The UN's Goldstone Report into Israel's war against the people of Gaza has, since its publication in September 2009, been attacked and disputed by leading Zionist and pro-Israel campaigners from around the world. However, rather than disputing the claims contained therein, the attacks have focused primarily on the chairman of the UN mission, South African Judge Richard Goldstone, who is an ardent Zionist and Jewish with close links to Israel.
Following the publication of the report, which accused Israel of being "systematic and deliberate" in its violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention by targeting civilians, Goldstone has had to endure a barrage of accusations that he is a "self-hating Jew", even from within his own community in South Africa. This constant harassment and questioning of his allegiance to his Zionist ideology and Jewish faith may have been why, on 1 April, Goldstone published a partial whitewashed apology to Israel for publishing the UN-commissioned report in 2009; he wrote, "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone report would have been a different document." The article itself does not have any real ground-breaking facts, and reiterates the claim that Israel's initial non-compliance with the investigation was to blame for any disparities therein.
The facts in the UN-commissioned report have all been investigated and verified by several leading human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, PCHR and Bt'Selem. Facts, however, do not seem to matter to Israel and its "right or wrong" supporters. The question to ask is this: what made Goldstone finally crack?
Attacks by the Israel lobby on Goldstone's reputation since 2009 have included the labelling of his work on the war against Gaza as the 'biased and bigoted report'; he has been called an "anti-Semite" and a "self-hating Jew". One commentator highlighted that within a few weeks of the publication of the report Goldstone had 5000 entries under the latter insulting epithet. Today, there are around 33,000.
As a "lifelong Zionist", Goldstone has been involved in the Zionist-Jewish community in his home town in South Africa for most of his life. A once much-respected member of the community, since 2009 he has fallen foul of previous supporters who consider his "golden aura blackened" and him a "sell-out" for not protecting Israel from the UN Human Rights Council. As the international community responded to the report's findings, with anti-Zionist protests and Israeli boycotts becoming commonplace, the Zionist and South African Jewish lobby took out its anger against Goldstone in various ways. Most prominent and personal to the former judge was the prohibition of him attending his own grandson's bar-mitzvah which was initiated and supported by the South African Zionist Federation. The SAZF threatened Goldstone with a large protest outside the synagogue if he did not accept an invitation to meet with its members; eventually, protests were called off and he was able to attend after agreeing to the SAZF's demands.
In his Washington Post op-ed, Goldstone expresses some regret for the initial report; the South African Jewish lobby claims that this was due to the immense pressure it had put him under: "He suffered greatly, especially in the city he comes from. We took sides against him, and it encourages us to know that our way had an effect against the international pressure and made him admit and regret his remarks".
In a televised statement on 2 April, Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said that Goldstone's recent "retraction" came as "no surprise". According to the extreme right-wing Lieberman, apart from the grassroots Jewish lobby, Goldstone was also subjected to political and military pressure, from the Israeli Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs, as well as the office of Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister "had exerted great efforts" in that regard without the public knowing. Several international pro-Israel commentators have jumped on the "blood libel'" bandwagon and have called Goldstone's article "too little too late".
The truth of the matter is that there is nothing substantial in the article itself to make the international community think Israel was being made a scapegoat for what took place in December 2008 and January 2009; after all, Operation Cast Lead led to the death of more than 1,400 Palestinian civilians, one-third of them children. Israel used illegal white phosphorus bombs on civilian areas, captured on film and corroborated by several international human rights organisations as well as real testimonies from IDF soldiers who took part in the operation. "An erroneous interpretation" will not bring back the 29 members of the Samouni family killed in their own home; they were still killed in cold blood and should not be listed as "collateral damage". Israel committed heinous war crimes against the civilian population and should be prosecuted under international law if the rule of law and order in the world is to maintain any authority and respect. More importantly, as Ben White notes, Goldstone's op-ed in the Washington Post, is just that: an op-ed detailing his personal opinions; it cannot be comparable to the 500 page, detailed UN-commissioned report. As White emphases, "The Goldstone Report was written by four jurists, not by Goldstone himself".
Israel and its worldwide lobby are no doubt very pleased that Richard Goldstone has provided the ever-opportunistic Benjamin Netanyahu with the chance to claim that the judge has "vindicated Israel's wartime conduct". Back in the real world, however, that statement tells us more about Netanyahu's contempt for international law, peace and justice than any change to the credibility of the UN Report. The public musings of a man under intense personal, social and political pressure cannot disguise the fact that Israel's conduct in the war conducted against the civilian population of Gaza was both illegal and morally reprehensible. No amount of Zionist whitewash can take that away.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.