Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein declined this week to meet Justice Richard Goldstone and representatives of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) to discuss Goldstone’s controversial UN Human Rights Council report on the 2008 Israeli invasion of Gaza.
“It was unnecessary for me to be there,” Goldstein told the Mail & Guardian. “This was not the kind of meeting with a deep engagement that I was seeking.”
But a source in the Jewish community told M&G that Goldstein “did not want to get involved”.
In April, Goldstein and Goldstone had a fiery exchange on the op-ed pages of Business Day. The Chief Rabbi described Goldstone’s Gaza report as “severely compromised” and said it had caused “enormous damage to the reputation and safety of the state of Israel and her citizens”, adding “he [Goldstone] has done so much wrong in the world”.
As emotions flared, the SAZF threatened to stage a picket outside the bar mitzvah of Goldstone’s grandson, but — following negotiations — the SAZF decided to call off their protest in exchange for a meeting with Goldstone to discuss the Gaza report.
Avrom Krengel (left) chairperson of the SAZF, and Mr Justice Richard Goldstone, enter the meeting. (Ilan Ossendryver)
Monday’s two-hour meeting was chaired by Jewish Board of Deputies chairperson Zev Krengel. His brother, Avrom, led the nine-member SAZF delegation, while Goldstone was accompanied by prominent lawyer, Gilbert Marcus.
Zev Krengel told the M&G that the meeting generated a “fluid debate” — mostly between his brother and Goldstone. But “everyone had the opportunity to comment”, he added.
Travesty of justice
In a six-page opening statement, Avrom Krengel described the methodology used by Goldstone in the Gaza report as a “travesty of justice”, and said the report would have “lacked all credibility” without Goldstone’s “credentials as a Jew and pre-eminent human rights jurist”.
Krengel conceded, however, that Goldstone could not be “second-guessed” regarding the reliability of witnesses he heard, or the evidence and information he received. He also agreed that international law should be applied equally to Israel and to Hamas — a point on which he appears to share common ground with Goldstone.
“I have always assumed that Israel would wish to be judged by the highest standards of international law,” said Goldstone in his opening statement.
“That Israel refused to cooperate meant that we had to do the best we could with the information we were able to gather.”
Summing up the meeting, Zev Krengel said: “People didn’t exactly leave kissing and hugging, but at least there was proper dialogue.”
Meanwhile, the Chief Rabbi hasn’t ruled out the possibility of future interaction with Goldstone. “I am now ready for stage two,” he told M&G, adding that this would entail a “detailed engagement about the legal and academic points” of the Gaza report.