Richard Goldstone’s narrow, qualified mea culpa on the infamous report he issued as chair of a fact-finding mission appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, on what happened during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, raises more questions than it answers.
First and foremost, what was he thinking when he took on the assignment, knowing as he now acknowledges, that the Council’s “history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted”? And what was he thinking when he chose to publish his opinion piece in the Washington Post last weekend, noting up front that if he had known then what he knows now, his report “would have been very different?”
Goldstone does not issue a straightforward apology, though, for the false accusation that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in Gaza. Rather, the retired South African justice with strong Zionist ties proceeds to argue that Israel was at fault for not participating in the investigation, though he cites the Council’s longstanding prejudice against the Jewish state. Further, he notes that Israel has investigated instances of alleged violations of military codes while Hamas, which “purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets” in Israel, has not. For this he expresses disappointment but not surprise. He writes: “Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations.”
How naïve can the man be?
What is most disturbing, and dangerous, is that the damage done by the report is beyond calculation, a modern-day blood libel that lent credence and energy to those seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Will Goldstone now support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call on the UN to retract the report? Will European countries targeting Israeli officers in “lawfare” cases disband these efforts to have them stand trial for war crimes? Will the Mideast division of Human Rights Watch, which played a key role in touting the false findings of the Goldstone Report, finally be recognized for its deep prejudice against Israel?
Finally, one of the real disappointments of the report was its failure to deal with a major and timely issue that transcends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Namely, how does a moral army deal with militant groups who dress in civilian clothes, blend in with the population and purposefully fire rockets from civilian settings — homes, schools, hospitals — in the hopes that the army will not fire back, or that it will, and in so doing kill innocents, invoking the wrath of the international community?
America faces these problems in its wars today, killing untold thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, though the world reserves its strongest scorn for Israel.
Goldstone did not buy the premise that Hamas hides among civilians; his report will long be remembered for what it ignored and what it got so terribly wrong.