Why Goldstone Backtracked

April 06, 2011 12:18 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

The Israeli government and its acolytes in this country are ecstatic about Judge Richard Goldstone's slight revision of his view of the 2008-2009 Gaza war.  Of course, Goldstone did not retract the substance of his finding that the Israeli Defense Forces killed hundreds of innocent people in the war (more than half of the 1400 dead were noncombatants or children). However, his new statement that the killings were not intentional but were merely the result of reckless targeting has the Israeli and U.S. right jumping for joy.  (See the facts about Goldstone's edit here).  

The remaining question about Goldstone's published revision is why he wrote it.

And now we may know. It appears that he may have written it to pacify his most vociferous critics in Israel, South Africa, and in the United States who have deemed him a traitor for telling the truth about Israel's conduct of the war. 

Just three days after publishing his piece, Goldstone has accepted an invitation to visit Israel from one of the most ultra-nationalist, right-wing, anti-Palestinian, pro-settler Israeli politicians. 

This is from the New York Times: 

Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist who led a United Nations report accusing Israel of possible war crimes in Gaza and recently recanted some of its harshest conclusions, has agreed to visit Israel in July, Israel's interior minister, Eli Yishai, said Tuesday. 

Mr. Goldstone, who is Jewish and has longstanding ties to Israel, had been shunned here since his report was issued in September 2009 saying that Israel had deliberately singled out civilians and civilian infrastructure in its three-week invasion of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

But since the weekend, when The Washington Post published an essay he wrote saying that he would have written a different report if he had known then what he knew now, many here are praising Mr. Goldstone's courage and wondering how to use his comments to Israel's advantage.

Mr. Yishai said on Army Radio that after sending Mr. Goldstone a letter hailing him, he called him Monday night, thanked him and invited him to come to see Israel's southern communities, which live under threat of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.

Mr. Yishai said on Army Radio that after sending Mr. Goldstone a letter hailing him, he called him Monday night, thanked him and invited him to come to see Israel's southern communities, which live under threat of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.

"I will be happy to come," Mr. Yishai quoted Mr. Goldstone as saying. "I always have love for the state of Israel."

Mr. Goldstone said in a short statement released on Tuesday night that Mr. Yishai had "informed me that he and the government of Israel were appreciative of the article I wrote." He said Mr. Yishai had invited him to Israel "to see conditions there with my own eyes. I said I would like to do so."

"I ended the conversation by expressing my love for Israel," Mr. Goldstone said. 

According to Yediot Achronoth, right-winger Yishai is now in trouble with the prime minister and the foreign minister. Apparently, Yishai was free-lancing.  Top government officials want to exploit Goldstone in their own way. They did not welcome upstart Yishai getting the jump on them.

The question Goldstone needs to answer is this: didn't he know how the Israeli right (and the "pro-Israel" establishment here and in South Africa) would exploit the revision of his original finding. For them, when Goldstone says that the dead civilians were not killed intentionally but merely as the result of reckless fire, he is offering total absolution. He had to know that is how he would be used.

After all, no one knows better than Goldstone the lengths that defenders of the occupation will go to preserve the deadly status quo. What was he thinking?

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