- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2011

In February 2010, President Obama’s genocide muse, National Security Council senior director of multilateral affairs Samantha Power, harshly criticized Israel’s reaction to the controversial Goldstone report on the 2008-2009 Gaza War. “Is the correct strategy fighting Goldstone on all fronts?” she asked. Turns out it was; good thing the Israeli government ignored Mrs. Power.

The report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict - known as the Goldstone report after its principle author, former South African Judge Richard Goldstone - was a cudgel used to batter Israel’s international reputation since it was issued in September 2009. The report broadly charged Israel with a variety of war crimes and human-rights abuses allegedly committed during the 22-day Operation Cast Lead. For the last year-and-a-half, whenever the topic of Israel came up in international forums, the Goldstone report was drawn like a gun.

But last week, in a rare public display of intellectual honesty, Mr. Goldstone renounced the key sections of the report that criticized Israel. Detailed investigations held since the report was rushed out after the war had vindicated the Jewish state. In particular, there is no evidence that the nearly 1,000 civilian deaths in Gaza were premeditated or committed under orders. “While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers,” Mr. Goldstone wrote, “they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”

The flaws in the Goldstone report were mainly due to insufficient information. Israel was undertaking methodical internal reviews in 2009 that didn’t fit the more brisk United Nations timeline and hampered cooperation with the U.N. mission. As well, Mr. Goldstone states that the U.N. Human Rights Council’s “history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted,” which also made Israel hesitant to cooperate. The reviews supported Israel’s version of events, and Mr. Goldstone added that had “evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted,” been available at the time, “it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”

The question of intent is the key dividing line that distinguishes a war crime from a regrettable instance of civilian casualties in the heat of battle. This distinction was largely ignored during the conflict, when news reports proliferated of mass-casualty incidents inflicted by the Israel Defense Forces, often taken from pro-Hamas sources. To hear the opponents of Israel talk, every civilian death was the result of some form of vengeance killing, or perhaps attempted genocide.

These charges were simply terrorist propaganda being transmitted as fact. As The Washington Times noted when the Goldstone Report was published in 2009, “The incidental, unintentional civilian deaths Israel caused during the Gaza conflict are condemned as war crimes; the widespread and intentional Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians are basically ignored. The Goldstone model makes it impossible for civilized states to strike effectively against the world’s barbarians who are fighting a shadow war against decency that views innocent noncombatants as both legitimate targets and useful shields.”

The Goldstone Report did in fact call out Hamas for its crimes, though this was mostly overlooked, especially by Hamas. Early in the conflict, U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon implored both sides to “take all necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties,” but targeting civilians is all Hamas does. If they stopped committing attacks on innocents, they would have to give up being terrorists. The report instructed Hamas to undertake the same internal reviews Israel did, but terrorist leaders - knowing their supporters in the international community would never expect them even to pretend to show accountability - did nothing.

Mr. Obama still doesn’t seem to understand what separates the legitimate use of force from terrorist violence. After a March 24 terror bombing in Jerusalem in which one woman was killed and 38 wounded, Mr. Obama expressed his “deepest condolences.” But in the same note, he expressed sympathy to Palestinians killed in an Israeli counterstrike against Hamas missiles launched against Israeli cities from crowded residential areas in Gaza. The implicit message was that Israel is on the same moral plane as the terrorists. Since Mr. Obama is racking up scores of civilian deaths by Hellfire missile in Pakistan, it’s strange he’s not more sensitive to this critical distinction.

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