By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Globe seeks false balance on Goldstone mea culpa

Richard Goldstone

I’m disappointed that editors at the Boston Globe decided they needed to balance Jeff Jacoby’s column on Richard Goldstone’s remarkable mea culpa regarding Israel’s conduct in the Gaza war with a piece arguing, in essence, that Goldstone didn’t really mean it.

Goldstone, a South African judge and diplomat, headed a U.N. investigation into the Gaza war several years ago, and concluded that Israel had committed war crimes against the civilian population. The so-called Goldstone Report has been a cudgel wielded by Israel’s enemies ever since.

So it was (or, rather, should have been) big news when the Washington Post published an op-ed by Goldstone last Friday in which he says that he and his fellow investigators were way too hard on Israel and not nearly hard enough on Hamas. And he credits Israel for investigating the report’s findings while criticizing Hamas for doing nothing. Goldstone writes:

Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hundreds more rockets and mortar rounds have been directed at civilian targets in southern Israel. That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality. The U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.

Other than a brief Associated Press story that ran on Monday, today is the first time the Globe has addressed Goldstone’s turnaround. Jacoby characterizes the original Goldstone Report — hyperbolically, though not without cause — as a “blood libel,” and writes, “The Goldstone report did incalculable damage to Israel’s good name. Breathlessly hyped in the media, it accelerated the already frenzied international campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.”

The importance of Goldstone’s turnaround can’t be exaggerated. Yet running along with Jacoby’s column today is a piece by Nimer Sultany, described as “a civil rights lawyer in Israel and a doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School,” accusing Goldstone of giving in to pressure from fellow Jews and of making another Israeli incursion into Gaza more likely.

“The lingering question,” Sultany writes, “is whether Goldstone can look hundreds of Palestinian civilian victims in the eye and say he stood up for them in the face of severe Israeli and American criticism.”

Goldstone’s turnaround, of course, is not above questioning. As Sultany suggests, there have been reports that Goldstone had been ostracized by the South African Jewish community — although be sure to check out the correction at the bottom of this New York Times story. (The Times also reportedly rejected Goldstone’s op-ed before he shopped it to the Post, though Ben Smith of Politico says otherwise.)

Nevertheless, what Goldstone is saying now hasn’t received nearly enough attention from the media in general or from the Globe specifically. By running Sultany’s rebuttal on the same page as Jacoby’s column, the Globe opens itself up to criticism by those who have long believed the Globe is guilty of anti-Israeli bias.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Mike Benedict

    I would argue the opposite conclusion: that by running the opposing views side by side, the Globe is not simply acting like it’s guilty of an about-face of its own, which given the cloud of facts seems an appropriate stance to take. It’s just not a cut and dry issue, and never will be.

    I’m not arguing Israel should or should not be off the hook here, only that when it comes to the Middle East, the feud is so old and deep, anyone could legitimately cry victim.

  2. Bob Gardner

    How did the Globe cover the Goldstone Report when it first came out? Did they take it for gospel or did they try to balance it with opposing views?

  3. Christian Avard

    I read Goldstone’s piece and from what I gather, Goldstone only retracted one part of the report. He said Israel didn’t intentionally attack civilians. The rest of the Goldstone Report remains intact IMO. Others agree.

    Goldstone is just one of four commissioners who prepared this report. The other three do not agree with Goldstone’s opinion. On top of that, let’s remember that Israel REFUSED to comply with the investigation. That’s a known fact and Goldstone acknowledged that in his op-ed. I’d also recommend people read up on Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine. It was a major part of the Goldstone Report and I see no evidence of Goldstone retracting that.

    For good rebuttals against those who claim it was a total retraction read this, this, and this Democracy Now segment which provides an adequate context on what Goldstone really said and what the report really means.

  4. Christian Avard

    Let’s also not forget Amnesty International’s account of Operation Cast Lead. They – like the U.N. Human Rights Council – do not believe there is a valid argument for overturning the Goldstone Report, nor are they supporting Goldstone’s modest retraction.

    I think we need to get over those who complain about the Boston Globe (and other publications for that matter) for having a so-called anti-Israel bias. Reporting on Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians doesn’t make any publication, me, or anyone else anti-Israel or biased against Israel. IMO it’s inaccurate and unfair most of the time. Don’t get me wrong. There are people who are biased out there. I acknowledge that. But I don’t think the term “anti-Israel bias” is an accurate framing to be using toward those who report (or opine) in the media when Israel violates international law.

    Many people who play the “anti-Israel” or “biased against Israel” card use it as a means to stifle a very important and very valid conversation. Hopefully the Globe has some thick skin and will not let overzealous individuals frame their own coverage on this issue.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: No one who reads Goldstone’s anguished op-ed could describe it as a “modest” retraction. He now realizes he blew it in large ways and small, and allowed the enemies of Israel to use his good name in order to deny the very legitimacy of the state.

  5. Nancy Mades

    I think the “very important and very valid conversation” can begin as soon as the “Palestinians” stop intentionally bombing school buses in Israel like they did a few hours ago or bus stations like they did last week or maybe when they stop sneaking into the houses of Israeli families in the middle of the night and stabbing infants to death in their cribs.

  6. Diane Patry

    There’s so much extreme bad blood in the region. I appreciate Mike Benedict’s post. From what I’ve obseved, any criticism of Israel in this country raises hysteria. He was “allowing the enemies of Israel to use his good name in order to deny the very legitimacy of the state”? Not a little emotional pressure, huh? I strongly feel that for the media to make a big story about the retraction (of parts of the original report) would serve no useful purpose UNLESS it provides background of the massive emotional pressure to retract, and the whole situation/other reports of the Gaza episode.

  7. Stephen Stein

    JTA posts a concise summary of l’affaire Goldstone. It’s up to the reader whether this violates Einstein’s dictum of making things as simple as possible, but not simpler.

  8. Bob Gardner

    Dan, I can’t figure out how you think the Globe should have covered this. You describe Jacoby’s piece as “hyperbolic” but say that it should have run without a rebuttal.
    Is that really your standard for covering controversial topics? Run a “hyperbolic” column by an opinion columnist with definite views on one side of the subject, but nothing from anyone on the other side?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: Interesting insight into how you pick apart someone else’s words. I did not refer to his column as “hyperbolic.” I referred to one characterization in that column as “hyperbolic,” but then added it was “not without cause.” Actually, my standard for covering topics is to do a news story. But since the Globe in its wisdom chose to run only one short AP story, I thought Jacoby’s column, which accurately described Goldstone’s turnaround, could run as-is without yet another tiresome “Israel sucks” rebuttal.

  9. Stephen Stein

    Abraham Bell in Foreign Policy provides a lot of background in “The Debate That Changed Goldstone’s Mind?

    Berkowitz and I focused on evidentiary problems, such as the report’s refusal to credit any exculpatory Israeli evidence, even photographs. We highlighted the discrepancies between the legal standards applied by the Goldstone Report and those required by international law, such as the report’s insinuation that any collateral damage to civilians constitutes a war crime. And we noted the disturbing tone of the report, which employed inflammatory language against Israel, while treating Hamas so tenderly that it never once, in the course of its 575 pages, acknowledged that Hamas is a terrorist organization under international law, that it had carried out suicide bombings, or that it explicitly seeks the destruction of the state of Israel.

  10. Bob Gardner

    Here’s how the Random House Webster’s College Dictionery defines “hyperbolic” 1. of, having the nature of or using hyperbole.
    An op-ed piece that uses hyperbole would be a hyperbolic op-ed piece. If in your wisdom you meant something different, I confess missed the distinction, but not without cause.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: Your second sentence does not follow from your first. One hyperbolic phrase does not a hyperbolic essay make. And you keep leaving out that I said Jacoby’s use of hyperbole was not without cause.

  11. Bob Gardner

    @Dan You wrote “One hyperbolic phrase does not a hyperbolic essay make.”

    The hyperbolic phrase is used three times in a 700 word column. The first time right at the beginning in a short one-sentence paragraph so that everyone knows what Jacoby’s point is.
    The second time he places his hyperbolic phrase right at the beginning of the paragraph for emphasis.
    The third time he uses the phrase its in the concluding paragraph. That’s his conclusion-his point. It couldn’t be any clearer. Jeff Jacoby believes, and wants to convince his readers, that the Goldstone report was blood libel.
    If someone were to stop Mr Jacoby on the street and say that they had read his column but didn’t understand what he was driving at, he could reply with complete justification,
    ” My point is that the Goldstone report is a blood libel. How much clearer can I be?”
    If you write that the phrase “blood libel” is hyperbolic, then a column which is built around that phrase is hyperbolic also.
    Oh right I keep forgetting, it’s hyperbolic but “not without cause”. Okay, I’ll bite, what’s the cause that Jacoby can’t be without? Why are you in such a panic about your own charactarization?

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