Yedioth Aronoth Unearths Richard Goldstone’s Past

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aronoth has done some digging into Richard Goldstone’s past as a judge in apartheid-era South Africa and found him in some bad-looking situations as an enforcer of the country’s then-extant immoral laws. Given that an awful lot of people were in morally compromising situations at that point, and that the leadership of the African National Congress has always seemed to regard Goldstone as a credible jurist I’m inclined to give him a pass. But I see that defenders of the rights of black South Africans as Jonathan Chait and Jeffrey Goldberg are inclined to take a darker view of things than am I or Nelson Mandela.

At some point, though, critics of Goldstone’s work on the Gaza War are going to have to face the fact that whether or not they like what he’s said on this subject it’s just not the case that Israel’s been the victim of a frameup by white supremacists. For example, I take it that nobody is going to question the anti-apartheid credentials of Desmond Tutu and I don’t think Chait is going to endorse this or this or much anything else he’s had to say on the subject.

I posit that people who don’t like the Goldstone Report ought to actually think harder about international humanitarian law. The American right has a longstanding complaint on this score that international humanitarian law’s even-handed nature constitutes de facto unfair treatment of “the good guys.” Their point of view is that, in essence, you ought to look at a conflict, identify who the bad guys is (the Taliban rather than the US, Hamas rather than Israel), and focus your ire on the bad guy instead of nitpicking at the good guy’s conduct. Hawkish Arabs also join in this critique, though of course in their view it’s Israel who’s in the “bad guy” role. Personally, I don’t find this critique persuasive and I believe in international humanitarian law—just like Human Rights Watch does and Desmond Tutu does and Richard Goldstone does, which is why these organizations find themselves in the position of criticizing both Israeli and Palestinian conduct.

If you ask me, it would be much more plausible if people with liberal views on domestic policy and conservative ones on foreign policy would just join in the overall conservative critique. Instead, a lot of these people have tried to work out a not-so-plausible alternative view in which international humanitarian law is a good thing, but Israel just so happens to continually be victimized by sundry biased and/or unsavory figures. The simple fact of the matter is that adhering to international humanitarian law makes it very difficult to wage war, which I think is a good thing but many people disagree with that. This is an important debate, but it actually has nothing to do with anti-Israel bias or Goldstone’s alleged status as an amoral comformist.