13 May A Bit of Context About Goldstone
I will write in more detail when I have a bit more time, but I can’t let Dershowitz’s ridiculously slanted and ahistorical attack on Richard Goldstone pass without comment. Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a Senior Editor at Foreign Affairs who is an expert on Israel-South Africa relations, has responded to the allegations made in the Yediot Ahronoth story Dershowitz cites, allegations that Polakow-Suransky points out are common knowledge in South Africa. (Apparently, Dershowitz’s definition of “secret” is something that he doesn’t know about.) Here is a snippet from the post that — responding to Jeffrey Goldberg and Jonathan Chait — puts Goldstone’s apartheid-era actions into context and notes Israel’s own rather sordid past concerning apartheid:
After all, Israel was the most significant arms supplier to that regime throughout the 1980s and served as a lifeline for the apartheid government during a period when Pretoria faced growing international condemnation and heightened domestic unrest (i.e. protests by 80 percent of the population demanding their democratic rights).
Anyone who served in the Israeli army during the late 1980s, as Goldberg did, should be well aware of this history.
During these years, military intelligence officials from the two countries held annual intelligence-sharing conferences and South African military representatives came to the West Bank to view the anti-riot equipment the Israeli army was using against Palestinians. When foreign journalists in the West Bank encountered visiting South African military officials, the Israeli military censor was quickly ordered to hush it up. Back in South Africa, a large contingent of Israeli rocketry experts was holed up in the seaside town of Arniston helping the South African government put the finishing touches on ballistic missiles intended to carry its next generation of nuclear weapons.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who denounced Goldstone as “a man of double standards,” because he “sentenced black people to death” appears to have some double standards of his own. Rivlin was no doubt fully informed of Israel’s military alliance with South Africa during the 1980s, given that he served on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the 12th Knesset from 1988-1992–a position that gave him nearly unfettered access to sensitive military documents and high-level discussions of Israel’s defense doctrine. These were the peak years of arms sales to South Africa, exceeding $1.5 billion in 1988 and approximately $800 million in 1989.
In their zeal to demonize Goldstone, Chait and Goldberg miss the point that it is possible to condemn the Goldstone Report without promoting a hypocritical campaign of character assassination. To his credit, Ron Kampeas of the Capital J Blog immediately denounced this smear strategy. He noted that self-righteous Israeli propaganda replete with Nazi comparisons “exposes you to ridicule,” especially given that “Israel sold arms to, traded with, in some instances allied with Apartheid South Africa,” a point that does not seem to have occurred to Chait and Goldberg. Kampeas continued, “At the time, when pressed on the matter, Israeli diplomats always boiled it down to ‘we take whatever friends we can get.’ (And I don’t remember budding diplomat Danny Ayalon sticking his neck out to say any different.)”
There are many legitimate grounds on which to criticize the Goldstone Report, but Goldstone’s past is not one of them. Rather than examining the historical record, Goldberg and Chait relied exclusively on the Yediot article in passing judgment on Goldstone’s early career. Their posts, and a more recent one by Ron Radosh, 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. (For more on this topic, read the dispatches of British journalist John Carlin, the author of the book that became the movie Invictus.) Goldstone’s work earned him Mandela’s respect and, in 1994, South Africa’s first black president appointed Goldstone to the Constitutional Court–hardly the sort of honor the great moral icon of the 20th century would have bestowed on “a man without a moral compass,” as Goldberg calls him.
Funny how Dershowitz doesn’t mention any of that. Must have been an innocent oversight.