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Admin. Presses Case Against Goldstone Report

And continued speculation on why Goldstone changed his mind

Marc Tracy
April 22, 2011
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice last year at the Security Council.(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice last year at the Security Council.(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, in the U.N. Security Council, Ambassador Susan Rice called on the international body to sever all connection. “As we made clear when the Goldstone Report was first presented, we did not see evidence that the Israeli government intentionally targeted civilians,” she argued. “Justice Goldstone has now reached the same conclusion. He also concluded that Hamas has ‘done nothing … .’” She was referring, of course, to the op-ed Goldstone published two weeks ago in which he concluded that as far as Israel was concerned, “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” (that Hamas deliberately targeted Israeli civilians, he added, “goes without saying”).

The Obama administration deserves major props. Now, it calls on the U.N. “to end, once and for all, its actions in relation to the Goldstone Report.” Moreover, during the report’s formation—as we learn from cables made public by WikiLeaks—the administration, at the time in its earliest months (one cable is dated May 4, 2009), went to great lengths first to oppose the report altogether and then to try to shape and allow Israel to shape it, despite Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the fact-finding mission.

Meanwhile, earlier this week (and perhaps partly in response to allegations that it has not given Goldstone’s about-face enough play), the New York Times explored what may have led Goldstone to change his mind.

So, what did? (For a take far less generous to both Goldstone and Israel, consult David Shulman on the New York Review of Books Website.) In addition to what Goldstone cites in the op-ed (Israeli probes into individual instances of IDF malconduct) and the elephant in the room (the ostracizing that Goldstone, a South African Jewish Zionist, has faced within the Jewish community since the report’s publication), the paper intriguingly suggests that Goldstone was disappointed that the Report did not have the practical effects, of putting the Gaza conflict behind the two sides and moving the peace process forward, that he had desired—effects that his work two decades ago in post-apartheid South Africa had in fact achieved.

When Mr. Goldstone was asked to investigate the three-week Gaza war, which started in late 2008, he was told by many friends of Israel that he was stepping into a trap. There had never been a United Nations Human Rights Council investigation into possible war crimes in Chechnya or Sri Lanka, but there had been multiple ones into Israel’s actions.

Mr. Goldstone persuaded the council’s president to agree that the mandate would not be limited to Israel. He believed that both Israel and Hamas could be prodded to change their ways.

As he said in an interview with the newspaper The Forward: “I was driven particularly because I thought the outcome might, in a small way, assist the peace process. I really thought I was one person who could achieve an evenhanded mission.”

You could argue—I have—that it was naïve to the point of just plain dumb of Goldstone to expect Hamas, an avowed terrorist organization whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, to take seriously a fact-finding mission’s conclusions that it may have committed war crimes. But it turns out that is exactly what Goldstone was counting on. He strikes me as a genuinely tragic figure, though, obviously, his is far from the biggest tragedy stemming from Operation Cast Lead.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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