The Mysteries of Richard Goldstone

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The Timespersons Ethan Bronner and Jennifer Medina published a very balanced and insightful look earlier this week about the mysterious Richard Goldstone, the South African Jewish judge who accused Israel of intentionally murdering civilians in Gaza, and then retracted the claim, well after most of the world assumed the claim was true, in no small part because Goldstone is Jewish, and why would a Jew accuse the Jewish state of something that smacks of a blood libel if it weren't true?

Bronner and Medina found that Goldstone's retraction of this charge, in an op-ed published in The Washington Post, was motivated by a number of factors: "(T)he hostility from his community, disappointment about Hamas's continuing attacks on civilians, and new understanding of Israel's conduct in a few of the most deadly incidents of the war."

Each factor listed by Bronner and Medina raises serious questions about Goldstone's character and discernment. The first is simply unfathomable: Did Judge Goldstone expect Jews would be pleased to learn of his unsupported assertion that Israel intentionally slaughtered innocent Palestinians?  As someone who is not infrequently critical of Israel's settlement policies, among other issues, I understand that for some Jewish supporters of Israel, any criticism at all is too much criticism. But given that Goldstone was in the employ of the United Nations, which has singled out Israel for special excoriation for decades, and given that he made, in his report, the most incendiary charge imaginable, was he really naive enough to believe that people in "his community" wouldn't be upset with him?

One of the reasons there is so much anger at Goldstone is raised in a quote from one of his friends:

"I know he was extremely hurt by the reaction to the report," said Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Foundations, who has known Mr. Goldstone for years and remains close to him. "I think he was extremely uncomfortable in providing some fodder to people who were looking for anything they could use against Israel."

Which raises the question, did Goldstone not know that those who seek the destruction of Israel often use Jews who are critical of the Jewish state as stalking horses? Again, how naive is he? Where has he been all these years?

If he is actually disappointed by Hamas's continued attacks on civilians, as the Times states he is, then his naivete is pathological. Terrorizing Jewish civilians is what Hamas does. This is its job. Is Judge Goldstone upset with Starbucks because it sells coffee? How could he have misunderstood the raison d'etre of Hamas?

The third factor cited by Bronner and Medina -- Judge Goldstone's new understanding of certain incidents in the war, incidents originally thought to have been the consequence of an Israeli policy that didn't exist -- is also troubling. Here is the key paragraph in Judge Goldstone's Washington Post op-ed:

The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee's report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.

In other words, because Judge Goldstone, at the time of his investigation, had no evidence in hand suggesting that Israel was innocent of the charge of intentional murder, he found it guilty. This is not naivete. This is something else entirely.


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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