Monday 4 April 2011

Goldstone Gaffes Again

Judge Richard Goldstone finds himself back on the front pages of the newspapers this week, and again it seems to be for all the wrong reasons. His recent return to the headlines follows the publication of an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on Friday in which he claims that the Goldstone Report on the Gaza War would have been a different document if he knew then what he knows now.

This seems to be an astonishing admission to make after the immense damage that he has caused to the State of Israel by the publication of the Goldstone Report, and the subsequent criticisms that resulted from the report. While it is a welcome development that Goldstone has finally moved publicly to substantiate many of the claims made by Israel at the time of the publication of the report, this dramatic u-turn begs many questions as to why Goldstone is only now coming clean on some of the most important misrepresentations which underpinned the conclusions reached in his report.

In his Washington Post confession, Goldstone made mention of a few important points that support Israel regarding the way in which the war was conducted. Firstly, Goldstone has confirmed that Israel did take every action possible to prevent civilian casualties, in contrast to Hamas which made every effort to aim missiles at civilian targets. Secondly, Goldstone has acknowledged the efforts made by Israel after the war to investigate all cases of soldiers behaving contrary to this policy, or missile strikes which inadvertantly claimed civilian casualties. In the case of Hamas, there has been no attempt to investigate any events that took place during the war. None of this supports the extremely serious accusations of war crimes which were referred to in the Goldstone Report. It now seems as though he is withdrawing this claim as well. Perhaps, most importantly, Goldstone has conceded that the UNHRC, the sponsors of the report and the organisation for which he worked in publishing the report, "has a history of bias against Israel which cannot be doubted".

My criticism of Goldstone at the time of the publication of his report was, first and foremost, directed at his decision to accept the mandate at all. With the virulently anti-Israel history of the UNHRC, it seemed to me to be inconceivable that Goldstone could agree to be associated with such an organisation in any way. His defenceof this decision in the Washington Post last week is centred around the fact that he was able to change the mandate given to him by the UNHRCto make it less skewed against Israel, and the fact that it represented the first time that Hamas would be investigated by a public organisation. Somehow, he had the fantasy that he may be able to reduce the bias against Israel shown by the UNHRC. The decision by the Israeli government not to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission was not directed at Goldstone himself, but rather at the involvement of the UNHRC. In retrospect, this decision seems to have been justified. Instead of Goldstone helping to even the imbalance at the UNHRC, it seems as though it is the UNHRC that has completely corrupted Goldstone.

When examining Goldstones claims of "new" facts that have come to light which have served to convince him to completely reverse his previous views, I find very little that is truly new. The reality is that, even without the cooperation of the Israeli government, all the claims about Israel's conduct during the war were available for Goldstone to read at the time of his commission. He is now largely relying on this information to make an about-turn of 180 degrees. This is all information that was freely available, and should have been considered in the original work that he did. The investigation by the Israeli government into particular incidents during the war which took place after Goldstone's commission concluded its work, is not enough in my view to completely change the conclusions of the report, and certainly not sufficiently different from information that was available at the time that the report was published.

So why would a man like Goldstone, a Jew who has until now enjoyed close relations with the State of Israel, conduct himself in such a way to cause immense damage to the State of Israel? He is a senior jurist with immense experience in the area of international law and conflict situations. He has proven himself to be astute in coping with politicised situations in his previous work. He has shown himself to support the State of Israel and some of its most important institutions. Why is it that he has behaved in this amateurish way which borders on negligence?

The only answer that I can think of, is the one that was put forward by many at the time of the publication of his disastrous report. This is that he was simply trying to promote his own personal career. It seems that Judge Goldstone had fantasies of becoming the UN Secretary-General, and that he felt that a report which pandered to the UN and its anti-Israel lobby would assist him in his cause. In the process of playing his personal political games, he has caused untold and long-lasting damage to the State of Israel. At least we can be thankful that this has completely ruined any chance that he may have had of becoming UN Secretary-General.

The Israeli government have tried to capitalise on Goldstone's latest admissions. There was talk of getting the UN to rescind the original report. There was also discussion around the possibility of getting Goldstone's confession admitted as an official document to the UN. Neither of these two possibilities are likely, especially given the UN's anti-Israel stance. In addition, the only country that has bothered to make an official comment on Goldstone's retractions is France. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, this is of no importance (or does not serve their views on the matter). The bell on this most unsavoury episode cannot be unrung.

One positive thing that can be put forward about Goldstone, is that he did come out with the admission despite the fact that this can only serve to damage his personal reputation even further. Perhaps his conscience was weighing too heavily on him, or maybe the personal attacks and pressure that he has come under since publishing the report finally got to him. He did admit that the duress and distress that he has suffered over the past few months has been difficult to handle. All credit to the organisations and individuals who took it upon themselves to pressurise him. The South African Jewish community and Zionist Federation deserve special mention for making him feel like an outcast in his own home. This action was truly justified, and seems to have played a big part in causing him to admit the error of his ways. Goldstone should be really and truly ashamed of his management of this matter. His actions are unforgivable.

Unfortunately for Israel, the drama of the Goldstone confessions will come and go, and will soon be a forgotten story. The conclusions of the Goldstone Report, however, remain on the record at the UN. This is truly shameful.

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