Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the article below appeared in our May 2 print issue. Subscribers can download the PDF.
From the moment the Goldstone Report was published in September 2009, its opponents have worked tirelessly to undermine it. The 452-page investigation of the 2008–09 Gaza conflict by a United Nations Human Rights Council fact-finding mission accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes for attacks on civilians, but its overall thrust was harshly critical of the Israeli onslaught, which took as many as 1,400 Palestinian lives, including those of more than 300 children. The US Congress denounced the report for allegedly denying Israel’s right of self-defense (it didn’t); Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shortlisted the report, along with Hamas rockets and a nuclear-armed Iran, as one of the three main threats to the Jewish state; and Alan Dershowitz accused the report’s chief author, Richard Goldstone, of being a traitor to the Jewish people. As recently as March, Eli Yishai, Israel’s bellicose interior minister, wrote to Goldstone charging his report with giving “legitimacy” to terrorist organizations and “calm[ing] murderers without a conscience” when they murder children.
Then came the “reconsideration.” On April 1 Goldstone, a 72-year-old South African judge, published an op-ed in the Washington Post saying that Israeli army investigations of some 400 incidents during Operation Cast Lead had caused him to disavow a key assertion in the report: that Israel had a policy of deliberate attacks on civilians during the twenty-two-day conflict. “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” he wrote.
Within hours of Goldstone’s op-ed, those who had been gunning for the report all along gleefully pronounced its demise. They characterized the judge’s essay as a recantation, and they declared the report mortally flawed. Netanyahu demanded that the UN cancel the document. The State Department followed suit, with UN ambassador Susan Rice stating that she wanted the report simply to “disappear.” The Israel Action Network, a multi-million-dollar effort led by the Jewish Federations of North America to massage Israel’s image and rebut “delegitimization” efforts, promptly launched a campaign to circulate the op-ed to as many “opinion molders” as possible.
And yet, the Goldstone Report lives on. Not only have all efforts to derail it failed thus far but the report is arguably more relevant than ever. Just a few days before the judge’s “reconsideration,” the UN Human Rights Council gave the report new life by passing a resolution recommending that it be sent to the General Assembly and from there to the Security Council for possible referral to the International Criminal Court. And Goldstone’s op-ed itself has thrust the report, and its recommendations, back into the spotlight. “In my view, the Goldstone retreat, unfortunate for his overall reputation and legacy, has actually given the report, and its recommendation, a second public life, with renewed interest, and civil society engagement with a call for its implementation,” Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, wrote in an e-mail. He later added, “It has made people more aware about the need for accountability.”
Eminent figures have stepped up to affirm the validity of the original document, including, most notably, the three commissioners who co-authored the report with Goldstone: retired Irish colonel Desmond Travers, Pakistani lawyer Hina Jilani, and legal scholar Christine Chinkin. In a devastating rebuke published in the Guardian on April 14, the three commissioners defended the validity of the report and dismissed critics who have sought to capitalize on Goldstone’s essay as cynically misrepresenting the facts.