By Philip Weiss
After Richard Goldstone published his staggering op-ed in the Washington Post last April, taking back assertions he made in the U.N. Human Rights Council report on the Gaza conflict, Norman Finkelstein came out with a pamphlet titled “Goldstone Recants,” anatomizing the judge’s decision.
So earlier this week when Goldstone published an op-ed in the New York Times saying it is a “slander” to characterize Israeli rule in the West Bank as “apartheid,” I asked Norman Finkelstein what he thought of Goldstone’s piece.
Finkelstein first sent me an email he had sent to Goldstone at 1 in the morning after reading the op-ed. Then I phoned him and Finkelstein elaborated on his view. First the email, then the phone conversation. The email:
You might recall Irving Kaufman as the judge who pronounced the death penalty on the Rosenbergs. Throughout his subsequent professional career Kaufman did everything he could to rehabilitate his reputation, and to be remembered as a decent liberal. But still he predicted that when he died, the first sentence of his obituary would read, “Irving Kaufman, who sentenced Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to death, died yesterday of….” And sure enough, that’s exactly how every obit began, and ended.
You can never rehabilitate your name. You will forever be remembered as the judge who retracted the report bearing your name. Like Kaufman’s sentence on the Rosenbergs, your recantation was not exactly a glorious moment. The dignified thing now would be for you to quietly retire. Your persistence in trying to reestablish your name will only turn you into an object of contempt and ridicule. A friend of mine who attended your lecture in Cleveland expressed her revulsion at how you sought to curry favor with the American establishment.
Now you are writing embarrassingly silly things about Israel. Do you really believe that Israel needed to steal 10 percent of Palestinian land in order to prevent terror attacks on it? Hasn’t the good judge ever heard of constructing a wall on your own border?
You should really stop. You are inviting disgust, even from those, like myself, who struggle to see something redeeming or extenuating in your person.
I followed up with Finkelstein by phone. Our conversation:
“I was enraged at the first op-ed,” Finkelstein said. “This one was just embarrassingly silly. What other kind of authority does a judge have than moral authority? If you profess to be a judge, and you bow to any opportunistic occasion, then you’ve lost your authority as a judge.
“To use the political expression, he flipflopped [with Washington Post piece]. Now he has to do everything he can to demonstrate that he is not a flipflopper, and that his current position is really his consistent position.
“Many people in the McCarthy era did the same thing. ‘I didn’t really recant because of the pressure. I really believe the Soviet Union is terrible.’”
Finkelstein said that Goldstone has now completely alienated the human rights community, and “the Washington Israel axis of power” is what he has left.
What are Goldstone’s objectives?
“His personal objectives are to reestablish his moral authority. Because he’s now treated with contempt. “[So the purpose of this oped is to say,] What he did was heartfelt, it wasn’t just caving in to pressure. It was not just an ephemeral act, but part of a real deep commitment. There was conviction behind it. He has to show a pattern.”
How much contempt is there for Goldstone?
There is, Finkelstein said, “a vast network of human rights organizations and NGOs. He was at the peak of it. And now he is completely persona non grata. Because by repudiating the Goldstone Report he repudiated what all those organizations have reported. Desmond Travers said there were 300 human rights reports on Gaza. So he broke with a vast community, and they are not going to forgive him.”
As for the other side, Goldstone’s reconsideration of the Goldstone Report was an important victory, Finkelstein said. And to that victory add the repudiation of the UN Human Rights Council report on the Gaza flotilla by the subsequent Palmer commission report to the UN Secretary General. The Secretary General’s report on the flotilla “nullified” the HRC report that said the siege was illegal, he said. And now newspaper accounts typically state that the UN declared the Gaza blockade to be legal.
“They are fighting back hard now. And with an element of unprecedented ruthlessness. There is no precedent for a recantation of a report by the head of a UN appointed committee.
“The overall trajectory is that they [the pro-Israel side] are losing. But these sorts of things demonstrate a real ruthlessness, and a certain amount of success. It is troubling that they have managed now to negate within the space of a short period of time, to negate two major reports.”
What about your email to the judge?
“I’m approaching 60. He’s 73. The difference between us is not so great. I was saying, you should really stop. You’re making a fool of yourself. You’re not fooling anyone.
“Elia Kazan after he sang for McCarthy won many award and made many famous movies, but till the end of his life he was haunted by what he did in the McCarthy era, to the point that many years later when he was given a lifetime achievement award by the Academy, a huge controversy erupted, and many walked out.
“Goldstone is just like Judge [Irving] Kaufman and Elia Kazan. He will never escape what he did. He can run but he can’t hide.”
Finkelstein said that after he testified, Elia Kazan made “On the Waterfront” –as Victor Navasky demonstrated, in an attempt to justify his own actions visavis the corrupt Communist party. The hero of the movie was the one who attacked the corrupt union.
“Goldstone’s op ed is his ‘On the Waterfront’… his way of saying, I sincerely believe this. But everybody knows you caved in.”
You’re not angry at him?
“Human beings are frail vessels, fragile vessels. I strain to see something redeeming and extenuating in you, I wrote to him.”
And Finkelstein said that this op ed did no harm to the cause. Because he is useless to both sides at this point. The pro-Israel side can’t use him either, because he has no authority left. Can Dershowitz cite Goldstone as an authority? No.
What about the idea that Goldstone always respected the powers that be?
“From apartheid south Africa to post apartheid south Africa, he preserved his respectability and moral authority. He thought he could do it again and land on his feet. No. Richard, you won’t land on your feet this time.”
So he never had a spine?
“I say with a certain amount of reluctance, that what Dershowitz had to say was correct, Goldstone knew which way the winds were blowing, he wanted to come off as a savior of Israel, and win the Nobel prize. He saw that the conflict is in the endgame.”
When Finkelstein read the Goldstone Report, he went on, “I was hoping for a real conversion. He spoke with great warmth of the people of Gaza. I wanted to believe it. But you know what– it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”