Goldstone vs Goldstone: The ugly truth about an anti-Israeli report at the UN

Trevor Norwitz is a lawyer who has corresponded with Richard Goldstone over several months. Here he explains how Goldstone's anti-Israeli report descended into farce.

Not what this was all about
Trevor Norwitz
On 19 April 2011 05:14

“We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did . . . If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

Thus opened Richard Goldstone’s resounding Washington Post reversal in which he stated that the fundamental accusation of his Goldstone Report – that Israel deliberately targeted civilians – was based on an incomplete record and, with the benefit of hindsight, was wrong.

Thanks to a statement published in the Guardian last week by the three other co-authors of that report, we also know a lot more today about the dynamics of that group and how an eminent jurist made the tragic mistake of transferring his hard-earned reputation and good name to such a travesty of justice. (The critiques in which I and others highlight the many serious flaws in the report can easily be found online).

Following Judge Goldstone’s reconsideration, this threesome felt compelled to “dispel any impression that subsequent developments have rendered any part of the mission's report unsubstantiated, erroneous or inaccurate.” “Nothing,” they recite in unison, “has appeared that would in any way change the context, findings or conclusions of that report” (my italics). 

Not the fact that, as noted by the McGowan Davis report, “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigating over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza”. Nor the fact that Hamas has completely ignored its obligation to investigate. Nor the fact that rockets continue to fly from Gaza towards Israeli civilian targets. Nor even Hamas’ admission that Israel was right about the number of Hamas fighters killed in the Gaza operation (making it one of the most accurately targeted military campaigns in modern history, even under near-impossible conditions). In short, it appears that, for these three, nothing less than the sight of Israel’s leaders in the dock will suffice.

This is not surprising. I don’t know any of them personally and they may be perfectly charming, intelligent people who have loads of Jewish friends. It is even conceivable that the tremendous boost they gave and continue to give to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups was not intended. But certain facts are not encouraging. One of the three, Christine Chinkin, is an academic at the London School of Economics -- an institution that is now under intense pressure for its close ties with the Gaddafi regime. She had publicly declared Israel guilty of war crimes before the fighting had even concluded, and she was so eager to be part of the lynch mob that she refused to recuse herself even when it became obvious that her presence would exacerbate the perception of bias.

The second, Hina Jilani, is a judge from a country, Pakistan, that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and that sponsored (along with fellow paragons of human rights observance Cuba and Egypt) the resolution creating the “Fact Finding Mission” – a resolution so ludicrously one-sided that even former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson refused to have any part of it, and that Judge Goldstone felt compelled informally to broaden.

The third, Desmond Travers, is a retired Irish peacekeeper who has an interesting take on reality and has explained that Ireland (presumably including himself) is pro-Palestinian because so many Irish peacekeepers were murdered by Israel, “taken out deliberately and shot (in South Lebanon)”.  All three of these people had made public statements indicating that they had prejudged the case against Israel long before their appointment to the Mission.

The only thing that gave this Mission any credibility at all, the single element that prevented this report from being automatically tossed in the rubbish-bin of history along with so many other anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) United Nations resolutions, was the presence of an eminent, well-respected Jewish judge as its chair. One must begrudgingly acknowledge that his selection to head the mission was a stroke of genius by those seeking to delegitimise Israel. In a lucid moment, Travers gloated: “there was only one person who could have headed it up. In fact, the exposure that the report has received internationally, as you know, has been unprecedented. There has never been an effect like it before . . . I think it wouldn’t have had that effect if it wasn’t headed up by Richard Goldstone.”

Well the Israel-demonisers can no longer claim Richard Goldstone as their head, because he, to his credit, has seen and spoken the truth. After hundreds of Israeli investigations, some spurred by the report, it is clear that “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”

Moreover it is clear that Judge Goldstone, unlike the threesome committed to the original report, now recognises the true nature of the conflict between the State of Israel and the terrorist groups operating outside of the law who are seeking to destroy it. “At minimum,” he wrote, “I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail future attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hundreds of rockets and mortars have continued to be directed at civilian targets in southern Israel . . . In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise.”

So how did such a distinguished jurist succumb to this sorry enterprise? There are surely many answers to this conundrum but one that was sharply illustrated by the threesome’s recent statement is that throughout the process Goldstone was surrounded by people who were virulently anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian, and whose motive was never to find the facts but to promote a political objective.

At that time, with no facts on the record from the Israeli government, it was easy for them to cloak their political objectives in the language of law, and for Goldstone (who prides himself on being an impartial judge), looking only at the record before him, to bless that approach. But today, with so much more information available, the fact that the threesome continues to adhere so adamantly to their war crimes accusations strips away the veil to reveal the ugly truth. 

Having corresponded with Judge Goldstone for the past few months over areas of disagreement and common ground, I do not doubt his commitment to the rights of civilians embroiled in war, or his sincerity when he says that he was moved to tears by the devastation he saw in Gaza. But I believe that he has come to appreciate that the primary causes of that carnage are, in his words, “Hamas’s illegal acts of terror” rather than Israel’s response.

The statement of the threesome comes as no surprise, but it will no doubt further confuse many well-intentioned observers who already do not know what to make of the Goldstone reconsideration. The answer is simple: henceforth the report should no longer be referred to as the “Goldstone Report” but as the Chinkin-Jilani-Travers Report. Then it will have all the credibility it deserves.   

Trevor Norwitz is a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York and adjunct lecturer at Columbia Law School. He is the author of a widely circulated critical analysis of the Goldstone Report

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