Israel’s prime minister launched a diplomatic offensive Sunday to pressure the United Nations to retract a report accusing the Jewish state of war crimes in Gaza, after its lead author publicly disavowed some of its most incendiary charges.
“There are very few instances in which those who disseminate libels retract their libel. This happened in the case of the Goldstone Report,” Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet, saying he had ordered the formation of a committee to pursue the matter.
“I expect their recommendations in the coming days,” he said. “We will act on the public-diplomacy front and on other fronts with the international community and the U.N. in order to demand the justice that is due to Israel.”
Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who chaired the U.N. commission that produced the report, wrote an opinion piece in Saturday’s editions of The Washington Post in which he said that if “I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
The report accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes and “possibly crimes against humanity” in the 2008-09 Gaza war and called on both parties to launch their own internal investigations.
In his opinion piece, Mr. Goldstone praised Israeli authorities for investigating more than 400 incidents. “Hamas has done nothing,” he wrote.
Mr. Goldstone, who did not respond to an email seeking comment, also retreated from the report’s claim that the Israeli army had targeted innocent civilians as a matter of policy.
“Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life,” Mr. Goldstone wrote, “I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”
More than 1,000 Palestinians were killed in the 22-day conflict, which Israel launched in response to intensified Hamas rocket attacks on towns near its Gaza border.
Israel said most of the dead were combatants — a claim the Goldstone Report roundly dismissed. In his opinion piece, however, Mr. Goldstone acknowledged that “the Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas.”
Mr. Goldstone’s about-face was celebrated in Israel, where his report was seen as part of a global campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state.
“We face three major strategic challenges: the Iranian nuclear program, rockets aimed at our citizens and Goldstone,” Mr. Netanyahu said last year.
The Israeli government boycotted Mr. Goldstone’s commission on the grounds that the Human Rights Council, the U.N. panel that ordered the report, had a history of anti-Israel bias — a fact that Mr. Goldstone wrote “cannot be doubted.”
In a recent interview, Avi Dichter — formerly the chief of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service and now a Knesset member — said he thinks Israel might have fared better in the Goldstone Report had it cooperated more fully with the commission.
“I’m not sure we could’ve changed the report 180 degrees, but I think we could’ve done a little better if we handed over more information,” Mr. Dichter said. Still, he accused the commission of blatant dishonesty.
“They refused to be convinced by hard evidence,” he said. “It was a fully biased team.”