COLUMN: What was Goldstone thinking?

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Jenny Newman, Senior Columnist

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Richard Goldstone is retracting the Goldstone report. Partially.

When the report was issued last year in response to the Israeli military action dubbed “Operation Cast Lead,” I never thought that the same man who argued that the Israeli soldiers involved were guilty of war crimes would ever denounce his own report.

This is nothing against Richard Goldstone, mind you. It takes a lot of guts to change your own opinion, especially in a situation where it carries official weight, and is so highly controversial. Even if there is some doubt behind his motives for doing so, I applaud him for having the courage to even partially retract his earlier statement.

Remember, that report was mandated by the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission. Of the nine formal actions carried out by the Commission before looking at the issue of Cast Lead, six dealt solely with Israel. That means that two-thirds of the U.N’s work to prevent violations of human rights dealt not with the sex trade that is rampant in China, or the slaughter of civilians in Darfur, or even the 30-year State of Emergency in Egypt, but with the actions of Israel, a democracy which has full freedoms and due process of law, at least for its citizens.

The United Nations has always held an extra-large magnifying glass to the actions of Israel, and I applaud Richard Goldstone for rising above that.

But even so, his retraction is difficult to take at face value. As I noted in these pages in the fall of 2009, the Goldstone Report alleges that Israel was guilty of “willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health and extensive destruction of property,” (tinyurl.com/BPGOLDSTONE).

Operation Cast Lead was carried out in response to rocket attacks originating in Gaza which landed primary in the city of Sderot.

Judge Goldstone wrote in The Washington Post* April 2 that his report would have been different “if I had known then what I know now.” The core difference he identifies is that he’s now convinced Gaza “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”

This shift supposedly follows a follow-up report done by a committee of independent experts brought in by the United Nations.

However, that report does not in any way retract the accusations leveled against Israel. There is no new information in the report that Richard Goldstone could possibly be basing his retraction on, at least as far as I can tell, which makes me wonder just what new information Goldstone is referring to that his changed his mind. Aside from the fact that the follow-up report essentially reiterated the Goldstone Report, it also accuses Israel of doing nothing to investigate the human rights abuses that were allegedly carried out by the Israeli army.

“There is no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead,” reads the follow-up report.

As an aside, Israel did investigate Operation Cast Lead, and compiled its own report titled The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects.* It can be found on the website for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs here: tinyurl.com/BPISRAELREPORT.

The Israeli report states the aims of the military operation in its third introductory clause:

“The Paper addresses the context of the Gaza Operation and notes that Israel had both a right and an obligation to take military action against Hamas in Gaza to stop Hamas’ almost incessant rocket and mortar attacks upon thousands of Israeli civilians and its other acts of terrorism.”

Nevertheless, the follow-up report done by the U.N. says Israel has not adequately answered the Goldstone Report’s allegations about either the “design and implementation of the Gaza operations” or its “objectives and targets.” Victims on both sides, the report says, can expect “no genuine accountability and no justice.”

As far as I’m concerned, both the follow-up report and the original Goldstone Report consist of shoddy research and shady conclusions. The accusation that Israeli soldiers used children as human shields and maliciously tortured and murdered innocent civilians makes me wonder if the so-called experts somehow confused the two sides of the conflict over the course of their inquiries.

But I digress. Placing the legitimacy of these U.N. issued reports aside, I am forced to wonder what exactly is behind Richard Goldstone’s decision to retract his report, considering I cannot fathom how the follow-up report could have changed his mind about the conclusions he had reached. The follow-up report essentially says that nothing has changed.

Roger Cohen, a columnist for the New York Times, alleged in a column this month that Judge Goldstone caved to pressure from various Jewish organizations by retracting the report (tinyurl.com/BPRCCOLUMN). His argument is full of cheap shots and libelous accusations. Among other things, he accuses Judge Goldstone of dropping his commitment to the report so he could attend his son’s bar mitzvah (which he says occurred in South Africa, but was actually held in London).

Richard Goldstone is a respected Judge who has spent his entire career searching for truth and justice, or he would not have been appointed to the U.N. commission to begin with. It is ridiculous for us to allege without clear evidence that he would have turned his back on his morals, and what he felt was right.

I am skeptical of Judge Goldstone’s reasons for the retraction, but I won’t claim to know them. But I am far more skeptical of the actions of the pro-Israel lobbyists who spent a great deal of time and money trying to get him to retract the report. I fear for the day we can no longer welcome free inquiry and dissent and for the day that we spurn truth simply because it is harsh. I know many people who wrote off the Goldstone Report just because it criticizes Israel.

I have read the Goldstone Report. It is long and tedious, and spends a lot of time condemning Israel for things I do not believe the Israeli military would ever sanction. I disagree with its conclusions because it was complied through “eyewitness testimony” and by questioning the same people who hide their rockets in schools and their guns in hospitals.

But the answer is not to simply write off the report, or say that Richard Goldstone isn’t standing by his morals. Our answer is to be vigilant, as always, and do our best to find out the truth. If Israeli soldiers were truly guilty of all that this report alleges, I would not hesitate to call those men or women criminals of the same caliber as agents of Hamas.

Yes, Israel is always under a spotlight of scrutiny in the international community. We can whine and moan about it, or we can agree that we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than other nations, and move on. We should welcome scrutiny and questions; there is a Torah imperative to avoid not only wrongdoing, but the appearance of wrongdoing: Kedoshim Tihiyu, we are commanded. “Be holy.”

I wish to say something to the Jewish community at large: We must continue to persevere in the face of such accusations, and do our all to bring forth the truth, above all else. As the lawyers on T.V. always say, if you’re not guilty, you have nothing to hide.

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