Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Jon Haber on the Tragedy of Goldstone

A very thoughtful analysis by Jon Haber of the ugly bargain Goldstone made
A clue to Goldstone’s decision (some would say his fall) can be seen in his Washington Post mea culpa in which he demonstrates his sincere belief that the goodness, virtue and sound judicial temperament he brought to the situation would mitigate the excesses of what he recognized was starting out as an unjust process. In other words, he was demonstrating what high-school students reading Greek tragedy for the first time would recognize as a “tragic flaw,” in this case, a belief that his own reputation and virtue could transform a corrupt institution (the United Nations and its ghastly so-called Human Rights Council), reforming it in the process into something that would no longer just be an Israel-libel factory but could possibly pave the way to true international justice.
But as he discovered, these forces of corruption were far more interested (and far more able) to co-opt Goldstone’s reputation for their purposes than vice versa. Beyond Goldstone himself, the investigative team was stacked against Israel to a ridiculous degree. Information gathering was shoddy, conclusions drawn from that information were disproportionate and one-sided. And most telling, once the Report was made public, it became the cornerstone of a propaganda war that relied heavily on leveraging Goldstone’s name, Jewishness and reputation to focus the Goldstone Report missile in one and only one direction.
At any point in this process, Goldstone could have resigned and gone public with his criticisms of flaws that could be seen by all before, during and after the investigation and report’s publication. But instead he chose to not only stand firm but to travel the world to defend the accuracy of the work now deeply associated with his name. In other words, the very corrupt institutions he was hoping to change had instead co-opted him to such a degree that he had no choice but to defend what he had done, regardless of the cost to Middle East peace, to his own reputation, and (most significantly) to the cause of international justice he thought he was championing.
In Goldstone’s case, he convinced himself that his virtue and reputation could change a corrupt process and possibly help issue in an era of international justice. But in making a deal with this particular devil, he actually helped turn whatever tools of international justice currently exist (some of which he helped forge) into weapons of war.
Should Goldstone have known better? As noted above, he (unlike most of us) has experience with making personal moral choices that have heavy international consequences. Goldstone will have to deal with the damage to his own reputation due to poor choices on his own (hopefully with a metaphorical Greek chorus in the background alerting him to the tragic consequences of moral vanity). Unfortunately the rest of us will not be able to help him on that journey, busy as we are with cleaning up the wreckage his decisions have caused.
But before leaving Richard Goldstone behind, we should recognize that the compromise he was offered (and took) that led to a tragic fall is something that will likely be offered to all of us at some point in our lives.