The South African jurist Richard Goldstone is a fool and a knave. He lent his name to a lengthy report issued under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The report accused Israel of massive war crimes in the war Israel waged against Hamas in 2008-2009, commenced by Israel after Hamas and friends had fired more than 12,000 rockets at Israel (every one of which was criminal).
Goldstone now has second thoughts. In a column published in yesterday’s Washington Post, Goldstone performs his version of a tribute to Emily Litella:
We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.
To paraphrase the old joke: what you mean “we,” putz? Here I would like to associate myself with the comments of John Podhoretz:
That Richard Goldstone did not know in 2009 that Hamas is a terrorist monstrosity which functions parasitically off civilian populaces while Israel is a beacon of war-fighting restraint in a manner practically unknown in the course of human history suggests even more plainly than the report itself that he is a dupe, a fool, a clown, and a worldwide embarrassment. Not to mention a special kind of reprehensible and appalling figure of inglorious, hideous shame to his own people through the delivery and promulgation of a false document that helped anti-Semites everywhere feel themselves justified.
He was then, and is now, an entirely despicable public figure–and so is his op-ed, by the way, which continues to act as though it is appropriate to draw parallel inferences about Hamas and the state of Israel. It would be right for world Jewry that his name be hereafter summoned as we summon Benedict Arnold’s, or Tokyo Rose’s.
Jonathan Tobin, Ron Radosh, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Melanie Philips also have comments worth reading on Goldston’e column. Memeorandum has more here.
The Goldstone Report was published in an abridged version earlier this year by Nation Books. The book comes with a foreword by Desmond Tutu (no, no!), an introduction by Naomi Klein and 11 essays commenting on the report, precisely one of which takes issue with it. Goldston’e second thoughts unfortunately arrived too late to be included in the book.
Peter Berkowitz takes a critical look at the book in “The Goldstone mess.” Here is the key passage from Berkowtiz’s review:
The report obscures Hamas’s erasure of the difference between combatants and noncombatants and prefers Hamas’s cause to Israel’s rights and interests in several ways. First, Goldstone and his team collected and presented evidence in an improper manner. The report relied largely on Palestinian testimony, even though Palestinians in Gaza live under the rule of an authoritarian power well known to punish viciously the expression of dissenting opinion. In addition, the report made many findings of law that turned on factual findings about the intentions in battle of Israeli commanders and soldiers. But since Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone Mission — it had no obligation under international law to do so, and plenty of reason, amply confirmed by the Goldstone Report, to suspect any undertaking initiated by the incurably compromised United Nations Human Rights Council — those legal findings were inherently defective. The report was certainly forbidden by principles of international law to infer that absence of evidence concerning Israeli understandings and intentions constituted evidence concerning the substance of those understandings and intentions.
Second, the Goldstone Report failed to accurately characterize Hamas. Although the U.S. and the EU for good reason regard it — both its civil and political wings — as a terrorist organization, the report refrains from so referring to it. Indeed, the report ignores or barely discusses Hamas’s ideology and Charter, which call for Israel’s destruction; Hamas’s overall terrorist strategy, including the military infrastructure it constructed throughout Gaza’s residential neighborhoods; its enforced Islamization of the Palestinian population of Gaza; and the flow from Iran through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into Gaza of rockets and missiles for attacking Israeli civilian populations.
And, third, as Emory law school professor Laurie Blank shows in considerable detail in an excellent article, “The Application of IHL in the Goldstone Report: A Critical Commentary,” the Goldstone Report misapplies the principles of distinction and proportionality, the very cornerstones of international humanitarian law.
The principle of distinction requires combatants to distinguish fighters and military objects from civilians and civilian objects, and to target only fighters and military objects. It also requires combatants to distinguish themselves from innocent civilians — by wearing uniforms, by carrying their arms openly, by not conducting military operations from within civilian areas — so that the other side can uphold its obligations. Israeli commanders and soldiers faced extremely difficult targeting decisions because Hamas fighters, in violation of the law of armed conflict, dressed as civilians; hid ammunition, rockets, and missiles in civilian buildings, including schools, hospitals, and mosques; and booby-trapped neighborhoods. The report concludes that much of the damage caused by Israeli military operations to civilians and ostensibly civilian objects in Gaza involved criminal conduct on Israel’s part, but it does not apply the proper legal test. The proper legal test asks whether a reasonable commander in the actual circumstances under scrutiny would believe that the target is being used to make an effective contribution to military actions. Since the Goldstone Report neither obtained information about the understanding and intent of Israeli commanders nor investigated Hamas’s systematic use of ostensibly civilian objects for military purposes — which causes those objects to lose their immunity — its many legal findings that Israel failed to properly distinguish civilian objects are inherently invalid.
Berkowitz adds: “The Goldstone Report is a deeply flawed document. If left uncontested and uncorrected, its errors will increase the dangers to which civilians and lawful fighters are exposed in an age of transnational terror.”
As one can see from the book, the harm that Goldstone has done lives on. Berkowitz’s review/essay is worth reading in its entirety.