If Saul Bellow were alive, his next novel would be about Richard Goldstone. Bellow would have loved this lonely, somber, classically diasporic Jewish man of the law who, with noble but deluded intentions, undertook an investigation of the Jewish state’s policy as part of a skewed probe and published a report—Bellow’s book about it might be called Eponymous, although that’s more of a Roth-type title—accusing Israel of committing war crimes; who then realized the error of his ways and undertook to correct his reputation by means of attention-grabbing op-eds (the cousins of Moses Herzog’s letters to dead people). Maybe just call the thing Goldstone: You couldn’t even make up a better name.
In April, Goldstone essentially disowned the so-called Goldstone Report, which was the result of the U.N. Human Rights Council investigation into the 2008-9 Israel-Hamas conflict, and its finding that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. Today, in the New York Times, he rejects the allegation, prominent in “assaults that aim to isolate, demonize and delegitimize” Israel, that there is apartheid either in Israel proper or the Palestinian territories.
Goldstone in fact is an eminent South African jurist who would be considered an authority on what is and isn’t “apartheid,” and in that sense his essay isn’t unimportant. It clears Israel of apartheid in Israel, where Arab citizens vote and for the most part participate equally with Jews in civil society. And even in the territories, Goldstone argues, quoting an international treaty, “there is no intent to maintain ‘an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group’” (a conclusion he reaches partly under the assumption that Israel eagerly wants a Palestinian state, and soon, which one could quibble with). If the distinction seems semantic, the reason it’s not, Goldstone implicitly argues, is that “apartheid” is an unusually inflammatory term, and is therefore especially dangerous when inaccurately deployed. He concludes: “The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.”
The ostensible occasion for the op-ed is an NGO “hearing” in Cape Town, South Africa, next weekend over whether Israel is “apartheid.” But Goldstone’s not fooling anyone. The man whom many would finger as most responsible for the international campaign to “isolate, demonize and delegitimize” Israel now fights that campaign. The latest in a line of Jewish outcasts that stretches back to Spinoza (or to Moses?), he wants back in to the fold. And here is where the psychodrama goes mass-scale: Can we forgive him?
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.