Israelis React to the Goldstone Retraction

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In an opinion piece in The Washington Post on April 1, Judge Richard Goldstone wrote that in light of new evidence he was now convinced that the Israeli Defense Forces were not guilty of war crimes or of intentionally targeting civilian non-combatants. In a recent interview, however, Goldstone “said he will not seek to quash his report to the United Nations on Israel’s conduct during the Gaza war, despite his retraction of a key finding. Reports that he told Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai that he would seek to
quash the report prepared at the behest of the U.N. Human Rights Council are false, Goldstone told the Associated Press. The report presented to the council in September 2009 accused Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.”

Reactions in the Israeli media and commentators to Goldstone’s retraction were swift and predictable. On the right, many believed that Goldstone’s admission was proof that the whole report was tainted and biased and as such should be thrown out. On the left, the consensus was that the turn-around still did not absolve the IDF of the many other indictments contained in the report, or come close to solving Israel’s PR nightmare.

In the Israel Insider, Leibler believes, “Goldstone should at least have gone on record requesting the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which orchestrated his report, to enable him to express his mea culpa from its podium. But let us be under no illusions. No statement or action can undo the immense damage that Goldstone’s blood libel inflicted upon the Jewish people. Being Jewish and claiming to be a Zionist gave the report additional credence for many uninformed outsiders. The hatred it unleashed is almost irreversible and his report became the most effective component of the campaign of demonization and delegitimization against us.”

In Forward, Alan Dershowitz welcomes Goldstone’s “reassessment of the conclusions reached in the Goldstone Report [believing it] pulls the rug out from under those who are currently using the report as a centerpiece of their efforts to accuse Israel of war crimes, to delegitimize the Jewish state in the court of public opinion, to impose boycotts, and to suggest a moral equivalence between the democratic nation of Israel and the terrorist-group-cum-‘government’ of Hamas.” However, he also calls on Goldstone to go further than just a partial retraction of the report, suggesting he seek teshuvah. “The Goldstone Report did much harm by lending an aura of credibility to some of the most defamatory and false charges ever made against Israel and its defense forces. But the Jewish tradition of teshuvah, or repentance, demands that we look forward, not backward.”

Others have gone further by pursuing legal recourse and deciding to file a petition, which as Ynet reports, “will be filed with a New York District Court next week, in which the plaintiffs will demand a formal apology and a symbolic financial compensation for the State of Israel. A second lawsuit may be filed in an Israeli court if Goldstone arrives in Israel….’The Goldstone Report is the 2010 version of a blood libel. The twisted image Goldstone painted of the State of Israel caused damage, is still causing damage and will continue to damage Israel and its citizens for years to come. A public apology published in every country might lessen the harm already done,’ Danon explained.”

Yet, for the Jerusalem Post editorial board the Goldstone retraction, even if “too little, too late” signals the possibility for a new beginning of the way the world engages with Israel. “Goldstone’s decision to break with the tendency of Jewish self-hatred is worthy of respect and reflects a high level of honesty and integrity, two truly Jewish traits. But it is too little, too late. In the present atmosphere so conducive to Israel-bashing, Goldstone’s note of contrition will enjoy none of the fanfare received by his report, which was widely used to give credence to the tendentious claim that the Jewish state was a perpetrator of war crimes, a murderer of innocent women and children — a message that fell on the receptive ears of Israel’s many enemies….Goldstone’s reversal needs to mark the beginning of a more fair-minded approach to Israel, which in turn would, of course, produce a changed Israeli mindset in response.”

Likewise, Joel Lion, writing on JTA expresses his satisfaction with the repudiation of the report as he sees it, but asserts, “What caused Goldstone to do a 180 wasn’t a change of heart but an understanding of objective and undisputable facts….The legacy of the Goldstone Report is that in the topsy-turvy world of the United Nations, Israel is guilty until proven innocent and Hamas is innocent until proven guilty….Now that the full facts have come to light, coupled with the admission from Goldstone himself that his findings were flat-out wrong, the international community must condemn the Goldstone Report and send it to the ash bin of history….If the Goldstone Report was the darkest moment before the dawn, let us work together to ensure that the dawn is coming.”

Despite feeling justified in their distrust of the Goldstone Report, some are less convinced that Goldstone’s latest statements will do much to change perceptions of Israel around the world or even some of the basic facts about IDF actions in Gaza in 2009. Alon Liel, writing on Ynet, finds the “wave of joy…sweeping through this time” to be justified. However, he suggest “that we keep the celebrations in check. While Goldstone’s article indeed softens the image of the IDF and its officers, and while the United Nations praised the IDF for probing itself, the State of Israel’s international problems do not start with the Goldstone Report and do not end with the Goldstone article…. Israel must take the bull by the horns in the coming months in order to prevent a new, possibly unprecedented deterioration in our ties with the UN and the entire global theater.”

Two other commentators also suggest that we shouldn’t read too much into Goldstone’s latest words. Writing for Forward, Jessica Montell of B’Tselem — The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories — believes the “Israeli press, as well as Israel’s government, have exuberantly embraced this new development, claiming that Israel has been vindicated and calling for a complete retraction of the Goldstone Report. This reaction…indicates a worrying deterioration in the standards that we Israelis demand of ourselves….One question has been answered: Israel, unlike Hamas, did not have a policy to intentionally fire at civilians. But is this cause for rejoicing?…Heaven help us if our moral standard is reduced to not committing crimes against humanity. From my country, I demand a lot more.”

Likewise, in The Jerusalem Post, Larry Derfner thinks “we may be taking Goldstone’s op-ed a little bit too far. I agree that it’s a big deal….It suggests that people who think Operation Cast Lead was the least moral war on Earth should think again. But a “good” war, a just war? Goldstone never said that, but whatever he meant or didn’t mean to say in that op-ed, nothing that anybody says can change Operation Cast Lead from what it was — a horrific onslaught that never should have happened. I didn’t need the Goldstone Report to tell me that, and neither did anyone else — it was clear as soon as IAF jets began bombing Gaza that Saturday morning in late December 2008.”

Others, however, are even more critical of the Israeli government officials’ celebration of what the latter perceive as “exoneration of Israel’s behavior,” warning, as MJ Rosenberg does on Al Jazeera, that “these celebrations tell us infinitely more about the Israeli government and its cutouts here than Goldstone’s column does about what happened in Gaza….The bottom line is that Goldstone’s edit doesn’t matter except to those who defended and still defend this indefensible war.  The damage done to Israel’s reputation is indelible.  But that is insignificant when compared to the life-long damage inflicted on all those who lost loved ones in the monstrous Gaza war.”

Finally, in Haaretz, Gideon Levy expresses a yet bleaker view, believing that by exonerating the IDF, “Goldstone has paved the path for a second Gaza war.” Moreover, while “Israeli PR reaped a victory, and for that congratulations are in order,…the questions remain as oppressive as ever, and Goldstone’s article didn’t answer them….All the other findings described a more serious picture, but let’s believe the IDF. Isn’t the killing of about 300 civilians, including dozens of women and children, a reason for penetrating national soul-searching? Were all of them killed by mistake? If so, don’t 300 different mistakes require conclusions? Is this the behavior of the most moral army in the world? If not, who takes responsibility?”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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