Inside the Israeli echo chamber, it’s now “case closed” on the war in Gaza. The country’s biggest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, has “exposed” Judge Richard Goldstone as an apartheid-era hanging judge. This proves he’s a huge hypocrite whose word means nothing, which proves his report on the war in Gaza means nothing, which proves Operation Cast Lead was every bit the shining example of restraint and purity of arms Israel says it was.
That’s the verdict in here. Outside the echo chamber, though, in the saner parts of the world, this episode can only make us look even guiltier. To any but a brainwashed Israeli or “Israel advocate,” this Goldstone ploy is so transparent, so pathetic. All it proves is how desperate this country has become, how blind we are to ourselves and to how others see us.
Israel is accusing Richard Goldstone of having been an enforcer of apartheid. The word “chutzpa” doesn’t get it. The word “gall” doesn’t get it. The closest word I can think of to describe this is “grotesque.”
I’m sure Goldstone made at least some bad, even immoral decisions from the bench during the years of apartheid. He set for himself the task of stretching a viciously unjust legal system in the direction of justice, and I’m sure there were times he could have stretched it more.
But in all, he was one of the good guys of that terrible time.
NELSON MANDELA knows it. After Mandela was elected president in 1994, he appointed Goldstone to South Africa’s highest court. Earlier, during the transition to democracy, Mandela concurred in Goldstone’s appointment to head an extremely explosive inquiry into regime-sponsored murder (in which it was found that Goldstone himself had been on the hit list).
In the saner parts of the world, they can trust Mandela’s conclusions about the judge, or they can trust Yediot Aharonot’s.
The most “damning” finding against Goldstone in Yediot’s “exposé” is that he sentenced two black murderers to hang and, as an appeals judge, upheld the hanging sentences of 26 others, and that he fully justified the death penalty in his written decisions, and that he did all this even though he’s since claimed that he opposed the death penalty all along.
Goldstone says the law gave him no choice. To me, it’s no huge deal either way. The Yediot story reads: “One must be honest: In nearly every one of these cases, standing before Goldstone were debased murderers, most of whom killed with great cruelty.” Goldstone told the paper that every one of these murders was committed “in the gravest of circumstances.”
I don’t consider capital punishment for sadistic killers to be immoral – even if they’re black, even if they’re living under apartheid. What’s more, I don’t think Goldstone’s decision to hang them is an argument against his Gaza war report. But then I guess I’m not a bleeding heart liberal like Yediot’s readers.
The story cites decisions in which Goldstone jailed a black man for being in a “whites-only” area and a 13-year-old black boy for demonstrating. He acquitted four policemen of enforcing the law against miscegenation. He jailed two blacks for possession of a taped speech by an anti-apartheid leader.
Again, Goldstone told the paper he was constrained by the law. He added: “It’s all very nice in the year 2010 to measure the decisions I made 20 and 30 years ago...”
Like I said, I’m sure he made some bad, even immoral decisions back then. I’m sure he has what to apologize for about some of his rulings, and I wish he would.
But still, like I said, he was one of the good guys in that awful time. Arthur Chaskalson, retired president of the post-apartheid high court, and George Bizos, Mandela’s long-time attorney, wrote: “He was the founding chairperson of Nicro, an organization to look after prisoners that have been released; he exercised his power as a judge (not often used by other judges) to visit prisoners in jail; he insisted on seeing political prisoners indefinitely detained to hear their complaints; to intervene for a doctor to be allowed to see them and where possible to make representations that their release be considered.”
His landmark decision against the forced uprooting of black neighborhoods was “a great blow to the apartheid regime,” wrote Chaskalson and Bizos.
It’s true there were many South African whites who fought without compromise against apartheid, and who paid a heavy personal price, which Goldstone did not. But it’s also true that the overwhelming majority of South African whites – Jews included – either went along with apartheid or outright promoted it. Goldstone was not one of the tiny number of radical freedom fighters, but neither was he by any means one of the huge, pro-apartheid majority, as Yediot portrays it. Instead, he was one of a small minority of liberal activists trying to change a monstrous system from within, making all sorts of unholy compromises that arise in such a situation. Goldstone, I’m sure, did things he should regret, but on balance, in context, and in the view of Nelson Mandela if not Yediot Aharonot, he is right to be proud of his record.
NOW: CAN the State of Israel say the same? This is one of the things that makes the smearing of Goldstone so grotesque – not only does it take a good man and try to make him look evil, but it’s coming from the very last country on earth with the right to accuse anyone of collaborating with apartheid.
In the last two decades of white rule, when South Africa was losing friends fast, the apartheid regime could always count on us.
In the mid-’70s, “...Israel’s war-battered industries desperately needed export markets and the possibility of lucrative trade with South Africa was hard for Defense Minister Shimon Peres to resist. As [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin, Peres, and a new generation of leaders inherited the [Labor] party from David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, the conviction that compromising certain values was necessary for survival gained sway and socialist idealism gave way to realpolitik. During the Rabin years, South African arms purchases breathed life into the Israeli economy and Israeli weapons helped to reinforce the beleaguered and isolated apartheid regime in Pretoria.” (From a new book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, senior editor at Foreign Affairs magazine.)
Israel sent South Africa riot control equipment, we helped run its bantustans, we helped it and it helped us build nuclear bombs. We did business with white-ruled South Africa until the very last day before the US would have cut off our foreign aid. We made hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars off apartheid.
And despite the title of the book I quoted, this is not a secret. The whole world knows it, if not in detail then in principle. Yediot knows it, though of course there’s no mention of it in the paper’s brave journalistic crusade. All of our shocked, shocked spokesmen and advocates know Israel and apartheid were the best of friends – and in their latest denunciations of Goldstone, you won’t hear a peep about it.
Inside the echo chamber, everyone’s nodding their heads. Outside, in the more lucid-minded countries of the world, people can only be shaking their heads in disbelief. I imagine them thinking: What has gotten into these Israelis? We all saw the war in Gaza, we all read about it and we all know who Richard Goldstone is – and they think they’re going to turn us in favor of that war, or in favor of the way they treat the Palestinians in general, by turning us against Goldstone? Have the Israelis become so egocentric, so cut off from the world that they don’t see how transparent this is, how pathetic? How grotesque?
Yes, people of the world, that’s how egocentric, how cut off from you we’ve become – we don’t see it. Pardon the pun, but we’ve come to see black as white and white as black.
With this hatchet job on Goldstone, we figure we’ve just written “case closed” on Operation Cast Lead. We don’t see that all we’ve done is show, once again, how empty our case for that war, that onslaught of choice, really is.