The Goldstone Myth: Book Review by Gerald M. Steinberg

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Steinberg, Gerald M. “The Goldstone Myth: Book Review by Gerald M. Steinberg.” Scholars for Peace in the Middle East Reviews and Recommendations (2011).


At the UN World Conference against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 to September 8, 2001, over 1500 organizations exploited the cause of human rights in order to plan the “complete international isolation of Israel.” Indeed, the final declaration of the NGO Forum at Durban spelled-out a specific strategy of political warfare to delegitimize Israel. This conference, which had been convened ostensibly to eliminate discrimination and racism, actually became a racist event itself, targeting Jewish sovereign equality in Israel through false accusations of “war crimes”, “genocide” and violations of international law.

This indictment, in various forms, is central to the political war designed to roll-back the November 1947 resolution that endorsed the partition plan for Palestine and recognized the legitimacy of Jewish sovereign equality and national self-determination.

Nearly a decade after Durban, the network of political NGOs, led by superpowers such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, has worked closely with the totalitarian Islamic regimes that set the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to implement this strategy.

The most powerful weapon in their arsenal has been the Goldstone Report which was funded by the Arab League[1], and which falsely accuses Israel of “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” and deliberately targeting “the people of Gaza as a whole … in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas”.

This misleadingly named “fact finding mission” was established by the UNHRC on January 12, 2009 (Res. S-9/1) “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.” As is standard practice in the UNHRC, there was no mention of the thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians from Gaza during the period preceding Israel’s military response. Each of these rocket attacks constituted a war crime, but these lethal weapons were and continue to be ignored.

The obvious bias of the mandate was enough to lead Mary Robinson, who served as the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, and chair of the Durban conference, to refuse to preside over this partisan initiative.

In her place, Judge Richard Goldstone, a prominent Jew from South Africa, accepted this role as the lead prosecutor. He was pressed to take the appointment by Human Rights Watch, whose officials, particularly those of its Middle East Division, were among the leaders at Durban and in pursing the post-Durban strategy of delegitimization in the decade that followed. (Goldstone served on HRW’s board.) The other members of this “mission” also had a track record of anti-Israel allegations, including blatantly prejudicial statements during the Gaza operation. Thus, from the beginning, it was clear that no impartial “fact finding” could be expected.

In defending his role, Richard Goldstone claimed that he was given a revised mandate by the UNHRC President and that the mission’s investigation was even-handed, addressing violations both by Israel and Hamas. However, the record does not support Goldstone’s self-justifying interpretation. The UNHRC never adopted changes and continues to refer to the original one-sided mandate in its resolutions and reports. In addition, the “36 incidents ” that the mission claims to have “investigated” (based on a list provided by Amnesty International) contain allegations against Israel only. Not a single incident relates to alleged Hamas war crimes, and the references to thousands of attacks from Gaza are marginalized.

Indeed, the entire 452-page report (revised) which was published under Goldstone’s name is a sham. The “mission” clearly carried out little if any independent research and its activities violated standard ethical and investigatory standards, as listed in the UN rules for fact-finding missions and the Lund-London Guidelines published by the International Bar Association. The text is based largely on hundreds of unsourced and unverified NGO claims, including false casualty figures.

Numerous experts in international law have criticized Goldstone and other authors for “the nature and confused conclusions reached,” the “application of incorrect legal standards ,” and weak and “tentative ” (at best) criticisms of the war crimes conducted by Hamas. Judge Fausto Pocar, former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, condemned the report as one-sided, citing the discriminatory call for universal jurisdiction solely against Israel officials.[2]

It is precisely for these reasons that the leaders of the Durban strategy of demonization and political warfare against Israel embraced the UNHRC-Goldstone report as their most important document. Goldstone has been used as “evidence” in the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns; in the conferences and events taking place under the banner of “Israel Apartheid Week”, (IAW) and in the other dimensions of this assault.

The publication of an abbreviated version of the Goldstone report, accompanied by a number of essays, and edited by some of the most publicly-identified anti-Israel activists involved in BDS and IAW, reflects the cynical abuse of human rights for the purposes of political warfare. This volume was published by Nation Books, the publisher of The Nation, a self-styled “progressive” magazine that specializes in conspiracy theory and obsessive anti-democracy, anti-Israel screeds. In distributing this ammunition to their shock troops, under the subtitle: “The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict,” the editors repeat the misleading claim that they are publishing the findings of an impartial investigation.

The contributors who exploited Goldstone as their flag bearer constitute a who’s-who in the campaigns targeting the Jewish nation. The editors — although the cliché-laden text reflects little actual editing — and most of the contributors are fierce anti-Zionists and BDS activists. Two of the editors, Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss, run the fringe “Mondoweiss ” blog, featuring coarse rants praising “alternatives to pro-Zionist ideology as a basis for American Jewish identity”. The third editor, Lizzy Ratner, promotes a “one state solution ” and frames her anti-Israel diatribes using Holocaust analogies. Echoing the Goldstone Report’s libel, Ratner claims that Israel “didn’t really bother to distinguish civilians from combatants…it actually targeted civilians,” during the Gaza war. Naomi Klein, who penned the introduction, uses similar language expounding a black and white world view, in which democracies and the West are always the aggressors, and others (including Palestinians) are patronizingly defined as victims, incapable of moral behavior.

Laila el-Haddad (“Messages from Gaza”) writes for Al-Jazeera and the Guardian, where she promotes the Palestinian narrative using the language of Durban — including the “apartheid ” libel, while giving publicity to marginal radical NGOs funded by European governments, such as ICAHD. Echoing Goldstone, Haddad claims Israel was “specifically targeting civilians, specifically targeting agriculture infrastructure…it’s not like they went in there in with a mindset that they wanted to retaliate for the firing of rockets…” Desmond Tutu, who has helped the Islamic regimes in abusing the UN’s human rights framework to attack Israel, wrote the forward using the pretext of “a call to the community of conscience”, and presents the Goldstone report as “a historic attempt at seeking and then speaking the truth”.

Ali Abunimah, who heads “Electronic Intifada” website, and is a leading Palestinian propagandist and a frequent speaker at BDS and IAW events, is also a contributor. Like others involved in this volume, he exploits the Holocaust to attack Israel. Abunimah refers to Gaza as a “ghetto for surplus non-Jews,” compares the Israeli press to “Der Stuermer,” and claims that “Supporting Zionism is not atonement for the Holocaust, but its continuation in spirit.”

To buttress this racist assault, he cites the “crimes documented by the Goldstone Report” (p. 398), and asserts that “the publication of the Goldstone report may in hindsight be seen as a key turning point … as a new wave of global civic mobilization sought justice and accountability…”. (p. 392) Abunimah focuses on the “Dahiya doctrine”, in reference to the section of Beirut that housed Hezbollah’s command center, protected by thousands of Lebanese “human shields”. In Abunimah’s version, Hezbollah’s aggression, including the grotesque body-snatching of Israeli soldiers, as well as the massive use of human shields, are erased, in order to accuse the IDF falsely of “savagery” and “indiscriminate bombardment”. As noted (p. 392), Goldstone repeats this fiction (para 1191) in appropriating the “Dahiya doctrine” to support the Gaza version of this libel.

Exploiting the apartheid analogy that underlies the Durban strategy, BDS, and the Goldstone report, Abunimah’s chapter invokes the 1960 Sharpeville massacre as the beginning of the South African boycott movement. “A similar opening was seen following the Gaza attack, as the rapid growth of the Palestinian BDS movement showed.” In this section, Abunimah, like Omar Barghouti, declares the goals of this campaign as extending far beyond bringing an end to the post-1967 “occupation”, extending to the replacement of Israel and fulfillment of the myth of a Palestinian “right of return”. (p. 394). Abunimah again invokes the Report’s false allegations in attacking the Israeli court system: “In their search for justice, victims of serious violations of human rights have often looked for accountability mechanisms in other countries ….. (para 1646). With these words, the Goldstone Report endorsed the use of ‘universal jurisdiction’” (p. 395), a form of lawfare that transforms international law into a blunt political weapon.

While Abunimah has referred to Peace Now as a “right-wing Zionist racist group”, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a past president of Americans for Peace Now, joins him in this volume, in a short chapter headlined “The Unholy Assault on Richard Goldstone”. For Pogrebin, Goldstone is a saint, and any criticism, however justified (including that of Shimon Peres and Prof. Irwin Cotler, whose human rights accomplishments and credentials far exceed those of Goldstone) is unacceptable.

Most of the other chapters contain predictable and unimaginative variations of the same themes. These include contributors such as Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, Raji Sourani, who heads the Palestinian Center for Human Rights — a leading NGO committed to the Durban and BDS agenda. The Goldstone report quotes heavily from PCHR’s allegations, including its condemnation of the closing of Hamas’ “humanitarian organizations” as a “flagrant violation of the right to association.” This is in direct opposition to the international legal obligation to fight terrorism and its financing.

Polemical essays by Henry Siegman and Jerome Slater, among the habitual critics of Israel on any and all issues, also sought to defend Goldstone, largely by repeated use of biased “evidence” and the “findings” of groups like Human Rights Watch. To provide the façade of “balance” (a standard NGO practice also adopted by Goldstone), the editors reprinted Moshe Halbertal’s stinging deconstruction of “The Goldstone Illusion”, which originally appeared in the New Republic. Nonetheless, the poisonous anti-Zionist cacophony overwhelmed Halbertal’s moral analysis.

The editors’ note ends with words of thanks to the members of the UNHRC “fact finding mission” on Gaza, and “Above all Richard Goldstone”. Ironically, this tendentious publication ultimately may have helped trigger Judge Goldstone’s “reconsideration” which he published in an oped article of April 3rd in the Washington Post. Eighteen months after he lent his name to this travesty, Judge Goldstone finally acknowledged that “our fact-finding mission had no evidence” to verify the allegations supplied by the radical NGOs. He retracted the allegations that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians, confessed to having ignored the war crimes of Hamas, and recognized that the UNHRC is fundamentally biased against Israel. Belatedly, Goldstone did the right thing, but the stain remains.


[1] Statement by ICC Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo in a December 4, 2009 press conference, , as cited by Anne Herzberg, “NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” NGO Monitor Monograph Series, Second Edition, December 2010

[2] Anne Herzberg, “NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” NGO Monitor Monograph Series, Second Edition, December 2010 (referring to Pocar’s remarks made at Hebrew University, “Securing Compliance with IHL” Conference, November 22-24, 2009) at p. 39.

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