Tuesday, 5 April 2011

(Gold)Stone Cold Sober

It is a rare thing indeed for the author of a UN report critical of Israel to publicly disavow most of the central findings of his investigation. The last time any senior participant of a UN body did something of this import, it was the reversal of the General Assembly’s infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution, which was passed in 1975 and reversed twenty years ago in 1991. I don’t hold out much hope for a retraction from the UN, but there may be something that can be done at the UNHRC, which I will suggest below.

South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author and chief investigator of the UNHRC report on the 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead  known by his name – a report highly critical of Israel and the IDF- shocked many observers this past weekend by writing a remarkable op/ed piece in the Washington Post. Essentially, as Goldstone wrote, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” I won’t go into the details of his article. Suffice it to say that it is a clear expression of regret at his mistakes, as well as a clear assignation of responsibility where it justly belongs.

My Catholic friends would recognize this as a Mea Culpa, an act of contrition and confession. My Muslim friends will see a reflection of the concept of Istighfar. My Jewish friends, if they can see beyond the enormity of the egregious harm done by the Goldstone Report, may see a fellow Jew walking the path we are told leads to atonement.

First, Goldstone has embarked upon a number of the elements described by the medieval scholars Yonah of Gerona and Maimonides. He has publicly expressed regret for his actions. He has clearly indicated Hamas’s responsibility. He certainly reflected concern for the current and future consequences of the report. It is clear from his words that he understands the magnitude of what he has done, and, if the reports of conversations with former UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman and Minister Eli Yishai are correct, he is prepared to actively work to undo some of the damage he was responsible for.

Second, he has made powerful enemies by publishing his piece. As disgusted as many supporters of Israel were with his report, and though his participation - at his daughter’s synagogue in Toronto, at his Grandson’s bar mitzvah in South Africa  - within the Jewish community has been strained, there have been no fatwas, no assassination attempts, no enraged Jewish crowds butchering foreign aid workers. Goldstone has willingly put a target on his own back now, in his attempt to make amends for the damage he has done.

If the reports of his plans are accurate, it is my belief that Jewish tradition obligates me to find a way to forgive this man for vilifying a country and a military that I love and respect, as willful as his seeming determination was. Many of my friends will find this difficult or impossible to do. Many Israelis, who have much more right and responsibility to gauge  whether to forgive him than I do,  may find this even more challenging. I can only speak of my own sense of personal responsibility.

Penitents have often been known for their zeal and passion. Umberto Eco wrote on this theme in The Name of the Rose. The reach of the Penitenziagite was a very real and somewhat frightening aspect of life in mediaeval Italy. Eli Yishai may have made the single most useful decision of his political life by inviting Goldstone to come to Israel. Yishai, Gillerman, and others who are in contact with Goldstone have an opportunity to leverage Goldstone’s change of heart to undo some of the damage he caused, and further, to demonstrate yet again the high standards of morality to which the IDF commits itself.

Perhaps the best way to leverage Judge Goldstone’s new approach is to put him in touch with UN Watch and its articulate, fearless director, Hillel Neuer. UN Watch has for years acted as the conscience of the Human Rights Council at the UN. It would indeed be a worthwhile endeavor for UN Watch to use one of its opportunities to address the council – and the world – by having Goldstone make clear what he now knows to have happened in Gaza. I hope that such an arrangement can be made.

Richard Goldstone is, like most of us, a complex, flawed, and proud individual. His capacity for introspection and his desire to right the wrongs he has done don’t mitigate his responsibility for his actions, but they do begin his personal process of atonement and reinforce my belief in each individual’s capacity for change.