At Yale, Judge Goldstone faces down his accusers

Israel/Palestine
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gazastarofdavid
200-foot wide Star of David Israeli soldiers carved a into Palestinian farmland in Gaza with their tanks. (Photo: UNOSAT)

Judge Richard Goldstone gave a speech at Yale last night and though he said he would not be talking about Gaza, his report came up again and again, and in fact the anti-Goldstoners tried to turn the event into a circus. They waved Israeli flags, and two of them held up a banner comparing the judge’s report to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the accusers of Dreyfus. A group followed the judge afterward into the wine-and-cheese on the second floor, and surrounded him and some barked at him, and though now and then the judge held up his hand and turned away at a loud voice, he seemed ready for anything, and more than held his own, and left the crowd with an education in what it means to try and advance the regime of international law.

Goldstone’s references to the report in the actual speech were pointed. It is fine if Israel wishes to evade international investigation and prosecution by doing an investigation of its own. That is a core principle of international law– complementarity– the idea that it is preferable that localities apply international standards law themselves. But that investigation must not be behind closed doors, by the military, it must be open and credible. I will get the actual quotes in a day or two. 

He said that equality meant dignity; and when we deny the dignity of other human beings, we dehumanize them, and pave the way to human rights violations. The persecution of Gaza was all through that statement.

If militants are attacking you from the roof of a hospital, it does not mean that you can bomb the hospital; it means that you must take care; and yes maybe some civilians will die when you are going after the militants there, but it violates the principle of proportionality to fire missiles at the hospital. The judge spoke of a hypothetical; but it was a clear reference to the missile attacks on Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City that the Goldstone Report details–though the report never states that there were militants on the roof.

The Q-and-A was all Gaza. A white-haired professor with an accent said, why should any country, Israel, Serbia, yield power to an international court, when we all know how political such courts can be. Goldstone said it was a great question, then pointed out that such courts can only establish confidence through the steady application of legal processes and the cooperation of the powerful nations. Why, he said, in ’96 Bill Clinton had specifically asked Nelson Mandela to allow Goldstone to extend his tenure as prosecutor in the international tribunal of the former Yugoslavia, even as American troops were going in there, because Clinton regarded him as a fair judge. (So much for the US congressional resolutions condemning Goldstone, and Obama’s dismissal of the judge; no, it’s Palestine, Jake).

A frenetic man at the back got applause when he said that Goldstone’s standards were unequal. What Israel did in Gaza doesn’t come anywhere near what happened in Rwanda, or in other countries that routinely violate the rule of law. Look at Sri Lanka. 20,000 Tamils were killed last year during the sectarian violence. Where is the investigation of that?

A good question, and the judge was brilliant. "I recognize the distinction you seem to be making. Similar crimes should be treated similarly" without exception. But that’s in a perfect world. "It’s not going to happen." If ten murders are committed in New Haven, and only one is prosecuted, the murderer who’s prosecuted can say, I’m treated unequally, nine peole are getting away with it. And "morally and philosophically no one can disagree." But it’s an "unfair" world. Just because you can’t go after them all doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go after any. The thrust of his remarks was, We will never have a regime of international law until we begin to apply that law, to develop it, and if that means singling out the accessible, well we must do so. And the reference to New Haven reminded us that all law is applied unequally.

The question was framed again, sharper this time. A woman with an accent said– and I think there were a ton of Israelis in the hall– Why the double standard? A few million people are killed in Africa, and nothing happens.

The judge was wise and frank. "You know it’s a complex issue… It’s a matter of politics, not of morality. The United Nations has a dominant group of the non-aligned movement, and the issue of the Palestinians has assumed a tremendous importance to them, and they’re using it."

It used to be the South Africans, he said with equanimity. There were many more UN resolutions passed against South Africa than against Israel.

"Humbly may I ask you, why you allow yourself to be used?" the woman said.

"I don’t see it that way at all. I accepted what I regarded to be an evenhanded mandate. I didn’t see myself as being used. I heard exactly the same from the Serb leaders. Why was I allowing myself to be used by an organization set up against Serbia by the United States. You know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Applause from the silent majority.

Upstairs the circle of accusers formed around him near the door. They angrily quoted his own words to him from clippings, or said he was afraid to debate Dershowitz, or said he was publicizing "untruths." Goldstone’s a man of medium height with a round face and narrow owlish eyes and a calm slightly dour expression. My friend said it’s a face out of a 19th century oil portrait; and the judge did not ever crack– a smile, a wince. The Orthodox man who had held the banner about Protocols said he would convey the judge’s words to the people of Auschwitz, and the judge turned away. A woman said he was holding Israel to a higher standard, and the judge said that he was, you do that to countries that say they are democracies. When someone said he should call it apartheid, he said that was an emotionally-laden term, so he avoided it–but in fact they did not have separate roadways in South Africa, as Israel does in the West Bank.

And when someone said that Israelis would not do such things, would not inflict wanton destruction–this was another Israeli, a woman, who had been in the army for Lebanon ’06–the judge said that she should look at the satellite imagery accompanying his report (the report is a pdf). Israeli soldiers in their tanks had carved a 200-foot wide Star of David into Palestinian farmland in Gaza, to be seen from the sky.

It seemed to upset the judge, and you can see why.

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