Who is afraid of Richard Goldstone? No one should be. Not even the U.S. Congress — yet it is poised on Tuesday to condemn the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Goldstone report on violations of international law related to the Gaza war of late 2008.
Why the fear? Judge Goldstone is no Israel basher. He is famous for apprehending Nazi criminals in Argentina, for serving as chief prosecutor for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunals and for chairing the Independent International Commission on Kosovo. He is motivated by his struggle against apartheid in South Africa. A self-described Zionist, he serves as a trustee of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has said that “bringing war criminals to justice stems from the lessons of the Holocaust.”
At the outset, note that four sections of the Goldstone report deal with abuses by Hamas, including the launching of rockets into civilian towns in Israel. The report explicitly states that these rocket attacks are war crimes.
Yet despite Goldstone’s stellar reputation, the veracity of the report — and his motives — has been challenged. The detailed Goldstone report concludes that “the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population.”
I agree with my congressional colleagues — and with Goldstone — that the initial U.N. resolution of Jan. 12, 2009, calling for an investigation of abuses committed during the Gaza crisis was one-sided, focusing exclusively on Israel. That resolution was used by some countries to criticize Israel without acknowledging the abuses by Hamas. Goldstone initially refused to lead the investigation because of the original flawed mandate.
But Goldstone pushed back. He succeeded in expanding the scope of the mission to include an examination of the actions of both Hamas and Israel.
Israel, however, refused to cooperate with the investigation because of the original “one-sided mandate.” What if Israel had participated from the beginning? It could have pointed out that the U.N. Human Rights Council has a history of unfairly singling out Israel for criticism. It could have described Hamas’s abuses, and it could have elaborated on the context of the Israeli invasion of Gaza, which includes a long history of attacks on civilians. Israel could have observed the difficulties of combat in urban areas. But instead, Israel condemned the effort and then attacked the final product.
I visited Sderot in southern Israel and saw the havoc and trauma created by Hamas rocket fire. Israelis there live with fear. I have condemned these attacks as war crimes and will continue to do so.
I also visited Gaza and witnessed the devastation wreaked by the recent war. I toured an American school and medical clinics devastated by Operation Cast Lead. A blockade keeps out items such as paper for textbooks and nutritious food. Gazans live in poverty, and most cannot drink their own water. These are cruel violations against the people of Gaza, 56 percent of whom are children.
The Goldstone report does not assign blame. It lays out the facts, as best as Goldstone could ascertain them, and offers recommendations for the future. Congress should use this report as a resource to understand a critical part of the world and to grasp fully the devastating human costs of the status quo.
Instead, Congress is poised to oppose the Goldstone report without holding a single hearing on a document that few members of Congress, if any, have read.
This is a mistake. The stance of this Congress will erode U.S. credibility in the post-Obama world, and it will tarnish our commitment to the principle that all nations must be held to the same standards. Rather than undermine the report or Goldstone, we are at risk of undermining Congress’s and President Barack Obama’s reputation as honest brokers.
Israel can still pursue its own investigation, and critics of the Goldstone report should recognize that Israel is strong enough to withstand inquiry. Self-reflection is one of the hallmarks of a strong democracy. In fact, Israel has investigated itself in the past in connection with the Sabra and Shatila incidents. When nations like the United States, Israel, South Africa and others have pursued the truth through investigations — however uncomfortable — their people and politics have emerged stronger.
We stand for the values of democracy, truth and justice. There is no reason for Congress, Israel or any other party to fear an honest judge. Richard Goldstone is such a judge, and his report should be studied, not dismissed.