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The inevitable attack on the goldstone commission

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by Kevin Jon Heller

(source:Opinio Juris-Blog Archive)

Although often critical of Israel, I have always been sympathetic to Israeli claims that the UN Human Rights Council has deliberately appointed individuals to investigate conditions in the Palestinian territories who were either actually biased against Israel or who at least could not avoid the appearance of bias.  I was completely opposed, for example, to the HRC’s decision to appoint Richard Falk a Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

The Goldstone Commission, however, is a different kettle of fish entirely.  Justice Goldstone is, to put it mildly, one of the most eminent international lawyers in the world — a judge for nine years on the Constitutional Court of South Africa; the first Chief Prosecutor of the ad hoc Tribunals; a member of the international panel appointed by Argentina to investigate Nazi activity in the country since 1938; the chairperson of the international inquiry into Kosovo; and so on.  He is also Jewish and a trustee of Hebrew University in Israel.  So it is difficult to plausibly maintain that he is biased against Israel — particularly given that one of his first acts after being appointed by the HRC to investigate Operation Cast Lead was to publicly announce that he would not abide by HRC Res. S-9/1’s indefensible request to limit the fact-finding mission to Israel’s war crimes, but would investigate Hamas’s war crimes, as well.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped the Israeli government and groups that reject any and all criticism of Israel from attacking the Goldstone Commission: Some 50 British and Canadian lawyers have signed a public letter protesting the presence of London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin on the commission. The letter said her participation “necessarily compromises the integrity of this inquiry and its report.” Chinkin signed a public letter in January that called Israel’s actions “war crimes.” This disqualified her from participating in an international panel investigating whether Israel had, in fact, committed war crimes, the lawyers contended. Goldstone has rejected calls for Chinkin to step down. “The letter in question also condemned the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings, which it said were also war crimes,” he noted in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in July. Beyond the question of Chinkin’s membership in the four-person panel, the Israeli government has said it views the commission as a fig leaf for an anti-Israel campaign in the Human Rights Council. The commission’s conclusions were decided ahead of time and were intended to offer legal grounds for an international effort to sue Israeli officials in the International Criminal Court, officials have repeatedly complained in recent weeks. These are tired and predictable attacks.  Apparently, only individuals who have never publicly expressed an opinion on Israel and Hamas are entitled to investigate the situation in Gaza; criticizing both sides, as Chinkin has done — you can read the letter in question here — disqualifies you as being anti-Israel.  (Because, of course, the only “unbiased” position is one that assumes that Israel never does anything wrong.)  The hypocrisy is self-evident: we all know that the Israeli government and the lawyers mentioned above would have had no problem with Chinkin if she had only criticized Hamas. The attacks on Justice Goldstone himself, however, are even more disturbing. UN Watch, a right-wing NGO, isn’t shy about expressing its disdain for him: “no one has ever disputed that the Arab-controlled Human Rights Council deliberately selected individuals who had made up their mind well in advance — not only that Israel was guilty, but that a democratic state with an imperfect but respected legal system should be considered the same as, or worse than, a terrorist group.”  Their evidence for Justice Goldstone having already decided, despite his history and his reputation, that Israel is guilty and is no better than Hamas?  Precisely none. Not that those who are attacking the Goldstone Commission care.  Their goal is to discredit the Commission at any cost, not to understand what actually happened in Gaza.  If doing so requires them to impugn the integrity of one of the world’s most respected human-rights defenders, that is a price they are more than willing to pay. ADDENDUM: It is incredibly revealing that NGO Monitor’s tendentious attack on the Goldstone Commission mentions that Justice Goldstone was a member of Human Rights Watch — and nothing else about his personal history.


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