Hamas, and gives good marks to the IDF and PA (but failing marks to Hamas) for implementing new policies. Although he doesn’t say it – perhaps he is modest — the IDF investigations would probably not have occurred without the Goldstone Report.

For a careful reading of the WaPo op-ed, see this piece of Yaniv Reich here. I thank Yaniv for saving me the time, and I thank Hashem for commanding us Jews to observe the Sabbath. Had I read Judge Goldstone’s op-ed when it was posted, I would have spent hours writing on it.

Reich refers to the tone and the timing of the WaPo op-ed. The tone of the original report seemed to me to be an angry one. Israel’s decision not to cooperate with the Goldstone mission cost it in two ways: first, its side of the story was not heard, and, second, its refusal to deal civilly with the mission had an impact on the tone of the final report. It certainly had an impact on the tone of some of the interviews that Judge Goldstone gave. The nasty blowback that Judge Goldstone received also may have affected some of the tone, not of the report, but of some of his statements; he is human.

But in speaking before various audiences the tone has always been a bit different. There was criticism of Israel, but there was always the emphasis that the findings were not judiciary and that the report called for investigations. Judge Goldstone constantly affirmed his fundamental support of Israel, and he seems to have found it difficult to understand why the positive aspects of the report (e.g., the criticism of Hamas) were being neglected

What is puzzling, then, is why Judge Goldstone has decided to write an op-ed for the Washington Post now that may give the impression that Israel has discharged its obligations with its ongoing, private, IDF investigations. As Reich puts it:

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. In fact, his findings under severe constraints have held up remarkably well with time. But the tone and timing of this current piece suggest that somehow the report should be “reconsidered”, that it was somehow wrong. Moreover, his comments seem to intentionally mislead about the content of the UN independent committee’s findings on due process in Israel. This is nothing more than a bone to Israel’s apologists, which is deeply misleading for all the reasons discussed here.

Reich concludes:

I am afraid 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.

I cannot agree with Reich here. I would agree with him had Judge Goldstone explicitly back-tracked. I wouldagree with him had he said that the IDF has discharged its duty. I would agree had Reich given convincing proof of “intentionality,” i.e. that Goldstone intentionally mislead his readers.

But I do think that the op-ed raises questions that could easily be laid to rest were Judge Goldstone to make explicit his views on whether Israel has discharged its obligation. In the original op-ed, he wrote.

Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the incidents referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree.

Is a “significant degree” a “sufficient degree”? According to McGowan Davis, no. According to Judge Goldstone in the Bill Moyers interview, an internal IDF investigation would not be sufficient:

BILL MOYERS: But just this week, the Israeli defense minister said, we don’t want any investigations. He says, “There’s no need for a committee of inquiry. The Israeli military knows how to examine itself better than anyone else.” And he blocked a meeting this week that was going to discuss whether or not Israel should launch an investigation.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well the question is whether he’s going to succeed. You know, Ariel Sharon, when he was defense minister, did exactly the same blocking, unsuccessfully, in respect of Sabra and Shatila, and a very appropriate independent investigation was set up under judges and the then attorney general. And of course, they found Sharon guilty, and forced his dismissal as defense minister. So there’s precedent both for the minister blocking it, and for his losing, and I hope that will happen here.

Well, it did not happen here. And it is surprising, and puzzling, that Judge Goldstone did not repeat his call for an independent inquiry in his op-ed. But until he explicitly says that there is no further need for one, then the statement above should represent his final word.

Jeremiah (Jerry) Haber is the nom de plume of an orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor, who divides his time between Israel and the US. This article was published on Jerry’s blog, The Magnes Zionist. It is reposted here with the author’s permission.