Goldstone contra Goldstone

By Jamie

01 November 2011

The degeneration of Judge Richard Goldstone continues. In April, you'll recall, he penned an op-ed for the Washington Post that said essentially nothing, but gave the strong impression of retracting the central conclusions of the Goldstone Report on the 2008-9 Gaza massacre. The key point, documented in Norman Finkelstein's comprehensive dissection of the recantation, is that, whatever the reasons for Goldstone's reversal, it wasn't based on new evidence.

After months of silence, Goldstone has now resurfaced with more of the same. He has written an op-ed for the New York Times - the paper that turned down his April recantation, forcing him to offer a more sensationalised version to the Post - devoted to refuting those who analogise Israel's treatment of Palestinians to South African apartheid. It has predictably induced much gloating among those who not long ago were smearing him as an antisemite and a traitor. The thrust of the op-ed argues against the use of the apartheid analogy to describe Israel's treatment of Palestinians, either within Israel itself or within the West Bank. Goldstone slams the analogy as a "malicious" "slander". If this is what Goldstone truly believes – something about which there is much cause for doubt – one wonders why he has taken so long to raise his voice. After all, the apartheid analogy is hardly a recent one, nor is it especially controversial. A partial list of Goldstone's malicious slanderers includes such authorities as the Association for Civil Rights Israel; South African Nobel Leaureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu; former US President Jimmy Carter; former Israeli government ministers Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni; and the "father" of South African human rights law John Dugard [note: some of these references are via Finkelstein, forthcoming]. Here's the editorial board of Ha'aretz, Israel's most important newspaper:

"the apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation, and in the future they will turn the Jews into a minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River."

Here's the verdict of B'Tselem, Israel's premier human rights organisation:

"Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa."

Goldstone devotes two paragraphs of the op-ed to attacking the argument that Israel is practicing apartheid within the Green Line, as distinct from its occupation of Palestinian territories. But this is a straw man. Proponents of the apartheid analogy typically either restrict its application to the occupied territories, or they apply it to the system of control encompassing the entire territory between the river and the sea, on the grounds that Israel possesses de facto control over both its own and occupied Palestinian territory (that is, they reject the distinction between Israeli rule within the Green Line and Israeli rule in the oPt that Goldstone proposes as his starting point).

Goldstone then attempts to prove Israel's innocence of apartheid in the West Bank by – there is no other way to put it – systematically lying about its conduct there. It is child's play to show that virtually every substantive statement he makes is not only false, but was pre-emptively refuted by Goldstone Report itself:

Goldstone op-ed: "Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for its self-defense."

Goldstone Report:

Israel's restrictions on movement in the West Bank "are disproportionate to any military objective served". They are intended to "consolidate its permanent hold on the West Bank" and amount to "a deliberate policy of closely controlling a population in order to make use of areas of its land". [335] Despite "the claim by Israel that restrictions of movement within the West Bank are imposed on Palestinian residents for security purposes, most of these internal restrictions appear to have been designed to guarantee unobstructed travel to the Israeli inhabitants of the settlements." [54] They therefore constitute "violations of fundamental rights", including the Palestinians' "right to self-determination". [335]

The cumulative effect of the restrictions on movement has been to "effectively split" Palestinians in the West Bank from their families in Israel, from Gaza, and from East Jerusalem. [57]


Goldstone op-ed: "The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks".

Goldstone Report:

The route of the wall is "to a great degree determined by the objective of incorporating settlements into the Israeli side" and has "contributed to the fragmentation of the West Bank into a series of enclaves". [54] Where located on Palestinian territory (as "some 85 per cent" of it is [329fn873]) it is contrary to international law; is part of a policy aimed at (quoting an EU report) "the illegal annexation" of East Jerusalem [53]; and amounts to "the de facto annexation" of 9.5% of the West Bank. It therefore constitutes "acquisition of territory by force", a violation of the UN Charter. [335]


Goldstone op-ed: Israel has "no intent to maintain 'an institutonalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group'". In Israel, "equal rights are the law".

Goldstone Report:

Israel's "systematic discrimination, both in law and in practice, against Palestinians" violates international law, and possibly amounts to a crime against humanity [324]. In the West Bank, "a two-tiered road system has been established" with the main roads are reserved for Israelis. [55] Israel's legal practice in the occupied territories has resulted in "institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians... to the benefit of Jewish settlers". Domestically Israel's legal regime is "two-tiered", granting Jews "superior rights and privileges"; meanwhile Palestinian inhabitants of occupied territories are categorised as "alien persons". [57] The Report notes the conclusions of a study by the respected Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) that Israel's "discrimination in planning and building" and other policies in Jerusalem "are concrete expressions of an Israeli policy designed to secure a Jewish majority in Jerusalem and push Palestinian residents outside". [332] 

Needless to say, where the Goldstone Report cites pages of evidence, from the most authoritative human rights organisations and international bodies, to support its conclusions, Goldstone's op-ed cites nothing. If Goldstone could have cited authoritative sources to support the conclusions of his op-ed, he no doubt would have; he didn't, because as exhaustively documented in the Goldstone Report, those sources comprehensively refute him.

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5 Comments on "Goldstone contra Goldstone"

By a famous historian, on 01 November 2011 - 13:54 |

Thank you - letting Goldstone refute himself is the best way to do it. It’s almost funny now to remember how the man was slandered before his U-turn.

By JamieSW, on 01 November 2011 - 14:16 |

The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa - another bunch of ‘malicious’ ‘slanderers’.

By Jamie, on 01 November 2011 - 14:19 |

John Dugard:

From my first visit to Israel/OPT I was struck by the similarities between apartheid in South Africa and the practices and policies of Israel in the OPT. These similarities became more obvious as I became better informed about the situation. As Special Rapporteur I deliberately refrained from making such comparisons until 2005 as I feared that such comparisons would prevent many governments in the West from taking my reports seriously. However, after 2005 I decided that I could not in good conscience refrain from making such comparisons.

Of course the two regimes are very different. Apartheid South Africa was a state that practiced discrimination and repression against its own people. Israel is an occupying power that controls a foreign territory and its people under a regime recognized by international humanitarian law. But in practice there is little difference. Both regimes were/are characterized by discrimination, repression and territorial fragmentation. The main difference is that the apartheid regime was more honest. The law of apartheid was openly legislated in Parliament and was clear for all to see, whereas the law governing Palestinians in the OPT is largely contained in obscure military decrees and inherited emergency regulations that are virtually inaccessible.”

By neil_c, on 02 November 2011 - 22:49 |

You write: “If this [i.e. that the apartheid analogy is false and a slander] is what Goldstone truly believes – something about which there is much cause for doubt – ...”.   It might have been  interesting if you had pursued that line of thought.  

Certainly Goldstone was severely attacked as a result of his initial report - probably exacerbated by his own Jewish ethnicity - and it might be worthwhile to explore and speculate how this might have affected the subsequent actions and thoughts of an intelligent and humane man with an outstanding record in the human rights arena.   

By Jamie, on 02 November 2011 - 23:40 |

Neil - I didn’t want to pursue it here because I thought it would distract from the more important point, namely that whatever the reason for Goldstone’s reversals, it wasn’t a shift in the weight of authoritative evidence.

However, to speculate for a moment, I share Norman Finkelstein’s feeling that Goldstone is probably being blackmailed. That would explain the odd process by which his last op-ed came to be published; its extreme vagueness and lack of substantive content (on which, see my piece here); and Goldstone’s astonishing failure to notify any of the Report’s co-authors or anyone at the UN before publishing the op-ed. Some have explained Goldstone’s reversals in terms of the more general pressure being exerted on him - by the South African Jewish community, in the media, and so on. I don’t think that’s plausible - as Finkelstein points out, Goldstone recanted just as “the tide began to turn in his favor”. See Finkelstein, Goldstone Recants pp. 37-40 for more.

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