It was a strange experience for me watching the recent debate at Brandeis University between Ambassador Dore Gold and Richard Goldstone. Strange in that I was listening to what I would have expected someone like Jimmy Carter to be saying about Israel but saying it with a South African accent. It has been a most upsetting almost shattering experience for the South African Jewish community to have one of their own primarily responsible for a report that accuses Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
The South African Jewish community is today about 80,000 strong, down from a peak of 120,000 in the early 1970s. It is however a community almost universally committed to the Jewish State and one that has a sizable expatriate community living in Israel. South African Jews have been prominent in organizations like the Jewish Agency and the World Jewish Congress. They are often seen as a model community for their organizational structure and strong Zionist commitment.
Up to the time the report came out many hoped that it would be balanced, fair and objective. It was too much to ask for. It was, after all, a report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council which has focused on Israel to the almost total exclusion of the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses world wide. In South Africa, Goldstone had been regarded as a favorite son by the Jewish community. He was a widely respected and able jurist who had been appointed to the country’s highest court. He involved himself in the Jewish community, held leadership positions in Jewish organizations including the presidency of Ort International and was a trustee of the Hebrew University. Those who knew him well would swear to his Zionist credentials. Now both he and his name would be linked forever to the most Israel-damning document since the 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with Racism.
The reasons Richard Goldstone agreed to chair the commission and issue such a report one can only speculate. Maybe he is an opportunist with his eye on the position of Secretary General of the United Nations. Maybe, maybe not.