Here’s a circle that should never have been closed.
The Goldstone Report, once credited with having provided a hefty shove as Israel veered towards pariah status, is now being held up by Israelis as having unintentionally demonstrated why, when the need arises, Israel will be able to launch Cast Lead Two and once again chant: “we have no choice” — no choice but to slaughter hundreds more Palestinians.
The New York Times reports:
Israel grappled on Sunday with whether a retraction by a United Nations investigator regarding its actions in the Gaza war two years ago could be used to rehabilitate its tarnished international image or as pre-emptive defense in future military actions against armed groups.
The disavowal, by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who led a panel of experts for the United Nations, appeared in an opinion article in The Washington Post. He said that he no longer believed that Israel had intentionally killed Palestinian civilians during its invasion of Gaza.
Many here considered the article truly significant. Commentary came in a flood, ranging from gracious praise to vindictive indignation. Some cited the message of Proverbs 28:13 that whoever confesses and renounces his sins “finds mercy.”
Still, the question remained whether the harm the Goldstone report caused — the ammunition it gave to those who view Israel as a pariah state and question its right to exist; the campaigns that have stopped some Israeli officials from traveling abroad for fear of arrest for war crimes — could be undone.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that Israel would work “to formulate practical and public diplomacy measures in order to reverse and minimize the great damage that has been done by this campaign of denigration against the State of Israel.”
A number of officials said that while the blow to Israel’s name had been great, the renunciation of the harshest conclusion would help in the future.
“The one point of light regards future actions,” Gabriela Shalev, a law professor and most recently Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Israel Radio. “If we have to defend ourselves against terror organizations again, we will be able to say there is no way to deal with this terror other than the same way we did in Cast Lead.”
“If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” Judge Goldstone wrote in the Washington Post. But it matters little what kinds of revisions Goldstone would now make; the most significant thing is that he is perceived as having disavowed some of his own conclusions.
The political impact of the report always had more to do with the identity of its author than the report’s contents. Thus the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict quickly became known simply as the Goldstone Report. It’s supposed authority derived not from the fact that it had been produced by independent international fact-finding mission under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council — what mattered more than anything else was that Goldstone was Jewish and a Zionist.
Israel — the theory went — would be forced to sit up and pay attention if a humanitarian rebuke came from such an impeccable source. But on the contrary, Goldstone ended up being elevated to the status of presenting an existential threat to the Jewish state, on a par with Iran.
He has now effectively disarmed himself.
Israel, long enamored with the notion that its soldiers have higher moral standards than any other military force, has been quick to declare that it has been vindicated. The Goldstone Report itself has ended up better serving those who want to sustain Israel’s sense of victimhood than in being the cause of any change in Israel’s behavior.
There’s a lesson here: don’t attach too much attention to a 500-page report that few people have read, or to the ethnicity or ideology of the messenger. The reason Gaza changed the world’s view of Israel was largely thanks to on-the-ground reporting — not a report — and it came from the voices and faces and presence of young journalists who were describing what they saw, as it happened.
Al Jazeera shone the brightest spotlight on Gaza — in his report, Goldstone did little more than reiterate what we already knew.