/ 4 April 2011

Despite flaws, Goldstone Report changed behaviour

Since releasing his report in the September after the fighting, Judge Richard Goldstone has been Israel’s most hated person. In the eyes of the Netanyahu government and its right-wing supporters, he personified the effort to “de-legitimise” the Jewish state and deprive it of its ability to defend itself. He was portrayed in the popular media as the quintessential self-hating Jew. Human rights groups that gave the commission information have been branded as collaborators and traitors.

Even today, following his retraction of his key allegation — that Israel had deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and hence conducted war crimes and even crimes against humanity — Goldstone has not gained any belated popularity.

Columnists in mainstream papers called him “Unforgiven,” the author of “an antisemitic report” who presided over a superficial, politically motivated inquiry.

Goldstone has delivered Israel a rare, and unexpected, PR coup. Although his new arguments have no formal standing, they undermine his previous findings.

In 2009, Goldstone portrayed Israel and Hamas as morally equal; in 2011, he grants Israel, which conducted hundreds of inquiries over its military behaviour in Gaza, a higher moral stance than Hamas.

This is obviously good news. But it’s doubtful whether the Israeli inquiries, few of which have led to indictments and convictions, would have been carried out without his report and its threat of referral to the Hague. Moreover, the fear of another incriminating report serves as a powerful deterrent against a sequel. Israel has changed its behaviour in Gaza, favouring pinpoint strikes in response to rockets and mortar bombs. But it would not forget and forgive the reprimand from the South African judge, even after his public about-face. – guardian.co.uk