Britain pledges continued support for Goldstone report against Israel, even as Goldstone retracts allegations

The UN Goldstone Report alleging Israel targeted civilians in Gaza is now in tatters, but so is the credibility of the countries that gave it credence

Richard Goldstone: Never glad confident mornng again.
The Commentator
On 4 April 2011 15:12

The British Government is standing by the United Nations Goldstone Report alleging that Israel committed "war crimes" in its Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 even though Justice Richard Goldstone has now distanced himself from his report’s most controversial conclusions.

On Friday, Goldstone wrote a piece in the Washington Post in which he stunned diplomats, politicians and analysts by withdrawing the allegation that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians during the 22-day conflict. He said: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

The Foreign Office, however, confirmed its continued support for investigations into Cast Lead and said it did not want to see the withdrawal of the Goldstone Report from the United Nations.

"Justice Goldstone has not made such a call, and he has not elaborated on his views surrounding the various other allegations contained in the report, allegations which we firmly believe require serious follow-up by the parties to the conflict," a Foreign Office spokesman told the Commentator on Monday evening.

In his piece, entitled “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes”, Goldstone admitted that it was now clear that “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy”. With reference to evidence provided by Israel, he added: “…I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes”.

One diplomat told the Commentator that his retractions would cause acute embarrassment to countries such as Britain that stand accused by Israel and its supporters of adopting a reflexively anti-Israeli position in order to placate oil rich Arab states in the Middle East, as well as Britain's growing Muslim population.

But the Foreign Office appeared undeterred, saying:

"Allegations of breaches of International Humanitarian Law made against all parties to the Gaza conflict are not limited to the Goldstone report and have arisen from certain other credible organisations.  We firmly believe that any and all such allegations must be met with credible and independent investigations by the parties to the conflict."

On Saturday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the UN immediately to cancel the report.

“Everything we said has proven to be true: Israel did not intentionally harm civilians, its institutions and investigative bodies are worthy, while Hamas intentionally fired upon innocent civilians and did not examine anything,” he said. “The fact that Goldstone backtracked must lead to the shelving of this report once and for all.”

Addressing his cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated his call referring to the report as “libel”.

"There are very few instances in which those who disseminate libels retract their libel. This happed in the case of the Goldstone Report. Goldstone himself said that all of the things that we have been saying all along are correct – that Israel never intentionally fired at civilians and that our inquiries operated according to the highest international standards. Of course, this is in complete contrast to Hamas who intentionally attacked and murdered civilians and naturally never carried out any sort of inquiry. This leads us to call for the immediate cancellation of the Goldstone Report.”

The UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, chaired by Richard Goldstone, submitted its report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2009. The report suggested that war crimes had been committed by all parties in the Gaza conflict. However, it has been used only against Israel and has served as the basis for an extensive anti-Israeli political and legal campaign in the international arena.

There have so far been three votes on the report in the United Nations. In the first, at the Human Rights Council, Britain absented itself. In the second, in the General Assembly, Britain abstained. In the third, also in the General Assembly, Britain voted in favour. All three votes were slightly different. The first asked countries to endorse the report’s findings; the second called for investigations on the basis of the report; and the third gave an extension to the time period in which those investigations should take place. But the move from abstention to outright support signaled a clear hardening of Britain’s position against the Jewish state.

Critics within Britain have accused the Foreign Office of undermining British national interests by giving credence to a report which could serve as a precedent for actions against British soldiers and officials involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As in Gaza, terror groups in the two countries embed themselves in the civilian population making it impossible for British and other allied forces to target them without the risk of hitting civilians too. In Iraq alone, the death toll stands at a minimum of 100,000. During Operation Cast Lead it was between 1,000 and 1,500 depending on whose figures are accurate.

With such considerations in mind, the Goldstone report has always been considered by Israel to be part of a campaign to delegitimise the Israeli state and label it as a war criminal.

“We face three major strategic challenges,” Netanyahu said last year, “the Iranian nuclear program, rockets aimed at our citizens and Goldstone.”

In a report published in 2010, the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank warned that the deligitimisation campaignt “has already gained strategic significance and may evolve into an existential threat.” The Reut report said that Israel's freedom to act militarily against perceived threats has been limited as a result of the campaign.

On Sunday, the Israeli Prime Minister set up a committee to help formulate a response to “reverse and minimize” the great damage that followed the publication of the report.

An editorial in Israel’s leading newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, referred to the Goldstone Report as a modern day “Dreyfus trial” with Israel in the dock.

"Not only must Goldstone apologize but so too all those who intervened and contributed to creating the modern Dreyfus trial for the State of Israel,” the newspaper said. The editorial declared that, "For the past decade, Israel has been waging a war against modern anti-Semitism under the cloak of human rights, the goal of which, for the Israel-haters, has been to undermine the state's legitimacy as a home for the Jewish people.”

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