A Bit of Context About Goldstone

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.

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Africa, Foreign Relations Law, International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, Middle East, Trade & Economic Law
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Thanks for posting on the breathtaking hypocrisy involved in Dershowitz’s transparent use of one of the oldest tricks in the book: When you don’t have a good answer to the message, demonize the messenger in the hope that people will confuse the two.  I’m sure that, like every human being who has ever lived, Judge Goldstone has done something for which he is or should be ashamed.  But whatever the merits of the critique of his actions as a judge under Apartheid, Dershowitz’s comparison of Judge Goldstone to the Nazi judges is not just irrelevant to the merits of the Report, it is ridiculous. Like Glenn Beck, Dershowitz seems to be suffering from a kind of  “Nazi Tourette’s,” to borrow Lewis Black’s phrase (see the Daily Show, 5/12/10 “Back In Black segment available at: http://www.thedailyshow.com/
Dershowitz poisons the discussion of the merits of the Goldstone Report with his “Nazi comparisons” and, IMHO needs to take something to calm himself down.

David Schraub

I think it is pretty obvious that Goldstone’s work as a judge in SA does not make him some sort of moral monster. I also think that Mr. Chait, at least, is quite clear that this isn’t the charge he is making, and it is extremely misleading to try and pretend that’s the contour of the debate and then turn it into dueling ad homs. Rather, Chait’s claim is that Goldstone’s past is revelatory about his <i>temperament</i> — whether he is the sort willing “to make a brave, lonely stand against the prevailing currents.” The issue isn’t whether Goldstone is evil, it’s whether he is fundamentally a man who adopts to the system that he’s in (and tries his best to follow his moral compass from within those constraints). Even before I knew of this past, I <a href=”http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/2009/11/halbertal-reflects-on-goldstone.html”>I wrote that my impression of Goldstone</a> was that he was “like a very judicious, public-spirited, personally fair-minded person who volunteers to be the judge at the Scottsboro trial”, and now I <a href=”http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/2010/05/what-goldstones-past-actually-teaches.html”>feel even more comfortable with that characterization</a>. Goldstone is the sort who looks at Apartheid South Africa, or the Jim Crow South, or the UNHRC (which he also believes… Read more »

Anne Herzberg

For once, I somewhat agree with KJH (though of course he cannot help but add his own ahistoric and slanted commentary).  There is so much analysis from across the spectrum regarding the manifest improprieties of the Goldstone mission, its funding by the Arab League, and its resulting one-sided report that there is no need to be distracted by what he did or didn’t do as a judge in S. Africa.

See e.g. remarks of Francoise Hampson (Nov 2009 Hebrew U IHL conference), Michael Schmitt (March 2010 Harvard webinar on air warfare), Chatham House report, Moshe Halbertal, Blank and Gordon, and many many others.


Yisrael Medad

While the issue is complex, I think the point has to be made between a country, Israel, that had diplomatic and military relations with a country that practiced apartheid and whether or not that meant support for apartheid or simply helping save Israel when few other countries were willing to be friends but not practicing apartheid itslef and a person, Goldstone in this case, who actually was part of the apartheid system to the extent that he followed its laws, and put them into practice inclduing sentencing people to death.

As for who is hypocritical and who is more morally repugnant is another matter.  But the comparison is indeed different.

Elihu D Richter MD MPH

Response: After the disclosure that Goldstone was a hanging judge and Jeffrey Goldberg’s damning essay, Goldstone is finished, but Goldstoneism is not. His life history reminds me of the Groucho Marx line; If you don’t like my principles, I will sell you another set.
Judge Goldstone’s life history suggests  a hyperachiever who has his values, but quickly adjusts to whomever is in charge, so as to maximize his own personal situation no matter what the circumstances. 
However,  the story of how he acquitted police who violated the privacy of a couple of mixed racial background during a moment of intimacy suggests a degree of mean-spiritness beyond that required to toe the line.  
How can this hanging judge. whose decisions were made in the quiet, safe privacy of his legal chambers, sit in judgement on soldiers who had to make life and decisions in the heat of battle?
   My question to his defenders is: What is your cutoff point for how many hangings would be too many? 30? 50? 100? 300?  
Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH

Alex Safian

The charge that Israel was a major arms supplier to South Africa is contradicted by the facts. For example, the following is a sampling of the detailed list of arms supplies to South Africa provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI): UK       14 Westland Wasp helicopters supplied in 1973 and 1974 France       38 Mirage fighter aircraft supplied in 1974 and 1975 Jordan       717 Tigercat missiles suppplied in 1974 Italy       80 military aircraft supplied in 1974 UK       41 Centurian tanks supplied in 1974 France       48 AS-12 air to surface missiles supplied in 1975 France       2 submarines supplied in 1975 France       2040 air to surface missiles supplied between 1976-1983 Italy       96 Impala counter insurgency equipment supplied between 1976-1983 Spain       60 centurion tanks supplied in 1979 SIPRI’s yearbook describes Israel’s major contributions during that time period as limited to a dozen patrol boats. The SIPRI Yearbook for 1985 reports that France, West Germany and UK were the only countries listed as supplying SA with military equipment in 1984. Between 1963 and 1975 the… Read more »