6:27 PM CDT, April 4, 2011
In 2009, a United Nations panel led by Richard Goldstone issued a 575-page bombshell of a report. It accused Israel of committing war crimes against the Palestinians in a three-week Gaza invasion. The Goldstone report was a diplomatic bonanza for Israel's enemies around the world. The report was so damning that some Israeli officials stopped traveling abroad for fear they'd be arrested for war crimes.
On Friday, Goldstone wrote an op-ed about his report in The Washington Post that can be summarized in two words: Never mind.
"If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone report would have been a different document," he wrote. Goldstone said he no longer believed one of the report's most incendiary charges: that Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians during its invasion of Gaza.
So where does a nation go to get its reputation back?
Israeli leaders have complained for years that the UN is biased against the Jewish state, that it judges almost every action of Israel through a Palestinian prism.
And now … evidence. Not just a disastrously wrong report. But evidence that the entire enterprise was skewed against Israel from the start.
Skewed is not our word. It's Goldstone's. He writes that he "insisted on changing the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council, which was skewed against Israel."
He writes that he "had hoped that our inquiry into all aspects of the Gaza conflict would begin a new era of evenhandedness at the UN Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted."
That should surprise no one. Israel has hardly been blameless in the decades of Middle East strife, but the UN human rights panel has overlooked slaughter and genocide in places around the world and focused almost exclusively, year after year, on Israel's alleged misdeeds. The human rights panel once elevated Libya to leadership and coddled the worst human rights abusers around the globe, including Iran and Sudan.
Goldstone was supposed to be the exception: He wasn't believed to be reflexively anti-Israel.
How did he get it so wrong? Goldstone regrets that his panel didn't have "Israeli evidence that has emerged" since the report's publication "explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes."
So absent facts, the Goldstone panel reached the conclusion that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians, a sensational accusation. We hope Goldstone continues to elaborate on whatever pressures or politics led to the conclusion.
So what do we know?
Israel didn't target civilians. Hamas did. It sent hundreds of rockets into Israeli towns.
The report called on Israel and Hamas to investigate their soldiers' actions. Israel did. Hamas didn't. A Hamas official told The New York Times that there was nothing to investigate because firing rockets to kill civilians in Israel is "a right of self-defense…"
The UN should formally retract the Goldstone report. But it can't stop there. The UN needs to acknowledge that it has not been an honest broker in the Middle East. It needs to acknowledge that its human rights panel continues to be an embarrassment that greatly undermines the standing of the world body.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the UN may vote this fall to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The UN would declare the boundaries —and that would put Israel in the position of occupying land belonging to a sovereign state and member of the UN.
The UN does not have the moral authority for such a declaration. It has not been an honest broker. Not even close.
Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune