- Judge Richard Goldstone’s Washington Post op-ed, retracting the substance of the UNHRC “Goldstone Report” on the Gaza conflict, undermines the credibility of the NGOs that provided the false allegations of “deliberate killings” by the IDF. In response, NGOs and NGO officials have issued numerous statements distorting and rewriting Goldstone’s words, in an effort to preserve their credibility.
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) was a major force behind the production of the Goldstone report. Now, HRW director Kenneth Roth has published two op-eds and a letter to the New York Times, in which Goldstone’s favorable comments on the IDF are recast as negative statements.
- While Goldstone acknowledges that “that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of [IDF] policy,” Roth’s spin reiterates the discredited accusation of “widespread and systematic” attacks that “clearly reflected Israeli policy.”
- Goldstone writes that “our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith…. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree.” But, Roth misrepresents this as meaning that “the UN report raised serious doubts about the thoroughness of these investigations.”
- Seeking to preserve HRW’s credibility, Roth falsely claims that “Human Rights Watch… never made” the allegations rejected by Goldstone. However, the evidence clearly shows numerous HRW reports, press releases, and statements from officials, as well as op-eds by Roth relating to the Gaza conflict, that accuse high-ranking Israeli officials of deliberate targeting of civilians.
- B’Tselem Director Jessica Montell’s Washington Post op-ed similarly seeks to erase her organization’s central role in false allegations of Israeli “war crimes” contained in the Goldstone Report. In contrast, B’Tselem was active in lobbying governments to accept the biased conclusions, and a press release states that this NGO “provided assistance to the investigative staff of the Goldstone mission from the beginning to the end of its research.”
- PCHR’s Raji Sourani blamed Goldstone’s retraction on a “psychological war orchestrated by Jewish and Israeli groups.”
- According to Amnesty International, Goldstone’s article was “deliberately misinterpret[ed]” by Israeli officials in a “cynical attempt to avoid accountability for war crimes …..” Thus, Amnesty, which provided false accusations, an outline for the report, and the list of 36 incidents copied by the Goldstone committee, also seeks to deflect attention from its central role.
- In contrast to Goldstone and the evidence, Amnesty International continues to accuse Israel and “members of the Israeli war cabinet which made the policy decisions” of deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza.
- New Israel Fund (NIF) released a statement claiming, “Following ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ the human rights organizations supported by NIF called for the Israeli government to set up an independent commission of inquiry. Had the government agreed, this would have prevented the establishment of the Goldstone Commission.” This assertion is entirely untrue. The resolution adopting the one-sided, anti-Israel “fact-finding mission” on the conflict in Gaza, which was ultimately headed by Goldstone, was made by the UN Human Rights Council on January 12, 2009 – during the fighting. The existence of the mission was in no way dependent on whether Israel carried out investigations or not.
- Eleven Palestinian NGOs published an open letter rejecting Goldstone’s article, alleging that the “many civilian casualties and the extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure during Operation Cast Lead cannot be attributed to human error alone….The failure of domestic investigations necessitates recourse to international justice mechanisms, including the referral by the UN security council to the international criminal court [sic].”
- Eleven Israeli political advocacy NGOs issued a press release, falsely claiming that “Goldstone’s statements support our consistent position” that Israel should launch an “independent investigation.” The unsubstantiated claims from these groups were repeated in the now rejected report. (In a submission to the Goldstone commission, many of these NGOs alleged that Israel “wag[ed] a campaign [that] was planned as a punitive operation” and that there is “grave suspicion regarding the legality of the entire military operation.”)
Richard Goldstone’s reversal in a Washington Post article (“Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes,” April 1, 2011), in which he retracts the most serious charges of the report that bears his name, has severely eroded the credibility of the NGOs that originally supplied the inflammatory allegations. These groups also promoted the UN Human Rights Council Mission and lobbied for the Goldstone Report’s biased and flawed conclusions.
In light of the article, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and Al Haq should revise their reports and publications on the Gaza war. Instead, officials from these groups are spinning both Goldstone’s op-ed and their previous statements to minimize the damage. HRW and B’Tselem, for instance, maintain that Goldstone’s new stance, as articulated in the Washington Post, is entirely consistent with their positions since the conflict. However, this is contradicted by their previous statements and reports, and their extensive lobbying on behalf of the Goldstone Report.
Following Goldstone’s article, HRW Director Kenneth Roth authored nearly identical op-eds in the Jerusalem Post (“Not so Fast,” April 4, 2011) and the Guardian (“Gaza: the stain remains on Israel’s war record,” April 5, 2011), and a letter to the editor in the New York Times (April 3, 2011).
In these, Roth distorts Goldstone’s article, so that it more closely conforms to HRW’s opinion. In every instance where Goldstone wrote favorable comments on Israeli actions, Roth misrepresents the quotes to portray Israel in a negative light:
Goldstone: The investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.
Roth: But Goldstone has not retreated from the report’s many documented allegations of serious laws-of-war violations by IDF forces…This conduct was so widespread and systematic that it clearly reflected Israeli policy.
Goldstone: Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the incidents referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing.
Roth: In fact, Israel’s investigations look good only by comparison with Hamas, which has done nothing to investigate its war crimes…. But the UN report raised serious doubts about the thoroughness of these investigations
Goldstone: the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack.
Roth: Israeli drone operators fired on and killed 29 people from the same family, including five children playing on rooftops, even though drone technology offers the capacity and time to determine whether the targets were combatants.
Roth also claims that “Goldstone backed away from a particularly controversial charge in the report – one that Human Rights Watch, for example, never made.” This dubious assertion is explicitly contradicted by previous statements made by Roth on the subject of the Gaza conflict. In a Forbes article published at the end of the fighting (January 22, 2009), Roth claimed that rationale behind Israel’s attacks on Gaza was the “determination to make Gazans suffer for the presence of Hamas – a prohibited purpose for using military force.”
Similarly, in a December 2009 op-ed in Foreign Policy in Focus, Roth alleged that “there is strong evidence that Israel wanted Gazan civilians to pay the price for Hamas’s abuses, and that the decision to impose that cost was taken not by junior officers in the field but by senior government officials.” In the version of the article that was originally published, Roth falsely accused MK Tzipi Livni (foreign minister during Gaza war, and current Knesset opposition leader) of urging Israeli forces to avoid distinguishing between combatants and civilians. When NGO Monitor and others demonstrated that Roth was blatantly misquoting Livni, HRW issued a retraction but claimed that “other statements from Livni and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert support the argument” (i.e. that, in contrast to Goldstone’s conclusions in his Washington Post article, HRW and Roth repeatedly claimed there was a high-level policy of targeting civilians).
[See also Prof. David Bernstein’s excellent analysis of additional statements by Roth, HRW, and other HRW officials that accuse Israel of targeting civilians.]
For its part, B’Tselem erases its central role in advancing the allegations that precipitated the Goldstone Mission, and in lobbying for the Report’s biased conclusions after its publication.
B’Tselem Director Jessica Montell published an op-ed in the Washington Post (“Beyond Goldstone: A truer discussion about Israel, Hamas and the Gaza conflict”, April 5, 2011), expressing her regret at the “polarization” in Israel about the Gaza war and the absence of “nuanced understanding” about the “complexity of the issues.” According to Montell’s account, “Everyone had to pick sides” – except B’Tselem, which did not join the pro-Goldstone or the anti-Goldstone camp.
In reality, B’Tselem “provided assistance to the investigative staff of the Goldstone mission from the beginning to the end of its research” and repeatedly condemned the Israeli government for not cooperating with Goldstone. B’Tselem also engaged in intensive, and uncritical, lobbying in Israel and internationally on behalf of the Goldstone Report. For instance, B’Tselem wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Clinton, “urging her to support the [Goldstone] Commission” and dismissing concerns of anti-Israel bias in the UN Human Rights Council. Likewise, B’Tselem co-signed a letter to Congress criticizing U.S. House Resolution 867, which condemned Goldstone’s report as “biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.” B’Tselem’s U.S. office circulated this letter and encouraged supporters to lobby Representatives to vote against the resolution.
Moreover, B’Tselem was responsible for harsh accusations of Israeli “war crimes” that were used to justify the Report and then copied in it. During the fighting in January 2009, B’Tselem, along with other Israeli groups, held a press conference under the headline “A Clear and Present Danger.” Israel was falsely accused of “disproportionate harm to civilians,” “targeting civilian objects that do not serve any military purpose,” and the “blatant violation of the laws of warfare [that] raises the suspicion…of the commission of war crimes.”
B’Tselem issued other prejudicial and exaggerated statements about Israeli army conduct and decision making during the war. For instance, on January 1, 2009, Israel targeted the home of senior Hamas commander Nizar Rayan, which also served as a weapons storage site and command center for Hamas, killing Rayan and members of his family. B’Tselem condemned the strike, calling it a “grave breach of international humanitarian law” and incredulously stated that “it is hard to think of a definite military advantage that could have been achieved by bombing the house and killing Rayan” (emphasis added). Given Rayan’s status within Hamas and the weapons destroyed and command operations disrupted by the strike, it is actually quite easy to think of several “definite military advantages” that were achieved by the operation.
Despite Goldstone’s retraction, Amnesty International continues to accuse Israel of a policy of deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza.
In a press release (United Nations Must Reject Israeli Campaign to Avoid Accountability for Gaza War Crimes, April 5, 2011), Amnesty writes that Goldstone’s article is being “deliberately misinterpret[ed]” by Israeli officials in a “cynical attempt to avoid accountability for war crimes and deny both Palestinian and Israeli victims of the 2008-2009 conflict the justice and reparations they deserve.”
According to Amnesty, this is to protect them from “a range of international actors to now bring international justice mechanisms to bear,” for which Amnesty has repeatedly lobbied: “the self-serving calls of Israeli political leaders, some of whom were members of the Israeli war cabinet which made the policy decisions during…the 22-day conflict” (emphasis added).
New Israel Fund (NIF)
New Israel Fund (NIF) released a statement claiming, “Following ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ the human rights organizations supported by NIF called for the Israeli government to set up an independent commission of inquiry. Had the government agreed, this would have prevented the establishment of the Goldstone Commission…A real-time response to NIF and the human rights organizations’ demands by the Israeli government would have prevented political damage to Israel.” This assertion is entirely untrue. The resolution adopting the one-sided, anti-Israel “fact-finding mission” on the conflict in Gaza, which was ultimately headed by Goldstone, was made by the UN Human Rights Council on January 12, 2009 – during the fighting. The existence of the mission was in no way dependent on whether Israel carried out investigations or not.
Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)
In its response to the Washington Post article, PCHR ignores the implications of Goldstone’s reversal and continues to push for the implementation of the Goldstone Report in full. Additionally, PCHR Director Raji Sourani blamed Goldstone’s article on a “psychological war orchestrated by Jewish and Israeli groups.”
In a statement released “in light of the media debate and confusion triggered by” the article (PCHR Highlight Key Issues Relating to Report of UN Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza Conflict [the ‘Goldstone Report] [sic], April 4, 2011), PCHR discusses the “most serious allegations regarding Israel’s conduct of hostilities during the offensive relate to the direct targeting of civilians [and] widespread indiscriminate attacks” and falsely claims that “None of these cases have been effectively addressed, and have not been ‘reconsidered’ by Justice Goldstone.”
PCHR then repeats its previous calls for lawfare against Israel, which were also undermined by Goldstone’s “reconsideration”: “the Israeli investigative system as a whole, including as this relates to civilian supervision, is flawed, either in law, in practice, or both. In light of the domestic systems now proven inability and unwillingness to conduct genuine investigations, it is imperative and appropriate that these allegations be investigated by the International Criminal Court” (emphasis in original).
Eleven Palestinian NGOs (including Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, and Badil) published an open letter to Goldstone in the Guardian (Justice for Gaza conflict victims: a response to Richard Goldstone April 7, 2011). In this letter, the NGOs rely on HRW and Amnesty to conclude that the “many civilian casualties and the extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure during Operation Cast Lead cannot be attributed to human error alone.” They also call for lawfare against Israeli, discounting the Israeli investigations that Goldstone and the McGowan Davis Committee accepted: “The failure of domestic investigations necessitates recourse to international justice mechanisms, including the referral by the UN security council to the international criminal court [sic].”
A group of Israeli NGOs – Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B’Tselem, Gisha, Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Yesh Din, Hamoked, Adalah, Rabbis for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Bimkom, and Breaking the Silence – issued a contradictory press release (Goldstone’s Statements Support Our Consistent Position, April 4, 2011), claiming that “Goldstone’s statements support our consistent position” that Israel should launch an “independent investigation.” However, while Goldstone praised Israel’s investigations, these groups state that “Israel has not yet established an independent and non-military inquiry committee.”
Goldstone’s article also contradicts the NGOs’ earlier allegation, contained in a joint submission to the Goldstone Mission (June 30, 2009), that Israel “wag[ed] a campaign [that] was planned as a punitive operation” and that there is “grave suspicion regarding the legality of the entire military operation.”
Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP)
Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) alleges that Goldstone’s statement is being “used to justify and legitimize future crimes, even before the next war has started” (Israeli NGO to Goldstone: Your statement is already being used to justify and legitimize future crimes, April 5, 2011).
CWP also denies key elements of Goldstone’s op-ed, alleging that Israel “systematically fails to conduct thorough and impartial investigations meeting international standards.”
Finally, CWP falsely claims that “The only notable change in the status quo was the escalation, immediately following the publication of the Goldstone report, of government attacks and the campaign of de-legitimization of human rights organizations and civil society. The Israeli government is currently promoting legislation, which aims at curbing our freedom of expression, freedom of association and basic social and political liberties.”