Friday, May 7, 2010

Investigative Journalists: As South African Judge, Goldstone Condemned more than Two Dozen Blacks to Death

New information on the career history of Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the controversial report on the Gaza conflict of 2009:
Judge Goldstone's dark past

Yedioth Ahronoth investigation reveals man preaching human rights, who authored scathing report against Israel's operation in Gaza, sent at least 28 black defendants to gallows as South African judge under Apartheid regime

Tehiya Barak, Tzadok Yehezkeli
Latest Update: 05.06.10, 23:55 / Israel News
. . .
A special Yedioth Ahronoth investigation reveals Richard Goldstone's dark side as a judge during the Apartheid era in South Africa. It turns out, the man who authored the Goldstone Report criticizing the IDF's actions during Operation Cast Lead took an active part in the racist policies of one of the cruelest regimes of the 20th century.

During his tenure as sitting as judge in the appellant court during the 1980s and 1990s sentenced dozens of blacks mercilessly to their death. . . .

Yedioth Ahronoth's findings show that Goldstone sentenced at least 28 black defendants to death. Most of them were found guilty of murder and sought to appeal the verdict. In those days, he actually made sure he showed his support for the execution policy, writing in one verdict that it reflects society's demands that a price be paid for crimes it rightfully views as frightening. (read the rest)
The report goes on to detail other instances in which he upheld racist or oppressive laws, on one occasion handing down jail sentences to youths for mere possession of tapes by ANC leaders, while on another, exonerating white police officers "who had broken into a white woman's house on suspicions that she was conducting sexual relations with a black man."

Goldstone's defense was a not unexpected but nonetheless problematic one: though he had personally opposed the system and its laws, he was duty-bound to work within it and apply them as fairly as he could. In another interview, he added that Nelson Mandela had no problem appointing him as a judge. Naturally, this proved to be a rather unsatisfying answer for many, in light of both historical precedent and Goldstone's own moralizing stance since that time.

Critics, from US lawyer Alan Dershowitz to Israel's conservative Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, were quick to note, with Schadenfreude, the similarity to the excuses of Nazi officials and war criminals:

"Goldstone took a job as an apartheid judge. He allowed dozens of black people who were unfairly tried to be executed," Dershowitz told Channel 2 TV.

"You know, a lot of people say we just followed the law, German judges… That's what (German SS officer and physician Josef) Mengele said too. That was Mengele's defense and that was what everybody said in Nazi Germany. 'We just followed the law.' When you are in an apartheid country like South Africa, you don't follow the law," Dershowitz added.

In one sense, Goldstone's record does not bear on the significance of his Report, which will stand or fall on its merits. But given that the document prompted widespread charges of bias, the investigation may yet prove to be pertinent to a new reading. Already we are hearing suggestions that Goldstone's opinions there (but presumably in other recent endeavors, as well), far from representing a set of neutral analyses, in fact reflected a sort of perverse overcompensation for a blemished moral past about which he preferred to keep silent. In the words of Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon, "This so-called respected judge is using this [Gaza] report in order to atone for his sins and gain international legitimacy.”

I am very curious to see how this all plays out. In the meantime, it is interesting to see the Nazi analogy used somewhat more judiciously than is often the case. It remains provocative here, too, but generally within bounds (admittedly, I could have done without the gratuitous and inaccurate reference to Mengele). No one is accusing Goldstone of committing crimes like the Nazis. Rather, the charge is that he is rationalizing his complicity in the policies of a racist regime on the same grounds that they did. This reminds us of a moral dilemma that all of us should contemplate, and not only in this context.

Postscript: thus far, the story does not seem to have had any play in the mainstream western media.

No comments: