South African Judge Richard Goldstone has written an op-ed in this New York Times on 31 October condemning the false allegation that Israel is an ‘apartheid’ state. He writes:
“The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.”
This is the same Goldstone who did a great deal of damage to Israel by lending his name to the biased UN fact-finding mission into the Gaza conflict in 2009 which condemned Israel for deliberately killing civilians and war crimes while all but ignoring the Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel.
Goldstone later recanted his support for the report after realising that much of the information relied upon in the ‘Goldstone Report’ was not credible and biased. In an op-ed in the Washington Post in April this year he stated, “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” However, despite his apology the damage to Israel’s reputation has already been done and Goldstone’s credibility was left undermined.
However, to his credit Goldstone now appears to be using his name to mend past mistakes by condemning those demonisation and delegimtisation of Israel through false accusation of ‘apartheid’. Goldstone’s article is timely given that on Saturday in Cape Town, a London-based non-governmental organisation called the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will hold a ‘hearing’ on whether Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. In his article Goldstone highlights the biased nature of this forum. He writes the Russell Tribunal “is not a ‘tribunal.’ The ‘evidence’ is going to be one-sided and the members of the ‘jury’ are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known.”
As a South African, Goldstone understands the true definition of ‘apartheid’, therefore, Goldstone writes that is both unfair and inaccurate to compare Israel to pre-1994 South Africa.
“I know all too well the cruelty of South Africa’s abhorrent apartheid system, under which human beings characterized as black had no rights to vote, hold political office, use “white” toilets or beaches, marry whites, live in whites-only areas or even be there without a “pass.” Blacks critically injured in car accidents were left to bleed to death if there was no “black” ambulance to rush them to a “black” hospital. “White” hospitals were prohibited from saving their lives…
In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute: ‘Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.’ Israeli Arabs – 20 percent of Israel’s population – vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment.”
In his article Goldstone distinguishes between policies in Israel where Arabs are citizens and the situation in the West Bank, yet maintains that even in the West Bank Israel is not pursuing ‘apartheid’ policies but rather protecting its security from terrorist threats:
“The situation in the West Bank is more complex. But here too there is no intent to maintain ‘an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.’ This is a critical distinction, even if Israel acts oppressively toward Palestinians there. South Africa’s enforced racial separation was intended to permanently benefit the white minority, to the detriment of other races. By contrast, Israel has agreed in concept to the existence of a Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, and is calling for the Palestinians to negotiate the parameters.
But until there is a two-state peace, or at least as long as Israel’s citizens remain under threat of attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for self-defense, even as Palestinians feel oppressed. As things stand, attacks from one side are met by counterattacks from the other. And the deep disputes, claims and counterclaims are only hardened when the offensive analogy of “apartheid” is invoked.
Those seeking to promote the myth of Israeli apartheid often point to clashes between heavily armed Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank, or the building of what they call an “apartheid wall” and disparate treatment on West Bank roads. While such images may appear to invite a superficial comparison, it is disingenuous to use them to distort the reality. The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks; while it has inflicted great hardship in places, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state in many cases to reroute it to minimize unreasonable hardship. Road restrictions get more intrusive after violent attacks and are ameliorated when the threat is reduced…
Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and the West Bank cannot be simplified to a narrative of Jewish discrimination. There is hostility and suspicion on both sides. Israel, unique among democracies, has been in a state of war with many of its neighbors who refuse to accept its existence…”
Goldstone’s New York Times article has been welcomed by many pro-Israel commentators:
Jonathan Tobin in Commentary writes:
“… it must be admitted that Goldstone does an excellent job punching holes in the claim that Israel is a racist society where Arabs are treated as legal inferiors as was the case in apartheid-era South Africa…
While friends of Israel may see this piece and others he may write as acts of repentance, it must be acknowledged that Judge Goldstone occupies a unique niche in the world. Having once betrayed his people in an unscrupulous attack on Israel, he now finds himself in a position where his defense of the Jewish state may be given a hearing that is denied to others. Let’s hope he continues to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Gerald Steinberg in the Jerusalem Post writes:
“Some people will continue to criticize Judge Goldstone for the damage caused to the Israelis who were libeled in his UN report on the Gaza war, and for the damage that report caused to universal human rights. Some of this damage is irreversible, despite Goldstone’s subsequent “reconsideration.” But taken together with his denunciation of the Russell Tribunal farce, and linked with Bernstein’s turn-about, as well as other exposés of the moral corruption among influential “human rights” frameworks, Goldstone should be congratulated and embraced for having done the right thing.”
In contrast, Jennifer Rubin in her Washington Post blog post is less forgiving of Goldstone:
“I’ll waste no sleep over wondering if Goldstone is truly repentant. And pro-Israel advocates shouldn’t be tempted to use Goldstone to prove their arguments, for Goldstone’s credibility is non-existent. Goldstone’s sudden surge of good feelings toward the Jewish state is actually most revealing of the faux human rights groups that worshiped at his feet so long as he was condemning the Jewish state.”
Goldstone may have done irreparable damage to his reputation yet his willingness to use his notoriety to condemn the ‘apartheid slander’ should be welcomed especially at a time when is it is a core slogan of the dishonest and destructive international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that unfortunately is gaining momentum in some circles.