The Blog

The Goods on Goldstone

1:30 PM, Oct 26, 2009 • By RACHEL ABRAMS
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A former State Department official who is a completely reliable source on the subject tells me that when you were in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s seeking out human rights activists, Helen Suzman was the person you went to see; the name Richard Goldstone was never uttered. So it's not exactly shocking to discover there's more to the story of the South African justice who advertises himself as a lifelong opponent of apartheid than he perhaps would like the world to know.

Israelis of South African origin-people who knew him when-have begun to comment upon him, and the portrait that emerges isn't very pretty.

"The man is over-ambitious and wants to take over from Ban Ki-Moon as Secretary-General of the United Nations," says Bernhard Lazarus of Tel Aviv, a member of the Board of Governors of Tel Aviv University and a former head of the Jewish community in Durban, Natal, who made aliya [emigrated to Israel] in January this year. "If Mary Robinson - no friend of Israel - had reservations of taking the position, why did he? Sheer arrogance."

Mark Reichenberg, another recent immigrant from South Africa, concurs absolutely on the subject of Mr. Goldstone's arrogance, but that is the least of it. Mr. Reichenberg excoriates the justice not only for the Hamasic martyrology of his eponymous report, but also, and more severely, for what might be called a little Goldstonian hanky-panky with the truth about his liberal credentials: "Where was Goldstone," he asks,

"when racism was at its horrific peak in South Africa, when detention without trial was the order of the day, when families were routinely separated, enforced by racial legislation, and when death of black dissenters in police custody was commonplace? Did he then stand up in world forums and cry out against the 'crimes against humanity' perpetrated by the state in his own country? No, instead, he in 1980 accepted an appointment as judge during the apartheid era when other advocates more visibly liberal were ignored or declined the position."

That's interesting. And in case the victimologists of Hamas murderers see fit to rise to Mr. Goldstone's defense by pointing out that these are after all Israelis leveling the charge that he's never been quite the champion of liberty and the down-trodden he has made himself out to be to a too-credulous world, there's another critic out there with worse to say, and he is not an Israeli. In a searing commentary for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the South African historian and journalist-and former human rights activist-R.W. Johnson takes his compatriot to the cleaners.

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. . . . 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.

There's plenty more to read there, but I think I can sum it up in brief: The ANC's favorite judge has now become Hamas's favorite judge, as well. How not at all surprising.