Commentary Magazine

The Choice of Richard Goldstone

In early April, Richard Goldstone took to the pages of the Washington Post to offer an astounding partial retraction of the 2009 United Nations report that immortalized his otherwise obscure name for the ages. Which raises one important question: Why does this report accusing Israel of war crimes in the conduct of the 2008–2009 Gaza war bear the name of Goldstone?

Why did the United Nations ask him to chair the “fact-finding” mission that did no real fact-finding but merely borrowed its tendentious and false “facts” from agenda-driven players like B’Tselem?

Make no mistake: Richard Goldstone was chosen because he was Chosen. The powers-that-be at the UN plucked Goldstone from septuagenarian obscurity two years ago to serve as the front man for the commission designed for the purpose of trumpeting Israel’s guilt precisely because he is a Jew. For the UN report on Israel’s conduct during the war with Hamas in 2008–2009 to have the desired impact—which is to say, for it to advance with new force the argument that Israel is an illegal, illegitimate, and inexcusable false nation—there simply had to be a Jew’s name stamped on every page.

The case against Israel needed a new push by 2009. The undeniable acts of terror against Israeli civilians that followed the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 had proved unfortunately complicating factors in the advancement of the view that the Jewish state had turned from David to Goliath. The second intifada launched from the West Bank, Hezbollah rockets launched at Northern Israeli towns from Lebanon, and Hamas rockets bombarding central Israeli towns from Gaza—these acts of aggression against Israelis could not simply be ignored. The anti-Israel line needed to take them into account. And the best way to take them into account was to make the case that the real crime occurred not in the attacks themselves but in Israel’s response to them.

To be sure, Israel’s insistence on taking strong measures to protect its citizenry did not make it any friends; in Europe in particular, Israel’s refusal to roll over and play dead seemed to enrage enlightened opinion rather than earn respect. That rage was channeled into an obsession with likening Israel to feces, as when the French foreign service bigwig Daniel Bernard referred to Israel as “that shitty little country” and the British columnist Johann Hari wrote that “Israel discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit.” This kind of name-calling would not serve the purpose of discrediting Israel, since it did so much to discredit itself. The case against Israel’s existence had to be anchored to earth if it were going to have any practical value.

That was the purpose of the Goldstone “fact-finding mission”: to ballast the rage by attaching it to something nominally empirical. The mission’s conclusions may have been foregone and pre-designed, but they would have the appearance of being supported by fact. And they would need some kind of ethnic and religious window dressing, since even those inclined to accept its findings could not simply dismiss the fact of its issuance by a world body implacably hostile to Israel. Add to that the problem that, had the mission’s chairman not been a Jew but rather a Swedenborgian, or a Zoroastrian, or an African animist, then that chairman would have had to address any serious questions raised about his good faith as an investigator.

But a Goldstone—now there was a way around the problem. He was, you should excuse the expression, manna from heaven. Every aspect of his resumé was perfect, with echoes of past human-rights monstrosities that must have been glorious to behold. Just imagine it! Goldstone had been a war-crimes prosecutor in the early 1990s when the Hague was trying Serbs who had mistreated Bosnians. What wondrous implicit resonance there would be when it came to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians!

And then, of course, there was the fact of Goldstone’s South Africanness. By selecting him, the UN could thereby invoke the comparison between Israel and the apartheid regime without ever having to make the point explicitly. Goldstone and his admirers claim his work as a judge in South Africa during the last years of apartheid had done much to undermine the way its government legally privileged a minority racial group and disfavored the majority. But there are also those who say what Goldstone did in South Africa amounted to collaboration with an unjust regime. Given that record, he might have been a little too controversial for the appointment—but then, his being a Jew trumped all that.

The UN had formally revoked its 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution in 1991, but the idea that Zionism equals racism—that Jewish nationalism is somehow exclusionary in a way that no other form of nationalism is—is the ideological fundament from which all anti-Israel actions and sentiments at the United Nations spring. Given that the apartheid regime in South Africa was itself conceptually racist, anything that can be used to liken Israel to South Africa is of immense value to the delegitimizers. And so here Goldstone was: a South African, a war-crimes prosecutor, and a Jew with family in Israel. As the leftist Israeli columnist Gideon Levy put it in Haaretz: “The messenger is propaganda-proof. No one can seriously claim that Goldstone, an active and ardent Zionist, with deep links to Israel, is an anti-Semite.”

The Israeli activist Uri Avnery went into greater detail: “Who did they put at the head of the commission which was charged with this task? . . . A Jewish judge who bears the very Jewish name of Goldstone (originally Goldstein, of course). And not just a Jew with a Jewish name, but a Zionist, whose daughter, Nicole, is an enthusiastic Zionist who once ‘made Aliyah’ and speaks fluent Hebrew. And not just a Jewish Zionist, but a South African who opposed apartheid and was appointed to the country’s Constitutional Court when that system was abolished.”

The UN Secretary General’s office couldn’t have done better if it had cooked up Richard Goldstone in a lab.


What Goldstone himself thought when he was plucked from obscurity at the age of 71 and placed at the red-hot center of world politics is between him and his Maker. As soon as he was publicly named, however, he found himself awash in praise. And more than mere praise: after he was named the chair of the mission but before the report was even issued, he was given the 2009 MacArthur Award for International Justice, with a nice and neat $100,000 honorarium.

And, of course, after the report was released, Goldstone was singled out by many on the left for particular praise because of his willingness to criticize the nation-state of his people. Richard Falk, the Princeton political scientist who is now a senior UN official, showered praise on Goldstone as “a person of integrity and political balance, as well as being an eminent jurist,” especially considering the fact that “he is Jewish, with deep emotional and family ties to Israel and Zionism, bonds solidified by his long association with several organizations active in Israel.”

In the Jerusalem Post, Larry Derfner wrote: “What motive does Goldstone have to lie? . . . He has no such motive. He’s telling the truth. . . . This man has done a mitzvah, a big, brave one. In the name of at least some Israelis, I want to say: Thank you, judge.”

Now, in the wake of Goldstone’s partial recantation, some on the left are reduced to arguing that Goldstone caved in to Jewish social pressure. Thus, M.J. Rosenberg, who works for Media Matters for America and who had himself described his subject as “the distinguished South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, himself Jewish” back in 2009: “Goldstone couldn’t handle the anger of friends. . . . So Goldstone decided to appease his crowd. . . . As for losing friends, so what? Doing the right thing is often (maybe even usually) unpopular. Do you think the abolitionists didn’t lose friends and offend reactionary clergy? How about the European Christians who fought anti-Semitism in the 1930s?”

Rosenberg’s argument is so repugnant that it almost makes one want to defend Goldstone. Almost. But not quite. Because the damage Goldstone did by fronting this report is inseparable from the fact of his Jewishness. If he had been deserving of special praise for having supposedly transcended the parochial interests of his people and speaking out, then one can also say he is deserving of special criticism for having allowed his Jewishness to be used as a weapon against the Jewish state.

In the Book of Proverbs, we read: “The memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing; but the name of the wicked shall rot.”

So should it be for Richard Goldstone. Let his name rot.

About the Author

John Podhoretz is editor of COMMENTARY.

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