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The Real Tragedy of the Goldstone Retraction: It Will Change Nothing

Posted on April 5 2011 8:00 am
Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of four New Jersey-based newspapers, where he won awards for his coverage of the Middle East and Russia. He has appeared on Shalom TV's current affairs roundtable. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @SethAMandel
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The big news over the weekend was that Judge Richard Goldstone, the author of the infamous report accusing Israel of deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, has publicly retracted his lie. But the important part of his mea culpa is not that the story he concocted about Israel’s supposed policy of targeting civilians was false—of course it was false. But Goldstone actually admitted something else: that he never intended to prove anything. He only wanted to fling accusations and force Israel to defend herself (emphasis mine):

“Some have charged that the process we followed did not live up to judicial standards. To be clear: Our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding. We did not investigate criminal conduct on the part of any individual in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. We made our recommendations based on the record before us, which unfortunately did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government. Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the incidents referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing.”

It was not an investigation. It was a lynching. This was apparently his way of weaseling out of the fact that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. That is for a judicial proceeding, he says, which is not what he was leading. And you just have to love that last part of the quote above. Israel took his advice and investigated the crimes he said happened but didn’t. As if Israel doesn’t already investigate such incidents on its own. As if Judge Goldstone’s libel was the only way to spur Israeli self-examination. You get the impression that Goldstone still doesn’t grasp the magnitude of his hoax.

But the worst thing about this whole affair is that Goldstone’s retraction will change absolutely nothing. Here is what Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar had to say:

“Upon seeing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s radiant face as he celebrated Judge Richard Goldstone’s confession that his UN report on Operation Cast Lead dealt too harshly with Israel, and upon hearing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s attack on the Jewish judge–one might have thought that those two politicians were the ones who sent the Israel Air Force to bomb the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-2009. What about a good word for Ehud Olmert? A small bouquet of flowers for Tzipi Livni? After all, they’re the ones who showed the whole world that Israel can attack Palestinian residential areas and come out looking like the victim.

Operation Cast Lead 1, manufactured by Kadima, constitutes an Israeli and international license for Cast Lead 2. The Cast Lead saga demonstrates the similarity between the two largest political parties with respect to the use of force against Hamas. Even the defense minister was not dislodged in the last election.”

Eldar is suggesting that Israel targeted civilians in Gaza and will continue to do so, even though Goldstone admitted this wasn’t true. And Eldar is saying this in an article about Goldstone’s retraction. We cannot blame only stupidity for such nonsense; it stems from a particularly creepy form of mania.

And that is where the most outrageous part of this rears its ugly head. This will change nothing. Israel’s supporters know the IDF is the world’s most moral army. And Israel’s detractors will continue to spread—and believe—any false demon they can summon. Remember all those minds that were changed when it turned out that Reuters had run doctored and staged photos during the Second Lebanon War in order to paint Israel as the aggressive, civilian targeting monster they believe she is? Me neither.

Part of that has to do with the fact that you cannot really undo the damage from such propaganda. The first draft of history—especially when it’s the version your readers want to believe—is almost impossible to replace. To this day we are still living with the consequences of the false account of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam pushed by the mainstream media at the time and the harmful policies that were developed in the wake of it, despite the fact that, like Goldstone, some of those who wrote such stories later admitted their conscious deception.

But it’s also in part because anyone who wants so badly to believe the Goldstone fraud will continue to believe it, like influential columnists at Israel’s premier leftist newspaper. And if Goldstone’s retraction won’t change the minds at Haaretz, how can anyone expect it to change minds at, say, the Guardian or the New York Times?

It was a terrible thing that Goldstone did. And it will be just as terrible when, during the next battle, another puzzlingly venerated institution does it again. And it will be equally terrible when no one cares.

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