The Netanyahu government’s eagerness to bury the Goldstone report is understandable, but the report will live on. Even after Goldstone’s article, the report still represents a serious indictment of the way Israel and Hamas chose to fight the war in Gaza.
1) Israel cannot be trusted to conduct impartial investigations into any alleged misconduct.
2) Israel deliberately targeted civilians.
3) The vast majority of the fatalities were non-combatants.
Recanting a central accusation against Israel, Goldstone cites evidence from investigations that “indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”
He also appears to reject the widely reported claim that most Palestinian fatalities were civilians. Israel has all along contended that a majority of the fatalities were combatants, and there was plenty of circumstantial evidence to validate this claim. But the Goldstone Report gave credence to claims by various pro-Palestinian human rights groups, including the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and B’Tselem, that the overwhelming majority of the fatalities were civilians. As CAMERA previously reported, Hamas’s Interior Minister, Fathi Hamad, exploded this myth when he provided an estimate of Hamas fatalities that matched those provided by Israel. Goldstone confirmed this, stating, “The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas.”
Rather than address these admissions in a thoughtful manner, Roth resorts to attacking Israel. In his twisted view, Israeli government efforts to correct what it views as a defamatory report is nothing more than “theatrics.” Roth charges,
The Netanyahu government is doing everything it can to interpret a recent Washington Post op-ed article by Justice Richard Goldstone as vindication of Israel’s conduct in the 2008-09 Gaza conflict. It is nothing of the sort.
To grasp Roth’s refusal to back down even in the face of Goldstone’s own retraction, it is important to understand that Human Rights Watch has conducted a longstanding campaign to portray Israel as an outlaw and constrain it from vigorously defending itself. The group played a key role advocating for the validity of the Report’s findings and was particularly vociferous in threatening legal action against Israel if the Jewish state did not abide by it.
In the days leading up to its consideration by the UN General Assembly in November 2009, HRW released several reports urging endorsement. It lobbied the Obama Administration and Congress to endorse the report as well and reacted bitterly when this effort failed, implying this was due to Israel’s influence over Congress. After Congress passed by a vote of 344 to 36 an amendment (HR 867) condemning the report as biased and recommending no further consideration of it, Fred Abrahams, a senior HRW staffer, sarcastically commented that “the 344 supporters have apparently not read the report.”
Human Rights Watch published at least fifteen separate reports and advocacy pieces promoting the Goldstone Report and its findings. One piece titled “Endorse Goldstone Report on Gaza,” published two days before the public release of the Goldstone Report states,
The Obama administration should fully endorse the report of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict led by Justice Richard Goldstone and demand justice for the victims of serious laws-of-war violations in the conflict…
Dismissal of all or parts of the Goldstone report would contradict President Barack Obama’s stated commitment to human rights in the Middle East and reveal an ill-timed double-standard in Washington’s approach to international justice.
Failure to demand justice for attacks on civilians in Gaza and southern Israel will reveal hypocrisy in US policy … The Obama administration cannot demand accountability for serious violations in places like Sudan and Congo but let allies like Israel go free.
Whitson’s sentiments are shared by Joe Stork, HRW’s Senior Middle East Analyst, who wrote on Nov. 9, 2009, that “The US claim that Israel can be relied upon to investigate itself ignores the well-documented pattern of impunity for past violations of international humanitarian law…”
Roth’s op-ed returns to this theme, stating “Israel’s reluctance to confront that reality finds a parallel in its refusal to date to conduct credible investigations into the serious violations of the laws of war that it committed in Gaza.” Roth and his organization once vouched for the sacrosanctity of Goldstone’s judgement when he was condemning Israel. But now that Goldstone has revised his view, Roth finds Goldstone’s judgement lacking:
As for Israel, a recent UN report mentioned in Goldstone’s article found that the Israeli military has examined the conduct of individual soldiers in about 400 cases of alleged operational misconduct in Gaza. But the report raised serious questions about the thoroughness of these investigations.
That said, the Committee finds that Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza reported by the FFM and others. Given the scale of this undertaking, it is unsurprising that in 2011, much remains to be accomplished.
Human Rights Watch has climbed so far up the tree of condemning Israel that it seems unwilling to climb down. Instead of reconsidering the accusations against Israel in the same spirit Goldstone has, Kenneth Roth and his organization have dug in their heels and used the controversy as an opportunity to resume their assault on Israel’s legitimacy and right to defend itself.