The Strange Case of Judge Goldstone

By Peter Lavelle

Ever since Israel invaded Gaza and massacred around 1,400 Palestinians in 2008-09 in a brief, bloody and onesided war, it has been haunted by the UN-sponsored investigation commonly known as the Goldstone Report. Until now, it would seem. Some form of divine intervention has put Israel’s Gaza ghost to rest – at least for those who are apologists for countries committing crimes against humanity.

In the initial report, Judge Richard Goldstone, an eminent South African jurist experienced in tackling war crimes cases and himself a Jewish Zionist, concluded that Israel had committed multiple war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during its 2008-09 invasion. But now Goldstone has publicly distanced himself from the report, and explained his volte-face in a Washington Post commentary.

The op-ed, which appeared on April 1, of all days, stated: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

Goldstone does not with any clarity explain what he means by this sentence, however. Paradoxically and shamefully for the judge, the more we know about the Gaza massacre, the more accurate the Goldstone Report appears – not less.

We may never now why Goldstone changed his position – it is certainly not the result of new revelations refuting the report’s validity, irrespective of what he implied in his article. We know that he had been the subject of an international smear campaign of unprecedented dimensions and nastiness. Maybe the pressure was simply too much for him. But even in this case, it is hard to understand why he caved in now. In fact, attempts to discredit the Goldstone Report themselves been discredited over the past year.

Did Goldstone succumb to pressure or threats? I wouldn’t put this past a number of people, organisations and governments.

What we do know for sure is that a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks has Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, saying that Israel was facing “three principal threats: Iran’s nuclear [programme], missile proliferation and the Goldstone Report.”

Israel is obviously quite pleased with itself – it is getting away with murder. First there was the massacre of about 1,400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians and children, and now another massacre – this time of the truth, memory and justice.

When one reads the Goldstone Report, one is struck by how its authors deal only in facts when drawing conclusions. Goldstone’s own words in the Washington Post are at odds with the facts. For example, Goldstone writes now: “Civilians were not intentionally targeted [by Israel] as a matter of policy.”

But nowhere in the report was such a claim made or even entertained. This was never one of the investigative aims of the Goldstone Report. This raises the question of what exactly Goldstone is supposed to be recanting.

Goldstone also writes that he is “confident” that Israel is willing and capable of investigating its conduct during the Gaza massacre.

Where is the evidence to back up this new claim? His three co-authors on the report – Pakistani human rights lawyer Hina Jilani; Christine Chinkin, a professor of international law at the London School of Economics; and former Irish peacekeeper Desmond Travers – disagree with him. And there is more evidence: the final UN report into the Gaza massacre, written by a follow-up committee led by Judge Mary McGowan Davies. In that report Israel is criticised for the slow pace with which it has conducted its investigations and for its refusal to address some of the most serious allegations about what it did in Gaza and afterwards.

To date, neither the Israeli government nor its apologists have come up with any convincing evidence contradicting the Goldstone Report’s findings that the Israeli Defence Force used “deliberately disproportionate force to punish, humiliate, and terrorise the civilian population” of Gaza.

It is hard to comprehend Goldstone’s recent words and intentions. It is doubtful his past and current enemies will quickly embrace him after one sloppily written op-ed, though it is clear he has disappointed a lot of people and undermined hope for others. Until evidence is presented to the contrary, the original Goldstone Report stands, even if one of its authors has stepped down and moved aside.

– Peter Lavelle is the host of RT’s debate programme “CrossTalk”. (This article was first published in The Moscow News –, and is republished in with permission from the author.)

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