Stephen M. Walt

Smearing Richard Goldstone: a counterfactual

It’s been a long time since I’ve offered a counter-factual for you to ponder, but one popped into my head as I was reading the latest set of all-too-predictable smears being directed at South African Judge Richard Goldstone, who directed the U.N. report documenting Israeli war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the 2008-2009 ...

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

It’s been a long time since I’ve offered a counter-factual for you to ponder, but one popped into my head as I was reading the latest set of all-too-predictable smears being directed at South African Judge Richard Goldstone, who directed the U.N. report documenting Israeli war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the 2008-2009 Gaza offensive.

If you’re coming in late, the basic story is that Israeli newspapers and government officials have been spreading the story that Goldstone (who is Jewish) condemned a number of black activists to death when he was a judge in apartheid-era South Africa. Never mind that 1) it was his job as a judge to uphold the (admittedly harsh) laws of his country, 2) he is widely acknowledged as having played a positive role in the transition to majority rule, 3) Israel was one of white South Africa’s staunchest allies, which makes these pious denunciations of apartheid absurdly hypocritical, and 4) none of this tells you a darn thing about either the contents or the merits of the report on Gaza that bears his name. For able rebuttals of this smear campaign, see here and here.

So here’s my counterfactual. Suppose Goldstone’s U.N. report had exonerated Israel’s conduct during the Gaza War, and placed most if not all of the blame on Hamas. Suppose further that a prominent Palestinian group had then delved into Goldstone’s past and tried to discredit the report by disclosing the same information about him. Do you think Israeli officials and/or media pundits like Jonathan Chait, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Alan Dershowitz would have rushed to pile on Goldstone, as they have leapt to do over the past few days? Isn’t it more likely that they would have rallied to his defense, and denounced those unscrupulous Palestinians for trying to confuse the issue? Do these guys really think they are fooling anyone?

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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