Sasha Polakow-Suransky writes tellingly in Foreign Policy and Huffington Post about the current smear campaign against Judge Goldstone mounted by the Israeli government with the help of willing collaborating journalists like Tehiya Barak, Jeffrey Goldberg and Jonathan Chait. It was Barak who opened the floodgates with his Yediot Achronot hit-piece, undoubtedly inspired by material developed by the Lieberman-Ayalon foreign ministry. Don’t ya just love the incestuous relationship the hacks in government ministries have with the hacks in the newsroom?
Since Barak claims that his story is a “special Yediot investigation,” let’s do the same thing it claimed to do to Goldstone’s record and shine a light on its journalistic claims. Well, it falls short right from the beginning when it claims that Goldstone “asserted that Israel committed war crimes.” He did nothing of the sort. What he DID assert was that his commission had amassed enough evidence that there MAY have been war crimes committed by BOTH sides that the charges should be investigated formally by both sides themselves. Goldstone said many times that he was not a finder of fact as a judge would be in a formal legal proceeding.
The Yediot hit-piece continues with this breathless commentary:
The man who authored the Goldstone Report criticizing the IDF’s actions during Operation Cast Lead took an active part in the racist policies of one of the cruelest regimes of the 20th century.
During his tenure as sitting as judge in the appellant court during the 1980s and 1990s sentenced dozens of blacks mercilessly to their death.
This claim too falls by the wayside. Goldstone, as an appellate judge, reviewed sentences handed down by lower courts. And as such courts function everywhere, he could only overturn a verdict if he found a flaw in procedure or the earlier ruling. Appellate judges don’t make law. They apply existing law. And in the rare instances in which they do innovate and plow new ground, they must do so in the context of the legal and legislative system in which function.
Not to mention that Goldstone only actually sentenced two individuals to death. The other 26 cases were appeals in which he upheld a lower court ruling.
The Goldstone smearmeisters have it all figured out with their 20-20 hindsight view of history. Goldstone’s responsibility was either to overturn capital punishment or resign his judgeship and emigrate from South Africa. Don’t you just love it when 20 years after the fact the smug hypocritical moralists come along and give advice about how others should behave in order to retain their moral purity?
Here Barak accuses Goldstone of committing the heresy of writing in favor of capital punishment, a crime committed–surprise, surprise–by most judges in this country who’ve ever affirmed such a sentence:
Goldstone sentenced at least 28 black defendants to death. Most of them were found guilty of murder and sought to appeal the verdict. In those days, he actually made sure he showed his support for the execution policy, writing in one verdict that it reflects society’s demands that a price be paid for crimes it rightfully views as frightening.
We’re going to have Supreme Court confirmation hearings soon for Elena Kagan. Would these same hypo-moralists demand that Kagan renounce capital punishment in her hearings? And if she couldn’t get four of her colleagues to agree that capital punishment should be overturned should she resign her seat and leave the country in disgust?
And keep in mind that Barak is in high moral dudgeon about South Africa’s policy of capital punishment when his own army regularly executes Palestinian militants without any trial. Is that the pot calling the kettle or what?
Here is another claim about which the only proper response is–not so fast, Barak:
Even when it came to far less serious offenses, Goldstone sided through and through with the racist policies of the Apartheid regime.
Actually, Barak is abysmally ignorant of the real history of the era as corrected by Polakow-Suraksy, who argues that the critics:
…Fail to acknowledge Goldstone’s crucial role in facilitating South Africa’s transition to democracy by chairing the investigative Commission on Public Violence and Intimidation from 1991-1994. Among other things, this commission exposed the apartheid government’s links to a so-called Third Force–made up of government security and ex-security operatives seeking to derail peaceful democratic elections.
The Goldstone Commission’s revelations outraged Nelson Mandela, leading him to conclude that F.W. de Klerk’s government had organized covert death squads…Goldstone’s work earned him Mandela’s respect and, in 1994, South Africa’s first black president appointed Goldstone to the Constitutional Court…
Further, it was Goldstone’s landmark ruling that overturned the Homelands policy that was a bulwark of the apartheid system. Amazing how an ignorant journalist with an axe to grind can reduce history to a steaming heap of rubble.
U.S. Federal Judge Thelton Henderson went to South Africa in the 1980s and according to a close friend of his who wrote me, discovered this about Judge Richard Goldstone:
Thelton first went to South Africa in the 1980s. In fact, being African-American, he was detained there and endured a very unpleasant experience. He will tell you about black leaders repeatedly telling him there were three good judges in the country, and the best of the three was a remarkable man, Richard Goldstone. In addition to being regarded for his fairness and justice in the courtroom, he was known by prisoners for his regular visits to the prisons. He went regularly because he was concerned about their being tortured and about their not getting medical care. (Another friend has told me about this aspect of Richard and that some black prisoners felt he literally saved their lives as a result of his visits to prisons.)
This is the very same judge who “sided through and through” with the apartheid regime. Shameful.
And then you have the outright lies of Alan Dershowitz which Yediot quotes as if they were halacha l’Moshe mi’Sinai:
“Goldstone took a job as an apartheid judge. He allowed dozens of black people who were unfairly tried to be executed,”
How does Dersh know they were “unfairly tried?” Did he do any research into the cases? Or does he argue that anyone sentenced to death under apartheid was tried “unfairly.” And would Dersh concede the same about Palestinian civilians killed by the IDF during the Gaza war? No, of course he wouldn’t. That’s his double-standard. He can denounce the sins of apartheid with clean hands and a clear conscience. But he refuses to acknowledge any sins of Occupation.
Dersh then goes on to quote his infamous comparison of Goldstone to Mengele, which I’ve eviscerated in a previous post:
“You know, a lot of people say we just followed the law, German judges… That’s what Mengele said too. That was Mengele’s defense and that was what everybody said in Nazi Germany. ‘We just followed the law.’ When you are in an apartheid country like South Africa, you don’t follow the law,” Dershowitz added.
I pointed out in that post that Mengele never mounted such a defense because he was never prosecuted for his crimes.
Here Dershowitz also uses a rhetorical smearing technique he accuses the far left of using against Israel: the Nazi charge. When you want to pull out all the stops and prove you have absolutely no sense of historical proportion liken your opponent or the regime your opponent supports to Nazis.
Was apartheid evil? Certainly. Was it worthy of comparison to Nazis? I don’t know. Perhaps as worthy as comparing Israel to Nazis. If you’re uncomfortable with the abuse of one historical analogy you should be uncomfortable with the other. Did South Africa commit genocide against Blacks? I don’t think so. Crimes yes. Injustice yes. But genocide?
Personally, I think someone ought to give Alan Dershowitz a Valium and get him to calm down a bit. He really does a grave disservice to his side every time he opens his mouth.
Both Barak and the Israel foreign ministry make a telling admission in this quotation from a ministry statement about the Yediot report (and this is why I believe this is an orchestrated government sponsored campaign):
A Foreign Ministry official referred to the investigation as “explosive PR material”
“PR material?” Really. Is that what working in the Israeli foreign ministry has become? PR flackery? Hasbara? Is that what this campaign against Goldstone is all about? Two-bit fakery?
The Yediot story quotes Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin making this specious claim against the South African jurist:
“Such a person should not be allowed to lecture a democratic state defending itself against terrorists, who are not subject to the criteria of international moral norms…”
The actual truth of the matter is that Goldstone did not quarrel with Israel’s right to defend itself or respond to the rocket attacks by Palestinian “terrorists,” which he conceded might be war crimes. What he DID concern himself with was the Israeli attacks which killed 1,100 civilians, 300 of them children.
The enormous contribution that Polakow-Surasky makes to this debate is his revelation of the deep ties between Israel and apartheid era South Africa. I’m just beginning to read his new book, The Unspoken Alliance. It uncovers the hitherto secret dealings between the two nations which brought much-needed cash to Israel in return for nuclear weapons technology and advanced weapons systems which South Africa used in its wars in Namibia and Angola. In fact, Israel was the apartheid nation’s primary arms supplier ($1.5 billion worth in 1988 alone) and violated international sanctions to do so. South Africa was Israel’s single largest customer for military exports. Overall, the former country was Israel’s second or third largest trading partner after the U.S. And this during a period when there were strict international sanctions in place to prevent precisely such trade.
In 1980, the UN voted for an oil embargo against South Africa much as Israel is urging the world body to do against Iran. Where was the Israeli representative at the time? Absent. Is that how Israel showed its opposition to apartheid? By failing to cast its vote when it had a chance?
So what you have is a current Israeli government hypocritically complaining about the alleged collaboration of one South African Jewish judge with a system which the entire Israeli military establishment at the same time was propping up with all the might at its disposal. Who committed the worse sin? Richard Goldstone or the State of Israel? Was it worse for Goldstone to allow blacks to be sent to their execution or that Israel expedited South Africa’s development of a nuclear weapon?
We complain about the threat of nuclear proliferation if Iran gets a nuclear bomb. We complain about Pakistani scientists giving WMD secrets to North Korea? What about Israeli’s role in exporting such nuclear technology to South Africa? We complain that Russia and China aren’t willing to coöperate with punishing sanctions against the Iranian regime to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons. What about Israel’s own surreptitious violation of similar sanctions?
And what is Israel’s defense for its actions then? We had few friends. It was a relationship of convenience. We had something they needed and vice versa. We did what we had to do. And is Israel’s excuse much different or superior to Goldstone’s own defense of his actions?
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Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.