Posted by on April 05, 2011 in Blog

The Mideast-focused blogosphere erupted over the weekend after Justice Richard Goldstone wrote a piece in the Washington Post about “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report” in which he stated, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” The report, which was the outcome of an extensive UN investigation led by Goldstone, was damning of Israel’s conduct in its assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008/09 which left some 1400 Palestinians dead (mostly civilians) and 13 Israelis (mostly combatants). That Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation despite Judge Richard Goldstone’s eminence and credentials as a staunch supporter of Israel reinforced the conviction that Israel had plenty to hide. Goldstone’s surprising “reconsidering” of his report predictably triggered a wave of outrage among supporters of Palestinian human rights and a sense of vindication among supporters of Israeli policies. But is either sentiment really warranted?

Starting with the core argument, to say that the report would be “different” if new information were taken into account is elementary common sense, and pretty far from a retraction.  On analogous lines, to say that just about any science book would look different if written today, after taking new discoveries into account, than it did when written a couple of years ago is hardly a “retraction” of all preceding science; it’s merely an updating modification.

So what specifically is this new information that would have “probably” influenced the report? The answer lies in Israeli internal investigations which, in Goldstone’s words, “indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.” Fair enough, but what does Goldstone think about these investigations? Well, he shares the “concerns” that most have yet to be concluded, that their length is “frustrating,” and he is critical of their behind-closed-doors proceedings which “should have been held in a public forum.”  If I can put Goldstone’s “reconsideration” into my own blunt words, it would sound something like this: while Israel’s lengthy and nontransparent investigations raise concerns, their conclusions about the cause of civilian deaths would have nevertheless been taken into account and probably influenced our report if Israel had cooperated with our investigation.

But Goldstone didn’t put it that plainly. Instead, his phrasing was much more charitable to Israel, and he goes out of his way to reiterate and reemphasize (as he has in the past) his opposition to illegitimate demonization of Israel. This is not the least bit surprising since Goldstone, as has been repeatedly noted, is a very strong supporter of Israel. The vitriol directed at him from the so-called “pro-Israel” community following the release of his report must have been deeply hurtful for him. For example, Goldstone was pressured out of attending his own grandson’s bar mitzvah, and influential demagogue Alan Dershowitz berated him as a “traitor to the Jewish people.” That Goldstone would word his latest article in such a way as to mitigate the fallout from his Report and restore the rapport he once had with a country and community that he clearly cares deeply about is perfectly understandable. Most telling about the role this has played in his decision to write this article is the fact that he attempted to publish a different version of it in the New York Times (NYT), only without the “crucial repudiation of the report's central thrust” on the targeting of civilians. Had the NYT not turned his article down, Goldstone may very well have been content with reaffirming his support for Israel, and highlighting the fact that its problematic investigations were a much better step than Hamas’s no investigations; none of which would have been controversial in the least.

Worth emphasizing in Goldstone’s article that did get published is his noting that the referenced Israeli investigations “established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldier.” This means that all Goldstone is acknowledging here is Israel’s ability to dispute whether it targeted civilians as a matter of policy; which is merely a dispute of one subsection of a massive report; which in turn is merely one of hundreds of credible human rights reports that document Israeli atrocities; which in turn are merely one method of raising global awareness about the injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people; which in turn is merely one tool in the struggle to achieve freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. This is hardly a cause for panic.

Nothing in this Goldstone article negates the illegality of the occupation, or disputes the criminality of continued settlement expansion and home demolitions, or obscures Israel’s violations of the ceasefire, or denies the flattening of entire neighborhoods in Gaza, or exonerates the use of white phosphorous on civilians…etc.  The only people who see a significant victory in this article are hardcore apologists for Israeli policies, and getting into a dispute over a narrow, personal and qualified reconsideration by Goldstone is to give them the opportunity to play up its significance.

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