Goldstone Reassesses

Cross-posted to The Debate Link

The blogosphere is abuzz over Judge Richard Goldstone’s reconsideration of his commission’s report on Operation Cast Lead. Judge Goldstone, more or less, states that he’s satisfied with the results of Israel’s investigation into the accusations, that he no longer believes Israel can fairly be accused of targeting civilians as a matter of policy, and that he regrets that Israel did not cooperate with his commission’s inquiry, as the evidence they have mustered would have substantially changed their conclusions. I had wondered what Judge Goldstone thought of Israel’s ongoing investigations, and now we have our answers.

Jeffrey Goldberg calls this admission “as shocking as it is unexpected”. I’m not sure I agree. I actually think it coheres pretty well to my read on Judge Goldstone as an arch-formalist. One of the things Judge Goldstone reemphasized in his reappraisal was that his investigation was not and was not meant to be “judicial” (in that it wasn’t meant to offer definitive conclusions, only raise issues worthy of investigation). I observed that, technically true or not, Judge Goldstone was “the only person on the planet who hasn’t taken the report as a definitive pronouncement of guilt and innocence.” Ditto Judge Goldstone’s clear disappointment that Hamas has not investigated the war crimes accusations against it, and the UNHRC’s marked unwillingness to hold human rights violations against Israelis accountable. I remarked at the time that Judge Goldstone’s surprise at these omissions is genuine if incredibly naive, and I think that’s still accurate.

My line on Goldstone had always been that the problems in his report were structural, not the result of a malignant heart. It was Goldstone’s determination to play a straight hand in a marked deck that was his undoing. Judge Goldstone was trying his level best, but there was no way to have a full and fair investigation — no matter how diligent one is at crossing t’s and dotting i’s — when the propagating party is the UNHRC and the investigation occurs within a context (the international legal community) that is shot through with bias and prejudice. There seems to be some belated realization by Judge Goldstone that this is true, but I fear it is for naught. Like his original report, his mea culpa is too legalistic to have much of an impact — it is, shall we say, unlikely that the UN will accede to PM Netanyahu’s demand that the original report be retracted in the wake of Judge Goldstone’s recantation. We are, and always were, in the realm of politics, not law. Judge Goldstone tried as hard as he could to imagine that was not so, but there is no way to extract oneself in cases such as this. His colleagues in the system understood the game, and he got rolled.

I imagine some will question the reliability of Judge Goldstone’s change of heart. We are, after all, dealing with the full weight and fury of the global Zionist monster — Judge Goldstone could have simply finally cracked under the pressure. This strikes me as extremely unlikely. The Goldstone report had, frankly, fallen out of the news. It wasn’t a story anymore, and the Jewish and pro-Israel community had moved on. This op-ed came out of the blue, and it is hard to imagine what leverage the Israel Lobby had over Judge Goldstone yesterday that outweighed the incredible fire he took in the immediate aftermath of the report’s release. It’s also difficult to imagine that Judge Goldstone’s reputation or place in history will change all that much even with this op-ed. His legacy, for better or for worse, is tied to that report.

And even beyond what we think of Judge Goldstone, there is a larger sense in which this all doesn’t matter. Nobody expects the folks who were Goldstone’s greatest cheerleaders to reassess their evaluation of Israel’s conduct. The people who excoriated may have an extra rhetorical arrow in their quiver, but they don’t really need him either — he’s simply belatedly affirming the position they took all along. The world will spin on as normal. When the system is as badly broken as the UN’s human rights apparatus is, it takes a far more herculean effort to see real change than what we see here.