May/June 2011, Pages 14-15

Two Views

Judge Goldstone Retreats From His Report on Gaza

Goldstone's About-Face

By Daoud Kuttab

altSouth African Judge Richard Goldstone listens through an earpiece after delivering the Goldstone Report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Sept. 29, 2009. (AFP photo/Fabrice Coffrini)

Whenever anything happens in the world, Jews and Israelis ask the question: Is this good for Jews? But when a South African Jew who also insists that he is a Zionist was appointed to a human rights commission, the Jewish answer was a strong no.

It was clear that the usual character assassination and political spin aimed at delegitmizing anyone asked to investigate Israel's war crimes would be much more difficult if the person is a Jewish judge.

To be sure, Israel refused to meet with Goldstone and his commission, and when they produced a report based in part on what they saw in Gaza, the Israeli PR machine was cranked up. But what appears to have been an even stronger and more effective machine was similarly put to work, this time using the wide social and religious network of the worldwide Jewish population, to put constant and unrelenting direct pressure on Goldstone.

His unexpected and sudden volte face caught many, including the Israeli PR machine and the worldwide Jewish network, slightly off guard. After all, the report of the committee that Goldstone chaired had been submitted to the U.N. and was, therefore, no longer accessible to him or anyone else in his committee.

It was also unusual, and rather scary, to see a well-respected judge who is familiar with the basics of judicial process write an op-ed piece that makes claims that were not shared by his colleagues on the committee and were clearly not received and discussed from all points of view.

It is very rare that a judge would actually go back on a decision or judgment even if that was not a judicial act in the normal sense of the word. A mea culpa using an op-ed after a committee report has been submitted is extremely unusual. This is where the case becomes scary.

For months, the social persecution of Judge Goldstone has been widely publicised. The head of the South African Zionist Federation, Avrom Krengel, boasted to Yediot Ahronot's Aviel Magnezi how the Jewish community pressured Goldstone: "He suffered greatly, especially in the city he comes from. We took sides against him, and it encourages us to know that our way had an effect."

Goldstone, who was initially denied the right to attend his grandson's bar mitzvah, eventually was allowed to attend. His arrival was made possible, according to Krengel, only after Goldstone agreed to meet with the leaders of the South African Zionist Federation, according to Ynet News.

What is scary is the absence of information on so many other Jewish personalities who are in a sensitive position vis-à-vis the Middle East conflict. For years, the leading U.S. newspaper New York Times chose not to send Jewish reporters to Israel. But once this self-imposed restraint was lifted, almost every reporter and bureau chief in Israel has been Jewish, some of them Zionists. The present bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, is married to an Israeli woman and their Israeli son serves in the Israeli army. The public editor of the New York Times recommended publicly that Bronner be moved and given a "plum job" anywhere else, but the executive editor, who is also Jewish, refused.

The same situation applies in diplomacy. The U.S. was for a long time hesitant to send Jewish-American diplomats to the Middle East, and especially to Israel. But for some time, this is what has been happening. Dan Kurtzer served honorably in Egypt and Israel. Dan Shapiro has just been appointed as the new ambassador to Tel Aviv, and the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, Daniel Rubinstein, is also Jewish, and reportedly with relatives in Israel.

This is not to say that Jewish Americans cannot, or do not, serve honorably as neutral, unbiased reporters or diplomats, but what has been documented about the pressure laid upon Goldstone does not bode well for others who follow the Jewish faith and who might be closet or even publicly professing Zionists.

If a Palestinian, an Arab or a Muslim were appointed to any diplomatic, media or human rights council investigating Israel or Palestine, the Israelis would scream. And when a Jewish Zionist is appointed and holds views that Israel doesn't like, the pressure, ostracizing and hounding begin worldwide.

I do not believe Jews rule the world and I do abhor anti-Semitism. But the narrative of Judge Goldstone's committee report, the pressures on him, his humiliating capitulation, coupled with exaggerated gloating by Israeli leaders, will certainly fuel more anti-Semitism than reduce it, and will make it difficult to avoid wondering whether in the future other Jews can avoid being suspected of divided loyalty and bias when serving in any position that potentially impacts Israel.

In the end, a sane person might conclude that the op-ed penned by Goldstone is most probably, in the final analysis, "not good for Jews." 

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah. This article first appeared in theJordan Times, April 7, 2011. Reprinted with permission.


The Mystery of Goldstone's April Fool's Message

By George S. Hishmeh

It was definitely coincidental—but harboring many unclear scenarios—that Richard Goldstone's infamous volte face came on April Fool's day, when it appeared on the Web site of The Washington Post.

In his wishy-washy column, published in that paper two days later, the esteemed South African judge backtracked on some of his original sharp findings which appeared in an earlier U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) report about the 2008-09 Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. Then, around 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 11 Israeli soldiers lost their lives in the three-week invasion.

His justification: "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report [named in his honor] would have been a different document."

Goldstone had originally said that his committee had "found evidence of potential war crimes and 'possibly crimes against humanity'" committed during that war by both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that still controls the Gaza Strip, home to about 1.5 million Palestinians.

But a final report to HRC by another U.N. committee, run by a former New York judge, argued that in that war "civilians were not intentionally targeted [by Israel] as a matter of policy," basing its conclusions in part on "investigations published by the Israeli military." Hamas, in turn, had failed to conduct its investigation of the brutal clashes between the two sides— a decision that harmed the group's standing.

Although a Jew and a Zionist—(one wonders how he was tasked with this mission)—Goldstone was severely denounced by Israel and its supporters. This time around his backtracking encouraged Netanyahu to call for "the shelving of [Goldstone's] report once and for all." But the South African judge had refrained from echoing Netanyahu's call in his just-published column, contributing to the mystery of his back-pedaling and raising concerns that he may do so in the future.

To his credit, however, Goldstone had documented unchallenged numerous examples of mistreatment of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers, and highlighted, as well, an Israeli air strike on a house in the Gaza Strip where 29 Palestinian members of the Samouni family were killed, one of 4,000 homes demolished.

But what has been shocking has been the fact that the Goldstone column had two "significantly different" versions, one sent much earlier to The New York Times, and when this was not published, a second version appearing several days later in The Washington Post. The first version, according to an unidentified source close to the Politico Web site and published in Haaretz, did not include the "crucial repudiation of the [Goldstone] report's central thrust," namely the allegations of war crimes and the intentional targeting of civilian non-combatants.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, believes that the significance of Goldstone's op-ed column "is being overblown." Challenging Goldstone's claim that new information discounts claims that Israel was targeting civilians, Roth writes:

"Human Right Watch's investigation in Gaza found some cases of apparently deliberate killing of civilians by Israeli soldiers, such as the killing of 11 civilians holding white flags, but no evidence that these resulted from a policy to target civilians."

After noting that only four Israel soldiers had been indicted and only one had served jail time (71/2 months), Israel, Roth concluded, "has yet to investigate the policies behind the indiscriminate attacks that caused so much civilian harm."

Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist, believes that Goldstone's harassment "was a symptom of something larger." In other words, he continued, that Goldstone's report "was accepted in much of the world testified to how much Israel's moral standing has plummeted."

Moreover, a member of the four-member panel that authored the Goldstone Report, Desmond Travers, a former officer in the Irish armed forces and an expert on international criminal investigations, was reported saying that "the tenor of the report in its entirety, in my opinion, stands."

It was interesting that this brouhaha over the Goldstone Report coincided with the visit of Israeli President Shimon Peres to the White House on April 5 and came as a State Department statement chastised Israel for plans to add about a thousand houses in occupied East Jerusalem.

President Obama hit the nail on the head when he told an Israeli rally marking the assassination of Israeli Prime Yitzhak Rabin more than a year ago that "Israelis will not find true security while the Palestinians are gripped by hopelessness and despair."

Whether the climate will be better when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu comes to Washington, DC in May remains to be seen.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah. This article first appeared in the Jordan Times, April 7, 2011. Reprinted with permission.