Richard Goldstone, author of the now famous/infamous report on the 2008/2009 war between Israel and Hamas, has expressed regret about the document he submitted to the United Nations. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post, Goldstone wrote, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
While one can certainly respect the integrity of publicly acknowledging errors, the real lessons to be learned here are about what it means to respond with too much too soon and also with too little too late. Unfortunately, neither side of the debate which continues to swirl around the Goldstone Report, nor Mr. Goldstone himself, seems prepared to do just that.
In the wake of Goldstone’s recent comments, Hamas’ renewed calls for the “implementation of the Goldstone Report,” fall somewhere between absurd and offensive. The report which Hamas wants implemented calls for Hamas to conduct transparent inquiries into their own behavior, most specifically the ongoing purposeful targeting of Israeli civilians – a central Hamas tactic!
In fact, the absence of any such inquiry is among those facts noted most by Goldstone as being a major source of his regret regarding the report which bears his name. While standing by the claim that both sides could have done more in this regard, he points out that Israel has done much and Hamas has done nothing.
Hamas clearly does not want the report implemented except insofar as it takes their side – precisely the opposite of Goldstone’s stated purpose in producing the report. Those in Israel who are simply calling for the wholesale retraction of the report are not much better – at least not in terms of learning those lessons which could avoid the publicity fiasco which the report became for Israel.
Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, refusing to acknowledge any partial truths or lessons for Israel to learn, simply called for the U.N. to “retract” the report. And in Washington, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said that in light of Goldstone’s recent comments, “the report must be utterly discredited”.
While neither comment is hypocritical in the way that the Hamas comments were, both speakers are guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in ways that short-sighted and unwise. Rather than excoriate Goldstone and his work, this is a moment when Israeli leaders should take pride in doing what their enemies did not, commit to responding with even greater transparency in the future, and mobilize around the creation of a narrative that takes appropriate advantage of Goldstone’s most recent comments.
Israelis can play the unfairly targeted victim, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and vindication, or they can insist that the world now take note of the profound disparity between the behaviors of the two sides in the conflict, regardless of the side toward which one may feel greater sympathy — precisely as Goldstone now says he should have done. The latter choice would be a major turning point in how the conflict is presented – not as good vs. evil, but as better vs. worse – an approach which demands new levels of moral accountability from Hamas no matter what one thinks about the correctness of their cause.
Perhaps such partial accountability is not as viscerally satisfying, but it is more likely to bring Hamas either to some greater level of decency, or at least increased isolation from the military support which enables its ongoing war against Israel.
Judge Goldstone also has lessons to learn and they extend beyond expressing regret over the shape and substance of his report. His laudable intentions and vital insights about the importance of transparent inquiry notwithstanding, his report assumed too much about what was possible to accomplish and severely underestimated the damage done when speaking a truth independent of any concern for the context in which it would be received.
There is much from which both Hamas and Israel can learn in the original report. But in issuing it as he did, by presuming that each side would respond in any way equally to the challenges which the report put to their respective armies/governments, Mr. Goldstone was guilty of dangerous naïveté. Like Israeli President and long-time crusader for peace, Shimon Peres, I believe that Goldstone owes the State of Israel an apology. But whether he apologizes or not, is not the primary issue.
The primary issue is that there are lessons here for all parties to learn. One hopes that instead of exploiting past missteps by others, each of them will ask what more they can do to address those they made themselves. By no means are they all equally egregious, but they are the ones most within the grasp of each party to correct. Justice Goldstone has begun that process. Let’s hope that in doing so, he set a new precedent.