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Who Is Richard Goldstone?

Richard Goldstone (right) walks with Hamas deputy Ahmed Bahr (left) and members of his delegation as they visit the Palestinian parliament building that was destroyed during Israel's December-January offensive in Gaza City.
The UN Human Rights Council has endorsed Judge Richard Goldstone's controversial report accusing both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during the 2008-09 conflict in the Gaza Strip. The council has asked the UN Security Council to refer the report's conclusions to the International Criminal Court if the two sides fail to conduct their own investigations.

Goldstone's report has been dismissed as hopelessly one-sided not only by the Israelis but by many neutral observers, with both the European Union and United States dissenting both on its substance and its suggestion that alleged Israeli war crimes should be judged not by Israeli courts but by the International Criminal Court.

Even many Jews outside Israel are asking how Goldstone, himself a Jew, could lend himself to such an obviously biased mission mandated by a Human Rights Council that is itself full of human rights violators as well as habitual Israel-haters. Both Martti Ahtisaari and Mary Robinson turned down the mission for that reason, after all.

Goldstone's behavior will not surprise those who have followed his career. As a young advocate in South Africa he drew criticism for the way he privately entertained the attorneys who might bring him cases: this was seen as touting for custom. Similarly, his decision to accept nomination as a judge from the apartheid regime drew criticism from many liberal lawyers who refused to accept such nomination because it meant enforcing apartheid laws.

ANC's Favorite Judge

Then, as the political situation changed, so did Goldstone. Entrusted by President F. W. de Klerk with a commission to investigate the causes of violence, Goldstone publicized much damning evidence against the apartheid regime but refused to investigate any form of violence organized by the African National Congress (ANC). This naturally made him the ANC's favorite judge.

Moreover, Goldstone, issued a dramatic press statement suggesting that the military were involved in illegal partisan behavior. De Klerk had to dismiss 23 senior military figures, though the evidence for their guilt promised by Goldstone was never actually forthcoming. The officers sued De Klerk, who had to back down and apologize.

De Klerk was furious at Goldstone's sensational use of untested evidence and, knowing that Goldstone was ambitious to succeed Boutros-Boutros Ghali as UN secretary-general, referred to him as "Richard-Richard Goldstone."

Then, to the ANC's delight, just weeks before the 1994 election Goldstone made dramatic allegations of illegal and partisan behavior against three police generals, effectively ending their careers. Yet Goldstone had made no attempt to put these allegations to the men concerned, nor allowed them to defend themselves or test the accusations through cross-examination.

Goldstone justified publicizing these untested allegations by saying it was important to give them publicity before the election. The ANC couldn't have agreed more strongly: when they won, Goldstone was given a seat on the Constitutional Court.

Heedless of the fact that the doctrine of collective guilt has been the basis of anti-Semitic campaigns down the ages, Goldstone publicly urged all whites to apologize for their collective guilt and advised younger South Africans that they must not expect top jobs because of "the sins of the fathers."

The effect of these high profile actions was to give Goldstone international fame as an icon of political correctness. Hence his appointment as prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Cutting Corners In The Hague

At the ICTY, Goldstone was a man in a hurry. "They told me at the UN in New York: if we did not have an indictment out by November 1994 we wouldn't get money that year for 1995," Goldstone admitted. "There was only one person against whom we had evidence.... He wasn't an appropriate first person to indict.... But if we didn't do it we would not have got the budget."

Indeed, it was so inappropriate that the judges in The Hague passed a motion severely censuring Goldstone. After only a year in office, Goldstone offered his job to the Canadian jurist, Louise Arbour.

Meanwhile, Goldstone hurried to secure prosecutions. Seizing upon the illegal detention and kidnapping of General Djordje Djukic and Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic by Muslims in Sarajevo. Goldstone immediately suggested that there were grounds for a prosecution and the men were flown to The Hague, thus breaking the rules of procedure of the ICTY, for he failed even to ask the High Court in Belgrade, which had already instituted proceedings against the two men, for a deferral of competence to the ICTY.

Realizing that he had acted illegally, Goldstone quickly changed the status of his prisoners from accused to witnesses. He then broke the rules again by indicting Djukic and thereafter suggested that the two men testify against their accomplices or face the alternative of being handed back to the Muslim authorities, who would doubtless torture them. This was indeed Krsmanovic's fate but Djukic was dying of cancer and Goldstone ultimately withdrew his indictment against him.

The NATO force's spokesman, Andrew Cummings, condemned the arrest of the two men as irresponsible and damaging to the peace process. By the time Goldstone left the ICTY, only one confession had been recorded and one trial had been completed, that of Dusko Tadic, the smallest of small fry, an obscure cafe owner accused of abusing Bosnian refugees.

Throughout his career Goldstone has been criticized for cutting corners out of excessive ambition, but in the eyes of many Jews his Gaza commission has set a new low. That a Jewish judge, barred from entering Israel for accepting a commission deliberately biased against the state, should write a report based largely on interviews with Hamas activists in order to pander to anti-Zionist opinion has meant, for many, that he has simply stepped outside the pale.

R.W. Johnson is a South African journalist and historian and the author, most recently, of "South Africa's Brave New World: The Beloved Country Since The End Of Apartheid." The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL