Goldstone Rubs Off Tarnish, and Israel Basks

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Israeli media termed it a “retraction,” the opinion column in which Richard Goldstone backed away from the most severe charges of the infamous Goldstone Report, the U.N. inquiry that accused both Israel and Hamas of targeting civilians — a war crime — in the three weeks of fighting that bridged 2008 and 2009.  It’s hard to say quite what it was, except a clear win for what the Jewish State calls hasbara, a Hebrew word that translates sometimes as “propaganda,” but more often as “public diplomacy.” The morning papers brimmed with celebration, reflection and no small satisfaction, but also warnings in the wake of what even the liberal daily Haaretz termed a public relations coup.

The text messages from the Office of the Prime Minister started coming as soon as the sun set Saturday, bringing an end to the Jewish day of rest.

“Everything that we said has been proven true,” began the statement attributed to Benjamin Netanyahu, who took office after the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead, as Israel called the Gaza incursion. “Israel did not intentionally harm civilians, its institutions and investigative bodies are worthy, while the Hamas intentionally fired upon innocent civilians and did not examine anything. The fact that Goldstone backtracked must lead to the shelving of this report once and for all.”

It’s hard to overstate the height of the dudgeon Israel experienced since Goldstone’s report appeared two and a half years ago.  Despite the barrage of Hamas rockets into Israeli communities that preceded it, the country knew it would get hammered for going into Gaza.  Israel’s defense doctrine is, simply put, deterrence: Hit them hard. And the imagery of airstrikes in the densely populated enclave was as overwhelming as the body count: 1,400 dead on the Palestinian side, 13 on the Israeli.  To the global outrage, Goldstone brought a specific gravitas. He was a judge who had undermined apartheid in South Africa and served as chief prosecutor in the UN tribunals for war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.  Plus he was a Jew. “You couldn’t even call him an anti-Semite,” as one analyst lamented.

On Sunday, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN was on Army Radio describing how Goldstone was pressured socially to amend and repent.  His mea culpa in the Washington Post was “a great achievement for Israel,” wrote Ben-Dror Yemeni, a leading conservative columnist, in the daily Ma’ariv. He recalled how when a soldier from the vaunted Givati brigade was charged with killing a Palestinian woman who approached waving a white flag, his friends showed up in court in tee-shirts reading “We are Victims of Goldstone.”   And perhaps they were. The Israeli military says it polices itself, but just how vigorously is a question evident to anyone paying the slightest attention to the court proceedings in the case brought by the parents of Rachel Corrie, the American activist killed by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza.  In Yedioth Ahronoth Alex Fishman was among those who perceived a particular vigor after Cast Lead: “The army investigated its own troops and prosecuted people who probably would not have been reached had it not been for the Goldstone report.”

The next debate is whether this matters except to Israel. Fishman’s take on that might betray part of the core problem here, making the distinction he does: “No one expects Goldstone’s contrition to change the Muslim world’s position on the IDF and Israel. But it can and should influence the public opinion makers in civilized countries that have become increasingly under the influence of the anti-Israel poison that has been trickling in from the human rights groups, the Greens, radical left wing groups and other fringe groups.”

Consider: Last month, a BBC global poll found only Iran, North Korea and Pakistan ranked lower than Israel for having a “mainly negative” influence.  That put the Jewish state up one notch from the previous year’s survey of 27 nations, but it doesn’t appear as if a great many minds are waiting to be made up.

“The world doesn’t care who precisely is right and who is wrong,” says Eitan Haber, also in Yedioth. ” The world has decided to put an end to the Israeli control over the [Palestinian] territories, that is what it wants and that is the way things ought to be, it believes. A Goldstone here and a Goldstone there don’t really make any difference.”