A new attack on Judge Richard Goldstone is the latest effort in a campaign to direct attention away from his allegations that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. In this instance though, questions about Goldstone’s record as a judge in apartheid South Africa are overshadowed by the Jewish state’s own role in helping support the racist policies of one of the cruelest regimes of the 20th century.
The Israel-South Africa alliance began in earnest in April 1975 when then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres signed a secret security pact with his South African counterpart, P.W. Botha. Within months, the two countries were doing a brisk trade, closing arms deals totaling almost $200 million; Peres even offered to sell Pretoria nuclear-capable Jericho missiles. By 1979, South Africa had become the Israeli defense industry’s single largest customer, accounting for 35 percent of military exports and dwarfing other clients such as Argentina, Chile, Singapore, and Zaire.
High-level exchanges of military personnel soon followed. South Africans joined the Israeli chief of staff in March 1979 for the top-secret test of a new missile system. During Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the Israeli army took South African Defense Force chief Constand Viljoen and his colleagues to the front lines, and Viljoen routinely flew visiting Israeli military advisors and embassy attachés to the battlefield in Angola where his troops were battling Angolan and Cuban forces.
There was nuclear cooperation, too: South Africa provided Israel with yellowcake uranium while dozens of Israelis came to South Africa in 1984 with code names and cover stories to work on Pretoria’s nuclear missile program at South Africa’s secret Overberg testing range. By this time, South Africa’s alternative sources for arms had largely dried up because the United States and European countries had begun abiding by the U.N. arms embargo; Israel unapologetically continued to violate it.
As for Goldstone’s record as “a hanging judge”, this is what he told the Jewish Chronicle:
“During the nine years I was a trial judge from 1980 to 1989, I sentenced two people to death for murder without extenuating circumstances.
“They were murders committed gratuitously during armed robberies. In the absence of extenuating circumstances the imposition of the death sentence was mandatory. My two assessors and I could find no extenuating circumstances in those two cases.
“While I was a judge in the Supreme Court of Appeal from 1990 to 1994, all executions were put on hold. However, automatic appeals still continued to come before the Supreme Court of appeal. We sat in panels of three and again, in the absence of extenuating circumstances, some of those appeals failed.”
He added: “It was a difficult moral decision taking an appointment during the Apartheid era. With regard to my role in those years I would refer you to the joint public statement issues in January by former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, the first Chief Justice appointed by President Mandela, and George Bizos, Nelson Mandela’s lawyer and close friend for over 50 years.
In their statement, Chaskalson and Bizos wrote:
Not every judge appointed during the apartheid era was a supporter of apartheid. There were a number among them, including Goldstone, who accepted appointment to the Bench in the 1970s and 1980s in the belief that they could keep principles of the law alive. They included Michael Corbett, Simon Kuper, Gerald Friedman, HC Nicholas, George Colman, Solly Miller, John Milne, Andrew Wilson, John Didcott, Laurie Ackermann, Johann Kriegler and others.
There is a considerable body of evidence that they discharged their functions with courage and integrity. This is recognised in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which observed that “there were always a few lawyers (including judges, teachers and students) who were prepared to break with the norm”. Commenting on such judges, it says “they exercised their discretion in favour of justice and liberty wherever proper and possible . . . and [the judges, lawyers, teachers and students referred to] were influential enough to be part of the reason why the ideal of a constitutional democracy as the favoured form of government for a future South Africa continued to burn brightly throughout the darkness of the apartheid era”.
Goldstone was one of those judges. For instance, his decision in the case of S v Govender in 1986 that no ejectment order should be made against persons disqualified by the Group Areas Act from occupying premises reserved for the white group, without enquiring into whether alternative accommodation for such persons was available, was a blow to the apartheid regime and contributed substantially to that legislation becoming unenforceable in parts of the country.
As a judge of the Constitutional Court he concurred in the finding that the first draft of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa passed by the newly elected Constituent Assembly did not comply in certain respects with the 34 constitutional principles agreed to by the negotiating parties at Codesa.
He was the founding chairperson of the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro), which looks after prisoners who have been released; he exercised his power as a judge (not often used by other judges) to visit prisoners in jail; he insisted on seeing political prisoners indefinitely detained to hear their complaints; and he intervened so as to allow doctors to see them and where possible to make representations that their release be considered.
After the release of Nelson Mandela he played an important role in persuading his colleagues on the Bench to accept the inevitable changes that were likely to take place in the political and judicial structures.
Former president FW de Klerk, with the concurrence of the then-president of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, appointed Goldstone as the chairperson of the commission to investigate what became known as hit-squads or third-force organisations within the army and the police.
His reports exposed high-ranking officers, who were obliged by De Klerk to resign, and other members of the security forces, and he made findings that police had unlawfully shot at unarmed protesters and recommended that they be charged with murder.
Threats to his life were made, and his name was on the hit list produced in court as part of the state case against the killers of Chris Hani in 1993.
Meanwhile, yesterday was a good day for Israel as it was invited to join the mostly white, Eurocentric, rich nations’ club, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Nothing better expresses the apartheid mentality at the heart of Zionism than Israel’s preference to belong to international organizations that are defined by exclusion rather than inclusion.
As Aluf Benn writes today in Haaretz:
Israel has always sought to become a member of international organizations where the Western bloc of nations enjoys a clear advantage. In the vast majority of UN institutions, for example, Israel is isolated and does not belong to any geographic group. So it can’t elect or be elected. But there are no Arab countries in the OECD and the only Muslim member is Turkey, which yesterday voted in support of the unanimous acceptance of Israel into the group.
Joining the OECD bolsters the approach of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who consider Israel “a villa in the jungle” – a small island of Western values and development in an Arab and Muslim sea. Now we’re in the club and the Palestinians, Egyptians and even the Saudis aren’t. They’re not even on the waiting list. In the OECD they can’t bother Israel with decisions condemning the occupation.