ON APRIL 1 2011, in the pages of the Washington Post, the international jurist Richard Goldstone dropped a bombshell. He effectively disowned the massive evidence assembled in the United Nations’ report carrying his name that Israel had committed multiple war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in Gaza during its 2008-9 invasion.
Israel was jubilant. “Everything that we said proved to be true,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu crowed. “We always said that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] is a moral army that acted according to international law,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared. “We had no doubt that the truth would come out eventually,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proclaimed. The Obama administration used the occasion of Goldstone’s recantation to affirm that Israel had not “engaged in any war crimes” during the Gaza assault while the U.S. Senate unanimously called on the United Nations to “rescind” the Goldstone Report.
Some commentators have endeavored to prove by parsing his words that Goldstone did not actually recant. While there are grounds for making this argument on a technical basis, such a rhetorical strategy will not wash. Goldstone is a distinguished jurist. He knows how to use precise language. If he did not want to sever his connection with the Report he could simply have said “I am not recanting my original report by which I still stand.” He must have known exactly how his words would be spun and it is this fallout—not his parsed words—that we must now confront.
Goldstone has done terrible damage to the cause of truth and justice and the rule of law. He has poisoned Jewish-Palestinian relations, undermined the courageous work of Israeli dissenters and—most unforgivably—increased the risk of another merciless IDF assault. There has been much speculation on why Goldstone recanted. Was he blackmailed? Did he finally succumb to the relentless hate campaign directed against him? Did he decide to put his tribe ahead of truth? What can be said with certainty, and what Norman Finkelstein demonstrates in these pages, is that Goldstone did not change his mind because the facts compelled him to reconsider his original findings.