The Trials of Richard Goldstone

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The threat of “lawfare”—political warfare using international legal frameworks and accusations of war crimes—is particularly acute for Israel. Since the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, Israel has been a central
lawfare target.

For many, the name Richard Goldstone is closely associated with lawfare. Goldstone’s report on the three-week Gaza war that began at the end of 2008 (Operation Cast Lead), compiled and published by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), falsely accused Israelis of intentionally killing civilians and raised the specter of ICC prosecutions. IDF soldiers sent into Gaza to end rocket and missile attacks were demonized as war criminals by a UN commission headed by a Jewish judge.

Ten years later, Goldstone’s name remains synonymous with similar UN reports, published after every round of Hamas attacks and Israeli responses (the most recent, from February 2019, dealt with the violent border confrontations). The ICC prosecutor appears to be preparing official investigations based on these lawfare campaigns.

For these reasons, the issues surrounding Goldstone’s role remain important. It is still unclear how he allowed himself to become the symbol of lawfare, but his personal history could provide answers to key questions. What role did his upbringing under the South African apartheid regime, legal training, and Jewish identity play in shaping his outlook and actions? What lessons, if any, have been learned?

This is the backdrop to the detailed biography of Goldstone written by Daniel Terris. Despite the author’s overly sympathetic treatment, which often uncritically repeats his subject’s justifications, his book provides significant insights.

For 200 pages, Terris covers the first seventy years of Goldstone’s life, presenting him as an icon bravely battling apartheid through the South African legal system and taking on other injustices through international tribunals. It is in the final third of the book—covering only three years—that Terris traces the unraveling of Goldstone’s career and reputation through the UN’s Gaza investigation.

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