Israel, Jewish groups struggle with Goldstones role in report

Looking for Justice Richard Goldstone? You’re not likely to find him in critiques of his report.

The retired South African 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.

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 an actively pro-Israel, Jewishly involved figure who also is a hero of the human rights community. He presided over the funeral of apartheid, and administered justice for the victims of the bloodshed in 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.

“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.

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 Jewish Daily 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.

A 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” in quotation marks.

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

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.

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 Goldstone delivered in Jerusalem in 2000 at which Aharon Barak, then Israel’s chief justice, described Goldstone as a friend with “very deep ties to Israel.”

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 the U.N. Human Rights Council and the regard it had for Goldstone 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.”

Ron Kampeas

JTA D.C. bureau chief