This won’t exactly detract from the controversy of the Goldstone Report. Richard Goldstone is the (Jewish) South African jurist who conducted a report on the January 2009 Gaza conflict for the U.N. Human Rights Council, which found that the Israeli military (and Hamas) committed war crimes and, possibly, crimes against humanity. But, according to a new report from the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, as an apartheid-era appellate judge Goldstone sentenced at least 28 black defendants to death; sentenced others to a whipping; and even sentenced two black men for having a video tape showing a speech by an associate of Nelson Mandela.
In the report, Goldstone appears as a staunch defender of capital punishment, which whites typically supported and blacks typically opposed, and which was not abolished in South Africa until Mandela became president in 1995. Goldstone says he is a personal opponent of the death penalty, but felt compelled to apply the law of the land. According to the report:
Most of them were found guilty of murder and sought to appeal the verdict. In those days, [Goldstone] actually made sure he showed his support for the execution policy, writing in one verdict that it reflects society’s demands that a price be paid for crimes it rightfully views as frightening.
In another verdict, in which he upheld the execution of a young black man convicted of murdering a white restaurant owner after he fired him, Goldstone wrote that the death penalty is the only punishment likely to deter such acts.
And remember, folks: This was apartheid. The deck was likely stacked against these black defendants to begin with.
(One could imagine a psychologist diagnosing Goldstone with a severe case of guilt. Maybe doing the bidding of apartheid can be expunged by revealing the crimes of a subsequent state that many have accused of officially discriminating against an ethnic minority?)
Oh, and meanwhile: Did no one in the Israeli foreign ministry bother to do the kind of basic research on Goldstone that is usually assigned to first-year law students on their summer break? Sure looks that way.
In Israel, that hard question has not been broached, yet. Instead, the revelations have been greeted with a sense of vindication across the political spectrum. And Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz compared Goldstone’s defense to those of Joseph Mengele and others complicit in the Holocaust, who said they were just following orders. “Goldstone took a job as an apartheid judge,” he told an Israeli television station. “He allowed dozens of black people who were unfairly tried to be executed.”.
He added, “When you are in an apartheid country like South Africa, you don’t follow the law.”
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.