The judge was Richard Goldstone. He was a judge under South Africa’s apartheid regime. He was also the jurist appointed by the United Nations to investigate the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008. The Goldstone Report criticized both Israel and Hamas for breaching the laws of war, but came down much harder on Israel for its allegedly disproportionate actions.
The hate-Israel crowd had a field day – until an Israeli newspaper found that Justice Goldstone had faithfully executed the laws of apartheid South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s.
Among other things, he approved the whipping of four blacks found guilty of violence, while he acquitted four police officers who had broken into a white woman’s house on suspicions that she was conducting sexual relations with a black man – something considered then in South Africa as a serious crime.
In another incident, Goldstone sentenced two young black men merely for being in possession of a video tape showing a speech given by one of the senior officials in Nelson Mandela’s party.
Goldstone says that most of the men he sentenced to death were murderers who deserved capital punishment anyway (something that many of his liberal supporters would disagree with). But the irony is remarkable. Israel says it had no choice but to pound Gaza to stop Hamas rockets from pounding Israeli towns. Justice Goldstone says he had no choice but to carry out the law, which meant condemning blacks to death while acquitting whites.
The blogosphere has exploded over the issue. Here is basically what the shouting boils down to:
Anti-Goldstone: Commentators like Alan Dershowitz and Jeffrey Goldberg ask how a hanging judge with blood on his hands could be chosen to judge whether another nation committed war crimes. They question whether Justice Goldstone tried to draw attention from his past by doing a hatchet job on Israel.
Pro-Goldstone: Pundits like Andrew Sullivan respond that attacking Goldstone’s past is just shooting the messenger instead of responding to the substance of the report. They note that Goldstone was praised by Mandela for helping from the transition from apartheid to democracy. Besides, they point to extensive ties between Israel and South Africa’s apartheid regime, though they curiously omit to mention that the U.S. and Europe supported Pretoria as an anti-Communist bulwark almost until the end, not to mention how many people wore diamonds that of course couldn’t have come from South Africa.
One wonders why that of all the jurists that could have been chosen to investigate war crimes, a South African apartheid judge was selected? Goldstone’s defenders say this is a tale of redemption, of a man who ultimately helped to dismantle apartheid. Yet others point out that many South African lawyers refused to serve as judges enforcing racist laws. No one compelled Richard Goldstone to sit on the bench.
I believe the Israeli invasion of Gaza was justified under the circumstances; no nation could or should be expected to endure rocket attacks without responding, and “proportionality” is a meaningless term. If six rockets land in your neighborhood, the last thought in your mind will be, “hey, I’ll fire six rockets back instead of 60, because I must be proportionate.
Pro-Israel groups like CAMERA say the report was riddled with flaws and anti-Israel bias. Given that Goldstone was working at the behest of the UN Human Rights Council, which included such fair-minded nations as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, they may have a point. But in the end, Goldstone’s defenders have a point. The issue is the Goldstone Report and not Goldstone himself.
In the classic “Judgment at Nuremberg”, Burt Lancaster plays an eminent German judge who is tried for sentencing innocent Jews to death. But at the real Nuremberg trials, Nazi war criminals were tried by Stalin’s judges, not to mention American judges who enforced Jim Crow segregation laws at home.
Who judges the judges?