So, the J-Blogosphere is all atwitter* with Richard Goldstone's opinion piece in the Washington Post. Needless to say, if you were not a fan of the honorable judge or his report before, you will not be now. Many are interpreting his latest editorial as a mea culpa, a big "oops**." But I would caution that we actually think about what he's saying, and what it says about us, that we think he is the biggest Jewish traitor since Judas.***
The majority of the fault with the fallout of the Report lies not with him, but with people who don't understand what his job is. As he made clear in the report, in the Post piece, and in numerous public appearances, the investigation was not a judicial or even quasi-judicial undertaking. He was sent to see if there was credible reason to assume that human rights violations and war crimes had been perpetrated, by both Israel and Hamas (and Fatah). If he thought there was, he would recommend that all sides conduct investigations. Which is what he did. He was not saying Israel had committed unique human rights atrocities or that Israel should be sanctioned. He reported that there had been a war which - newsflash - often results in innocent people being killed, and yes, human rights violations and probably war crimes. In specific, he listed several instances in which it appeared, from all available evidence, that it was very likely that Israel and Hamas had committed such war crimes, and that they should conduct their own, hopefully transparent, investigations.
Recommending that it appeared likely that war crimes had been committed is not a conviction; it is not even an indictment. Because no one can think about Israel-Palestine without going crazy one way or the other does not make his recommendations libelous.
What is so libelous? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Israelis commit war crimes. They are people like any other. Lord knows the United States does. I very much doubt any army, even one that tries as hard as Israel, can fight a war of even very limited duration without committing at least a few of them. Insert lame "war is hell" platitude here. A risk that should not have been taken, a traumatized teenager with a rifle that has seen too much. It happens. That does not mean they are not war crimes, and should not be punished. Just because they always happen does not mean that all efforts needn't be taken to ensure that they don't happen again. The Israelis do see themselves as bound by international law, unlike Hamas, and so prodding them to conduct investigations can be helpful for their future conduct. Goldstone here implies that Israeli investigations into conduct examined by the Report have in fact spurred them to revise their policies. It's certainly possible that Israel would have conducted equally serious and thorough investigations without such prodding, but one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
In the op-ed piece, he never apologizes. What he says is, had he known what he knows now, i.e. been given some of the evidence deliberately withheld by the IDF when he asked for their input, the report would have come out much more favorably to Israel. He is not retracting anything, or saying his conduct was at fault. He conducted a very public and transparent investigation. He asked for Israeli cooperation. It was refused; the Israelis assumed any such investigation conducted under UN auspices would be a hatchet job, even one run by Goldstone (a man who formerly had possessed excellent Zionist bona fides and had already intervened to make the investigation fairer to Israel) and thought shunning the investigation was a good idea. That was their decision, and I'm sure that wisdom has been put to question over these last months. But that's not Goldstone's fault.
You can certainly say that Goldstone made a tactical error. He should have realized that the world audience that cares about human rights reports on Israel is manically judgmental and won't understand or see the numerous qualifications or small print. But from his perspective, he just did the job he would do anywhere else. The thing is, though, nobody cares about Yugoslavia, Kosovo or Rwanda. By all means, blame the writer for not foreseeing his audience's stupidity, but I think the amount of criticism he gets is entirely unwarranted. Especially the hypocritical efforts to tie him to apartheid South Africa.
**"Oops," which must always be written in quotation marks, is Latin for mea culpa, which must always be written it italics.
***We said take care of him, not, you know, take care of him!