Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Goldstone’s Second Thoughts

Oct 27, 2009 | Tzvi Fleischer

Tzvi Fleischer

Goldstone’s Second Thoughts

You’re unlikely to have heard about it in most of the mainstream Australian media, but Justice Richard Goldstone has been taking some steps back from both the contents and the uses being made of the eponymous report into Gaza by the commission he headed for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

First of all, he told the New York Forward (Oct. 7) that his mission had not conducted an “investigation”, only a “fact-finding mission” based on the limited “material we had”. Further, since this material was cherry-picked by Hamas and other Palestinian representatives, he agreed that “if this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven” and his report was no more than “a road map” for real investigators which contained no actual “evidence” of wrongdoing by Israel.

Finally, he declared that he personally “wouldn’t consider it in any way embarrassing if many of the allegations turn out to be disproved.”

Needless to say, virtually no hint of these limitations on the applicability or definitiveness of the report’s findings appear in the actual report itself. Nonetheless, what Goldstone said should be obvious given the fact that, as Warren Goldstein notes in this edition of the AIR, Goldstone’s commission met for a total of 12 days, yet produced a report of more than 500 pages. There is no way they could have had time to do more than simply compile everything presented to them, without any significant critical scrutiny.

Meanwhile, Goldstone has also been critical of the UNHRC’s resolution endorsing his report. He stated before its passage that “this draft resolution saddens me because it only makes allegations against Israel. There is not one single sentence condemning Hamas as we do in the report.” But Goldstone should not have been surprised. His original UNHRC mandate mentioned, indeed, condemned, only Israel, and said nothing about Hamas – which is why four others refused the opportunity to head the commission before he agreed. While Goldstone says he was verbally given permission to also look at Hamas’ actions, the UNHRC never agreed to any such change. The whole investigation was intended to be a political campaign against Israel using the language of human rights, and the report itself was never going to change this.

NGO heaven

It is interesting to note that Human Rights Watch (HRW), the once-trusted NGO which has increasingly devoted disproportionate amounts of energy to poorly-researched Israel-bashing, was intimately connected with the whole Goldstone process. Not only was Goldstone himself a member of the HRW board when the process began, much of his actual report was simple regurgitation of HRW claims in its own publications. Moreover, HRW cheered Goldstone on continuously. According to NGO Monitor, HRW released no less than 30 statements, media releases and public letters to newspapers supporting Goldstone, his commission, and its report.

It appears that the deeply flawed Goldstone process was HRW’s idea of heaven.

Inside HRW

HRW may be ecstatic about Goldstone, but the extent of HRW’s unhealthy obsession with Israel – driven by a Middle East division staffed almost entirely with people with backgrounds in anti-Israel activism – has led to a public censure of the organisation by its own founder. Robert L. Bernstein, the chairman of HRW from 1978 to 1998, and still founding chairman emeritus, has publicly attacked the organisation’s obsessive and one-sided focus on Israel in the New York Times (Oct. 20). He wrote: “Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

He goes on to argue that:

The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region…

Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organisations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields… Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighbourhoods into battlefields… And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve. Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.

Bernstein also pointed out something that HRW has refused to acknowledge about the “evidence” it constantly deploys against Israel: “In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers.”

Bernstein concluded: “Only by returning to its founding mission… can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world” while failure to do so will mean “its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.” (The full piece can be read online at



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