Have an Eggroll, Mr. Goldstone

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Goldblog reader Jonathan Benovitz writes:

For what it's worth, I'm an Orthodox Jew whose favorite professor in law school was Richard Goldstone. Personal experience tells me that the Yediot article is ridiculous (in the sense that it provides an absurdly skewed view of the man) and that the charge you suggested about his doing this to burnish his own reputation is equally false. Anyway, thought you would be interested to know that Goldstone's thoughts on his role in the Apartheid judicial system have been public record since he wrote a book in 2000. These thoughts were consistent with what he told our class in 2004:
I built a successful commercial practice and in 1977 was appointed
as a senior counsel (the equivalent of Queen's Counsel in England).
According to South African tradition, superior court judges were appointed
from the ranks of senior counsel. To make good its boast of
having an independent judiciary, successive apartheid governments
elevated some barristers to the High Court Bench notwithstanding any
active opposition to government policies on their part.
In 1978 I was offered an acting appointment as a judge on the Transvaal
Supreme Court. The moral problems of joining the South African
judiciary were manifest. Its members were obliged, by their oaths of
office, to enforce the laws of the land. This was a great concern to me. I
decided, however, that I could play a more active role in efforts to ameliorate
those laws by accepting the appointment rather than by continuing
to pursue a lucrative commercial career. Leaders of the Johannesburg
Bar who were themselves antiapartheid activists encouraged me
to accept the appointment."

Any person in a tight moral spot must decide when he will stop trying to reform a corrupt  system from the inside, and begin fighting from the outside. Goldstone sentenced 28 blacks to the gallows; he also sentenced four men to be whipped. Obviously, he was comfortable enforcing the death penalty -- and torture penalties -- on behalf of a racist state. Perhaps he reformed the system in ways he has not explained, but I'm reasonably sure the four men he ordered whipped did not think of him as a great reformer. Jon Chait:

As for Goldstone, again, I don't think his Apartheid history makes him anything like a Nazi. But he's an important character in the whole drama. His champions have portrayed him as a brave truth-teller, and his critics as a weak bureaucratic figure currying favor with the powers that be. The revelations about his history do lend more plausibility to the latter interpretation.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/05/have-an-eggroll-mr-goldstone/56465/