In Jewish Critiques of U.N. Report, Goldstone Nowhere To Be Found

By Ron Kampeas (JTA)

Published September 22, 2009.
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Looking for Justice Goldstone? You’re not likely to find him in critiques of his report.

The retired South Africa judge who headed the U.N.-mandated fact-finding inquiry into last winter’s Gaza war tends to get lost in the flurry of reactions from Israel and Jewish groups excoriating his report for accusing Israel of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

Richard Goldstone’s absence appears to be a function of his — perhaps former — celebrity in the Jewish world.

He was known not too long ago as that rarity: an actively pro-Israel, Jewishly involved figure who also is a hero of the human rights community. He was the judge who presided over the funeral of apartheid, who administered justice for the victims of the signal bloodshedding of the 1990s, in Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.

“That makes it worse,” said Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, upon being reminded of Goldstone’s status as a trustee of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a president emeritus of World ORT, the Jewish organization that is a leader in vocational training and education.

Israeli and Jewish communal leaders — most speaking off the record — speculate that Goldstone was chosen because of his Jewish status and is being used as a prop. They note that Mary Robinson, the one-time U.N. human rights commissioner and target of many pro-Israel groups, actually turned down the job because she regarded the U.N. Human Rights Council resolution mandating the mission as overly political.

“The choice of Goldstone was seen as an insurance policy against charges of anti-Semitism,” Gerald Steinberg, who directs NGO Monitor, wrote in his initial analysis of the report.

Goldstone seems determined not to disappear; he took his case directly to Israelis with an Op-Ed Tuesday in the Jerusalem Post. He slammed Israel especially for refusing to deal with the fact finders.

“The responses from the government of Israel to the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza have been deeply disappointing.” he wrote. “The mission’s mandate enabled Israel to bring its concerns and facts relating to Operation Cast Lead publicly before a U.N. inquiry. It could have been used by Israel to encourage the U.N. and especially the Human Rights Council to move in a new direction beneficial to the interests of Israel.”

Steinberg is one of the few Jewish organizational figures who has taken direct aim at Goldstone, citing his previous role as a board member of Human Rights Watch, an organization that frequently has leveled accusations against Israel regarding its conduct during battles in Gaza and Lebanon.

Goldstone told the Forward that his religion had no role in his selection, but acknowledged taking the job in part because of his relationship with Israel.

“I was driven particularly because I thought the outcome might, in a small way, assist the peace process,” he told the weekly.

An outraged statement from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee dropped Goldstone’s name entirely from its headline, which describes a “biased U.N. report.” The text refers to the “Goldstone Report” inside quotation marks.

Likewise, the ADL statement refers only to the Goldstone Report, and does not mention his first name, Richard, or his occupation, judge.

He goes similarly uncited in the barrage of statements from pro-Israel congressional stalwarts, including U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

The American Jewish Committee’s comment mentioned Goldstone only as an afterthought — “headed by South African Judge Richard Goldstone” — in the last paragraph of its four-paragraph statement. The cursory mention was all the more remarkable because it came in the middle of a screed against a panel member who had signed an anti-Israel letter prior to being appointed.

A spokesman for World ORT protested that Goldstone was “history” — he served as president of the organization from 1996 to 2003 — and did not follow up on JTA’s request to make available officials for comment. A Hebrew University spokeswoman said the institution did not comment on its trustees.

Goldstone’s daughter Nicole, who once lived in Israel, described her father to Israel Army Radio as a Zionist who “loves Israel.” Ha’aretz uncovered a lecture Golstone delivered in Jerusalem in 2000 to Yakar: Center for Tradition and Creativity, at which Aharon Barak, then Israel’s chief justice, described Goldstone as a friend with “very deep ties to Israel.” Goldstone’s topic was the role of the Holocaust in shaping international law.

Israel refused to cooperate with the commission, saying its mandate was one-sided, although Goldstone took steps to redress the imbalance though his insistence on investigating alleged war crimes committed by the Hamas overlords in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli spokesmen turned down multiple requests for interviews about Goldstone the man, as opposed to the report. But the tensions between the revulsion Israel maintains for a body, the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the regard it had for the man were evident in an exchange of letters between Goldstone and Aharon Leshno Yaar, Israel’s ambassador to U.N. bodies in Geneva.

“Israel’s decision should not be interpreted in any way as an aspersion on your own integrity or commitment to impartiality,” Yaar wrote in one letter. “To the contrary, your involvement prompted Israel to give closer and more considered thought to its response to this initiative and increases our regret that it is one we cannot cooperate with or support.”

Elsewhere in the letter, Yaar notes Goldstone’s “high regard” among Israelis.

Marc Stern, the acting co-director of the American Jewish Congress, says the bias Goldstone evinces in the report is not against Israel but for international law within the constraints of human rights legislation. Goldstone, he says, was unlikely — precisely because of his institutional background — to consider the laws of war.

“There’s no analysis of what Israel was trying to do,” said Stern, who emphasized that the report nonetheless raises serious questions about the treatment of detainees and the shooting of civilians bearing white flags. Under the laws of war, “The fact that you’re fighting in a civilian area ought to allow you a greater margin to kill civilians than in a battlefield.”

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