by Erica Shaps
Every year at Brandeis University there is at least one Israel/Palestine-related event that lights a fire under the campus. My freshman year, it was a well-publicized and well-attended debate between Justice Richard Goldstone and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold over the contents of the 2009 United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (known as the Goldstone Report). To be honest, I remember the speakers’ rhetorical styles better than their arguments. Gold’s voice echoed abrasively, and he came armed with an aesthetically disarming Powerpoint. Goldstone, on the other hand, tried to explain himself calmly in a lilting South African accent. He came across as a gentle Jewish grandfather. Although I disagreed with many of his report’s harshest conclusions, some of which he later retracted, it was impossible to deny that he had good intentions when accepting the mandate. At some point during the debate, I realized I felt terrible for Richard Goldstone.
Justice Goldstone has had an incredibly prolific career, becoming one of the most trusted and respected judges across the globe. The Goldstone Commission played a critical role in even-handedly subduing apartheid-related violence as South Africa began to transition to true democracy. He served as Chief U.N. prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and his efforts were critical in successfully recognizing rape as a war crime in the Geneva Convention.
In spite of this, in many elements of the Jewish community, the judge is now being judged solely based on the Goldstone report. After the report, his own community called him a self-hating Jew and a traitor. It was widely reported that he was initially going to be restricted from his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Various media sources reported that he had a hard time sleeping and was under great distress.
In April, Goldstone wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he expressed regret over some of the Goldstone Report’s conclusions, particularly that Israel killed civilians intentionally. Recently, Goldstone wrote a New York Times op-ed debunking the claim that Israel is an apartheid state. His well-articulated argument against the apartheid claim was particularly potent since he was an anti-apartheid judge in South Africa.
In the wake of these writings, we are seeing the delegitimization and redemption of Richard Goldstone on a very large public scale.
Some commentators are now starting to welcome Goldstone back into the fold of the Jewish community, or are considering “ forgiving him” because of his last two op-eds. Alan Dershowitz, the famed lawyer and Israel advocate who once considered Goldstone a friend, called him a traitor to the Jewish people and stated that the Goldstone Report was written by “an evil, evil man.” After Goldstone published his retraction, Dershowitz wrote an article explaining that Goldstone was moving in the right direction but still “needs to do teshuvah.”
Conversely, many who once lauded Goldstone as a courageous hero now condemn him as a desperate sell-out who is no longer relevant. Some behave as if his last two op-ed articles completely undermine the initial Goldstone Report and his entire body of work. Richard Falk, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights and Princeton professor, wrote that Goldstone had fallen from grace to “this shabby role as legal gladiator recklessly jousting on behalf of Israel” after his New York Times op-ed was published.
I don’t know why Goldstone chose to write his op-ed. But the claim that he did so in an act of “caving in to Zionist pressure” is preposterous. Perhaps he is trying to work toward the same mission he was when he accepted the UN mandate: Pursuing his understanding of justice and truth using the resources at his disposal.
Justice Goldstone’s case reveals some sad human tendencies. When we agree with someone, we quote them endlessly, respect them and use their work to further our arguments and cement our understanding of the universe without guilt or struggle. When we disagree with someone’s conclusions, he is a liar, a traitor, and we are required to be suspicious of his motivations and intentions. We should be capable of objecting to a person’s work and questioning his or her opinions’ accuracy and validity without character assassinations. I do not agree with all of the conclusions drawn in the Goldstone Report, and think its flaws had some terrible ramifications; I still have immense respect for Justice Goldstone. It is easier to dismiss a person than to dismiss their argument, but for precisely this reason, it is important that we maintain standards of civility in the public discourse.