Israel Won’t Cooperate with Goldstone’s Investigation

by Kevin Jon Heller

I’m not particularly surprised, but I’m still disappointed. Israel’s ostensible justification is that the UNHRC resolution that created the fact-finding mission is biased, because it only asked Goldstone to investigate Israeli war crimes. That was a ridiculous move on the UNHRC’s part, to be sure — but one of the very first things Goldstone did was to make clear that, despite his “mandate,” he would investigate Hamas’ numerous crimes, as well. So Israel’s argument is obviously just a pretext for its general opposition to having Operation Cast Lead scrutinized.

Israel’s refusal to cooperate with Goldstone’s investigation will be a PR disaster for the country.  As my friend Mark Leon Goldberg pointed out at UN Dispatch, Goldstone is far more difficult to dismiss as biased against Israel than Richard Falk:

Goldstone was a former prosecutor of the Yugoslav and Rwandan war crimes tribunals. He was also a famous anti-apartheid judicial activist in South Africa, in 1991 Nelson Mandela tapped him to chair a legal inquiry into human rights abuses committed by the South African government. This later became known as the Goldstone Commission. And though he is a South African, he has deep ties to Israel. (He is a trustee at Hebrew University). From the New York Times.

Goldstone said he was ”shocked, as a Jew,” to be invited to head the mission.

”It adds an additional dimension,” said Gladstone, who is on the board of governors at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. ”I’ve taken a deep interest in what happens in Israel. I’m associated with organizations that have worked in Israel. And I believe I can approach the daunting task that I have accepted in an evenhanded and impartial manner.”

It will be hard for critics to dismiss Judge Goldstone as some crank with a grudge, like some did to Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Rights. More to the point, Goldstone brings to this job a sterling reputation as an impartial voice whose enduring loyalty has been to international law and justice.


17 Responses

  1. Well, after the UNHRC’s ridiculous report on Israel’s actions in Lebanon in 2006, I can hardly blame Israel. 

    It is unfortunate that a reputable individual such as Goldstone would work under the auspices of the UNHRC

  2. Yeah, the same UNHRC that the US is joining.  And, in this case, the same UNHRC that was wise enough to appoint Goldstone, whose credibility is unimpeachable.

    I have finally figured out who Humble Law Student is!  Given his woefully overbroad condemnation of the UN, he’s clearly John Bolton.

    Welcome, John!

  3. KJH,

    First, it is unfortunate that the US is joining the UNHRC.  I should note that even the Obama administration recognizes the organization’s many, many shortcomings.  It is largely to address those shortcomings that the US is rejoining.  I think the Obama administration is mistaken about its ability to influence and change the UNHRC, but the US move hardly gives the UNHRC the legitimacy you seem to imply.  The atrocious record of the UNHRC stands on its own, regardless of its membership from one year to the next.

    Second, your attempt at yet another personal attack is pretty poor, even by your standards.  Nothing in my comment condemned the UN in general.  I made a specific charge against a specific entity of the UN.  So, your charge that I made an “overbroad codemnation of the UN” is baseless.

    But, hey, you never let accuracy get in the way before, so why start now. 

  4. Okay, in the spirit of . . . well, nothing, I’ll admit my identity.  I’m John Bolton’s evil twin brother.

  5. Being a simpleminded, uninformed bystander, I was wondering, if the humblelawstudent would maybe like to give a few more details to other uninformed readers such as me, what – in his humble opinion – the UNHRC’s “atrocious record” is?
    From the first comment I get that you aren’t happy with it’s report on Lebanon 2006, but surely there must be other issues as well? (Just saying, I’d be interested in reading them…)

    For the rest, I kinda share Mr. Heller’s point. A democratic country shouldn’t be afraid of an investigation into the conduct of its military actions. True, the mandate to look only into the actions of one conflict party is pretty stupid. But on the other hand, Israel always calls Hamas a terrorist organization. I find it hard to understand why they then want to be compared to such a terrorist organization. Being a democratic state, shouldn’t they feel compelled to show that the action of their troops where legitimate? And if such an investigation shows that there have been wrongdoings – show me that armed conflict where there haven’t been any – react to them in acordance with the law, instead of just blocking the whole thing, giving the world the impression that one has actually got something to hide?
    Such an investigation would be the possibility to show the difference between a democratic state – that is interested in prosecuting criminal acts done by its armed forces, if there have been any – and a terrorist organisation. In my eyes, by choosing to block such an investigation – no matter how stupid the mandate is – Israel misses this opportunity to stand on the moral highground and show what exactly is the diference between a democratic and accountable government and a terrorist organisation. At least IMHO…

    But again, I’m just an uniformed bystander, and maybe I’m also a bit naive…

  6. UB,

    I’m happy to provide my very humble opinion. 

    Offhand, a source like Wikipedia provides some decent background information on the UNHRC.

    To your first question, the UNHRC in its several years of existence has focused most of its time, ire, and resolutions against Israel.  For the many human rights abusers such as a Sudan, N. Korea, Iran, etc., the UNHRC rarely, if ever, condemns them by resolution. (If you can only weakly condemn Sudan, Sudan!, then come on).  And when it does pass a resolution against a non-Israeli country, the language is almost always exceedingly mild compared to to language and accusations it levels at Israel.

    That is pretty atrocious is you ask me.

    Now to the UNHRC’s report on the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006.  First off, the UNHRC specifically prevented the investigator from looking into alleged Hezbollah crimes.  (notice a pattern?).  Second, the report was chock-full of errors and mischaracterizations.  For example, William Arkin (a longtime senior military advisor to Human Rights Watch) wrote a detailed report called “Divining Victory” on the conflict lambasting the UNHRC (and others). “The problem with this dominant and conventional accounting of damage is that most of it is grossly exaggerated, misleading, or patently false. Based upon on-the-ground inspections, discussions with Israeli and Lebanese officials, imagery analysis, and a close reading of government and international organization materials, a good majority of the reports of damage in Lebanon are incorrect or downright fraudulent. There is no evidence that Israel intentionally attacked any proscribed medical facilities, no real proof that it “targeted” ambulances (and certainly not because they were ambulances engaged in protected activity), no evidence that it targeted mosques or other religious structures, and there were no intentional attacks on schools.” (pg. 75-76). 

    There is plenty of other good information in the Divining Victory report, and it does condemn Israel where appropriate but does so it a more accurate and balanced manner.

    There is plenty of information that I’m not covering, but this should give you a start.

    With that history of activity, I readily understand Israel’s rejection of another “investigation” under the auspices of the UNHRC.

  7. The UNHRC does have, as humblelawstudent says, a background of bias against Israel. That, and the decision to investigate only Israeli actions, is very unfortunate.
    But as an Israeli myself, I really think Goldstone is a good candidate. His decision to investigate Hamas’ conduct also points towards true impartiality. Only time will tell if he really is impartial. However, it does look good at this point.

  8. Not sure what bias against Israel means. From reading a myriad of newspapers, and watching numerous documentaries on the subject the past century, bias appears to stand for any position that entertains the possibility that Israel might potentially or hypothetically not be perfect and (horror of horrors) not be the shining light on the hill. It may even at times be capable of such human behaviour we see in every other country: criminal acts for political purposes.

    Of course I agree focussing on one side is inherently stupid given the toxic atmosphere surrounding any debate on this topic.

  9. Tsut,

    You can try to minimize all you want.  But, when a human rights commission that is tasked with looking at the whole world can pass numerous resolutions condemning Israel in the harshest terms while taking years to pass a very weakly worded resolution against Sudan (which was and has been killing hundreds of thousands) and mostly ignores many other egregious human human rights violators, if that isn’t bias, then I don’t know what is. 

  10. Just to add some more sauce from side…

    I would almost agree with humblelawstudent on the point that the UNHRC acts biased towards Israel, but what do you exect? It’s a member of the UN-family and unfortunately we don’t have the UN we need, but the UN we deserve… (after all, the UN institutions are and always have been only as strong and unbiased, as its members allow it to be) I’m not sure though, if I share the point about the entire UNHRC being atrocious, but that’s not point we should discuss here!

    If Israel on its own would lead impartial investigations into the accusations of war crimes (as well as on the overall conduct of its military operations) and if those investigations would actually have an impact, I’d probably also be willing to accept that the UNHRCs investigation isn’t necessary. But as, unfortunately, that’s not what I see – again, I could be wrong, I just haven’t heard of anything like that happening in Israel – I’m just really getting the impression that Israel is – maybe even on purpose – creating an atmosphere of a certain impunity amongst its armed forces. And – IMHO – democratic controll of the armed forces is a key condition for any liberal democracy, or else the long term consequences are catastrophic! That’s why cooperation with such an investigation would be so important for the israeli democracy. (Yeah, I know, it’s naive… But again, shoot me for being idealistic..)

  11. UB,

    There is nothing wrong with your position in general.  I don’t agree with it, but it is quite reasonable.  Except I would take issue where you say that you almost agree that the UNHRC is biased.  It is quite biased.  What is more correct is to perhaps say, yes, it is biased, but it is what we have to work with.

    Just so you know, Israel conducted several investigations into its behavior in the 2006 Lebanon war, including the Winograd Commission, which was quite critical of Israel’s actions. 

  12. Okay, in the spirit of . . . well, nothing, I’ll admit my identity.  I’m John Bolton’s evil twin brother.

    Wouldn’t that make you the good twin?

  13. I’m a bit surprised at how unrealistic some of this. Whilst I too think the Mr Goldsmith seems like an extraordinarily good choice from the UNHRC, well, so what? There is just nothing in it for Israel to agree.

    There is NO chance of any report issuing which addresses Hamas’ conduct, utterly irrespective of whatever Mr Goldsmith investigates. There is little enough chance of him being allowed to investigate Hamas’ conduct, irrespective of whatever he wishes to investigate. So there will just be another official document tabled in another anti-Israel international body damning Israel. It almost doesn’t matter if the report is actually fair and balanced in its assessment. It almost doesn’t matter if the report finds 90% of the allegations to be spurious. It probably doesn’t even matter if the say 10% that are considered well-founded were already investigated by the Israelis and dealt with under their law.

    Even on that absurdly optimistic hypothesis, the report will still be another ‘proof’ of Israel’s ‘evil’ towards the Palestinians, and will be cited as such. And the absence of any report with respect to the Hamas will be cited as evidence of the lack of ‘real’ violations by Hamas, etc.

    So in reality, Israel has no incentive to participate and every incentive not to. So they have done.
    And so KJH’s conclusion: ‘So Israel’s argument is obviously just a pretext for its general opposition to having Operation Cast Lead scrutinized‘ is bizarre.

  14. Patrick,

    So it’s okay for Israel to definitively shut the door in Goldstone’s face, because Hamas might shut the door in his face.  (And, of course, you offer no evidence in support of your claim that it will.) 

    That’s an interesting argument!

  15. Am I the only one who finds it strange, that the behavior of a so called “terrorist organization” is constantly used to legitimize the exact same behavior by a democratic government?

    Last time I checked the actions of a democratic government were supposed to be based upon laws and such funny things, and not upon the actions of a rival organization itself constantly labels as ‘terrorist’… I’m sorry Patrick, but don’t you find it strange to say, “Hamas will not cooperate, so Israel also has no incentive to cooperate, and that’s ok”? Sholdn’t the argument go: Israel doesn’t care what Hamas does, because Hamas is a ‘terrorist org.’? And shouldn’t the argument for Israel to cooperate be: We cooperate because WE are democratic and hence WE are interested to show the world that we care for the international humanitarian laws?

    I’m not sure if that’s the image Israel and it’s supporters are trying to show the world.

  16. I was not talking about Hamas, nor was I trying to ‘justify’ Israel’s conduct.

    I was talking about the UNHRC, which in all likelihood will refuse him staff, time and resources to investigate Hamas – that is what most political committees appointing people with limited terms of reference do all around the world, and if you are asking me to believe that the UNHRC is the one shining exception then you are indulging yourself somewhat.

    As for justification, in moral terms, well moral terms don’t carry particularly far with most States. Morality rides on reality’s back (even the US has grudgingly accepted the ICC in the case of Sudan, as a striking illustration of this), and in this case, there is no ‘real’ incentive for Israel to cooperate. It won’t face any international oppobrium that it won’t face anyway, it has tried engagement with the self-appointed (since they are) international human rights community and that didn’t work out, and it has in any event more to lose than gain from co-operation <i>even</i> this time around <i>even</i> in these almost-as-good-as-they-could-hope-for circumstances of Goldstone’s appointment.

    That last point is what most of my comment was addressing.

    Addressing your final point, Uninformed Bystander, I agree. unfortunately a retort springs instantly to mind: WE don’t care what the self-appointed international Human Rights community thinks because WE are democratic and WE try but THEY are not and THEY do not (try to respect human rights) and THEY hate us come what may (talking about the majority of the UNCHR) and THEY will always hold us to a higher standard no matter what we do. Which brings us back to the realist argument for Israeli cooperation with the UNCHR, even through such a surprisingly good choice as Goldstone.

    Perhaps the EU and US could jointly appoint him to report to the EC and Congress. That might work better and I would welcome that.

  17. ok, no manual html, oops.

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