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.


Goldstone retracts criminal accusations against Israel

Goldstone has basically retracted the criminal accusations against Israel in the report bearing his name. If he feels an apology or justification is an order, this is better than nothing. Nonetheless, the accusations of war crimes have already done their damage. In order to achieve the desired effects, the accusations don't need to hold up in an actual court--which Goldstone did clarify his commission was not (rather a "fact-finding" endeavor).  That is the nature of these things. The dirt remains on your face. Accusations stain your reputation whether they are substantiated ultimately or not.

For example, here's how the State Dept's reaction to the op-ed was summarized in the news: "Goldstone affirms US position Israel did not commit war crimes in Gaza."

Certainly, this will not persuade anyone deeply committed to the idea that Israel is a brutal, inhumane people, to whom all Palestinian suffering is to be attributed.  Their judgment of Operation Cast Lead was always based on their opinion of Israel's character more than anything else. What seems most offensive to this crowd is Goldstone's implication that Israeli internal investigations were credible--that such a people could possibly be trusted to scrutinize their own actions and characters. And we are asked believe that a group calling itself the Independent Committee of Experts is more authoritative than the Israel government, because, well, they are called the Independent Committee of Experts.

Others insist that Israel is still terrible and should feel terrible because civilians were killed in the attacks against Hamas. It is an uncomfortable fact that decent nations must sometimes use violence and other forms of coercion to defend themselves, at least in the world we live in.  No amount of lashing out at the bearer of this painful lesson will change that fact. It may well make things worse. Warfare always carries the prospect of the wrong people getting killed. Hamas knows this quite well, and exploits it, with the deserved confidence that important figures abroad will blame Israel and not them.

While it won't circulate and gain traction with nearly among nearly as many as the original report, hopefully there will be some well-meaning but naive internationalists who will be a little more skeptical in the future when there is a fervor to assume the worst of Israeli soldiers (because we all know they are like that) and declare a multilateral commission to bring 'em to justice.

Jon Haber explains the tragic naivete of Goldstone in the face of the task he was invited to take up with the UNHRC.

Here's one rather humorous interpretation of the letter, mocking Goldstone for explaining that he sincerely thought Hamas would investigate its own actions during Cast Lead

Some have also suggested it was absurd to expect the Cookie Monster, a being that has a policy to eat cookies, to investigate what we said were serious crimes against cookies. In the end, asking Cookie Monster to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise.