I guess in a few weeks we’ll write the obligatory “it’s nonsense” post about the Goldstone Commission’s report on the Gaza War for the UN “Human Rights Commission.” Irwin Cotler, international jurist and former Justice Minister of Canada, pretty well covers the significant problems with Goldstone’s assignment and commission in two articles for the Jerusalem Post. They are a must read, but also hard to read.

Goldstone admits that he also refused the appointment – at least initially. “More than hesitate, I initially refused to become involved in any way [with the inquiry], on the basis of what seemed to me to be a biased, uneven-handed resolution of the UN Human Rights Council,” he explained. But he felt comfortable enough to proceed when the then-president of the Council, Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, purportedly expanded the mission’s mandate for him, even though the enabling resolution behind the inquiry would remain unchanged, and though he would still be accountable to the Council that passed this resolution.

HOW GOLDSTONE could have considered his personal conversation with Uhomoibhi sufficient to quell his fears is surprising to say the least. One-sided or not, the mandate in the enabling Human Rights Council resolution is the one that determined the scope and tenor of the “fact-finding” mission. Uhomoibhi could no more have altered that mandate unilaterally than Goldstone could have himself, in defiance of the Council.

Indeed, any faith Goldstone possessed in the re-definition of his mandate should have dissipated when Uhomoibhi publicly stated on the day the inquiry was announced: “I am confident that the mission will be in a position to assess in an independent and impartial manner all human rights and humanitarian law violations committed in the context of the conflict which took place between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009.”

The alleged expansion of the mandate’s timeframe that Goldstone apparently fought for, to include reference to Hamas’s provocation (apparently from June 2008), was nowhere to be found in the description of his mandate.


Yet despite the fog of war immediately covering the on-going hostilities, the international community was rife with “experts” who were ready to convict Israel of war crimes.

Among those supposed experts was Christine Chinkin, a law professor in England. As events would turn out, Chinkin would become both a member of, and an apt metaphor for, the seriously-flawed Goldstone Commission that would be called upon by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate the conflict.


None of this is intended to suggest, nor would I wish to have it inferred, that Israel is somehow above the law, or that Israel is not to be held accountable for any violations of law. On the contrary, Israel is accountable for any violations of international law or human rights like any other state. The Jewish people are not entitled to any privileged protection or preference because of the particularity of Jewish suffering.

But the problem is not that Israel seeks to be above the law; it is that Israel has been systematically denied equality before the law in the international arena. The issue is not whether Israel must respect human rights, but that the human rights of Israel and its people have not been respected. The discrimination emerges not from suggesting that human rights standards should be applied to Israel – which they must be – but from the fact that these standards have not been applied equally to anyone else.

IT IS on this basis that the Goldstone Commission should be opposed: not because it represents an objective inquiry into Israel – because independent and impartial inquiries should be welcomed by democracies – but precisely because it does not represent such an objective inquiry.

Consistently applying discriminatory standards has the effect not only of demonizing Israel, but of undermining the integrity of the UN and the edifice of international law. Decades from now, historians looking back at the meetings of the council will be led to believe that more Palestinians died at the hands of Israelis than Darfurians at the hands of Sudan; that discrimination was institutionalized in Israel to a larger extent than in apartheid South Africa; and that Israel – the lone democracy in the Middle East – was a greater threat to international peace and security than any other state since its inception.

Read it all and consider that Israel entered this war after patiently avoiding war on Gaza for years. We live in a surreal world.

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  • I agree with pretty much everything Cotler said. I think he falls short though, in failing to criticize Israel for nato cooperating with the inquiry. I think Israel is doing itself more harm than good by refusing to cooperate with the investigation. Lack of cooperation guarantees that any good intentions on the part of Goldstone to produce a truly fair report will fall flat. At least try cooperating before you shun the inquiry.

  • They said the same thing when Israel refused to participate in the ICJ trial over the Security Barrier. But it’s a lose-lose proposition for Israel. If they accept the unfair terms set out by the UN’s “human rights” body, they give them legitimacy that is unwarranted. Essentially, they are agreeing that such an investigation is warranted even though there is bias built into the report by its very mandate. Since the deck is stacked against Israel in the mandate given to the investigators, any final report will HAVE to conclude that Israel did things that are wrong. There is virtually no other possible conclusion here, regardless of the strength of one’s defense. Israel’s defense is that it was defending itself, but if the dates of the mandated report excise the dates prior to the beginning of the Israeli incursion into Gaza, this defense becomes impossible. That’s just one example but there are others.

    It’s better to let them play their game and point out that they have played among themselves and unfairly at that. Lending the investigation any formal legitimacy only helps the enemies of Israel and once you do provide evidence or any legitimacy to the investigation, there is no going back.

  • Respectfully, I disagree.
    I think by not participating Israel forfeits it’s right to criticize any findings after the fact. If a biased report is produced, and Israel seeks to discredit it, citing lack of Israeli input, then the perfectly acceptable response is that Israel could have contributed information when it had the chance.
    I think the better choice is to participate and if the findings are unsatisfactory, then Israel is in a position to demonstrate exactly how it made its case and that case was ignored. Ideally, both Israel and Hamas or whomever would even be allowed to add their own dissenting or cuncurring opinion to any report as an annex.
    As for the parameters of this study in particular and the dates chosen, I agree, they are chosen to impede claims of self defense. By participating, however, a fair panel, even if it were faced with these historical limitations, would necessarily have to reflect on historical context. If they didn’t then again, further grounds to attack the credibility of the study.
    I think it’s almost always a better choice to be in the fold, than to be yelling comments from the sidelines.