South Africa's hanging judge is judged

He sentenced 28 black men to death. He sentenced four more to be whipped. Two more he convicted for the crime of possessing a tape of Nelson Mandela.

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?

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7 Responses to South Africa's hanging judge is judged

  1. Ethan Epstein says:

    It’s clear that Goldstone has lost a profound deal of moral authority -and rightly so. I boycott Sullivan’s blog, but am not surprised to hear he doesn’t see things that way. After all, this issue requires seeing shades of grey – never Sullivan’s strong suit. How are we to reconcile Goldstone’s loss of moral authority with the suffering in Gaza? It’s a difficult calculus.

    Anyway – aren’t you glad it’s finally sunny in Oregon!

  2. Michael Peck says:

    Goldstone does sound like an opportunist. I suspect we will be hearing more revelations from South Africa.

    Oregon has two seasons: drizzle and non-stop sunshine. It’s going to be a hot summer.

  3. clintonius says:

    “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.”

    Maybe you should read the Goldstone Report before making ridiculous statements like that. But it isn’t just Goldstone. Make your way over to B’tselem and take a look at their report. I was actually enjoying your post until that paragraph clearly demonstrated your total lack of understanding of the invasion of Gaza ’08.

  4. lproyect says:

    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.

    Good point. Israel should exterminate all the untermenschen Arab cockroaches. Heil Hitler.

    • Michael Peck says:

      If the Israelis were Nazis, then the Palestinians would have been exterminated, as Hamas and Islamic Jihad would be quite happy to do to the Israelis.

  5. u6h6n6o says:

    Goldstone’s report was indeed flawed, but not in the manner described in this repugnant article. He accepted as justified Israel’s right to attack the imprisoned population of Gaza. Where he was correct was in enumerating the war crimes and crimes against humanity of the IDF. Fortunately the truth of the criminal behavior of the terrorist government of Israel is being more widely accepted with each passing day and no amount of hasbara lies can whitewash the now well known record.

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