Two weeks ago, Judge Richard Goldstone all but said “oops” to his damning, unbalanced, and hurtful report submitted to, and adopted by, the United Nations, unfairly blaming Israel for excessive force and horrible crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008. His retraction for the report was printed in the Washington Post and has been the talk of the pro-Israel town. My grandmother used to say, “You can’t un-ring a bell.” His damage is done and the retraction will do little to overturn the report’s bias. But did he do the right thing in the end?
While Richard Goldstone’s actions will not earn him a listing on my Chanukah card mailing list, I do applaud his courage for publicly admitting his wrong. He could have easily left such announcements for cocktail parties or kiddush conversation and gone on with his life. Instead, he took his retraction to the mainstream media. As wrong as he was and for as much damage as he did, Judaism should recognize teshuva, repentance in earnest, when we see it.
Now that Goldstone took the first leap, who will follow? It is doubtful that countries that supported Goldstone’s original findings will have the moral fortitude to stand up and recast their votes. However, I think two entities are waiting to be heard from: J Street and Ban Ki Moon, the secretary general of the United Nations.
J Street was satisfied with Goldstone’s original report. It thought the harsh – though untrue – findings would be the perfect public rebuke that Israel needed to change its ways. J Street leadership even worked feverishly to have Judge Goldstone lobby on-the-fence legislators to vote against a resolution in the House of Representatives that emphatically declared Israel’s sovereign right to self-defense and demanded that the United States use its veto power to stop any unfair reports against Israel, in particular the Goldstone report, which was slanted and biased. (The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority.) After that vote, J Street continued to lobby against the United States and Israel, slamming the American leadership for using its veto power on a recent resolution on Israeli settlements.
Goldstone now comes forwards and says, “Hattati, I have done wrong.” Do not other organizations and individuals need to do the same? Shouldn’t the “J” in J Street stand for “Justice”? Justice tells us to do what is correct even when not popular or convenient. Is there a better case that meets such criteria than this one?
Along those very same lines, does not Ban Ki Moon have the moral responsibility to revoke the report with the same energy and appreciation for process as he did when the report was originally drafted? If the United Nations is to keep any of its remaining value as an international body worth its address and purpose, when there is any resolution where the author comes forward and says mistakes were made, the U.N. must give deference to the author and appreciate his or her updated findings.
In the Babylonian Talmud, there is a famous story told of the Oven of Akhnai. In it, Rabbi Eliezer and the elders of the community debate whether a particular item is ritually clean and able to be used. The argument ensues and neither can prove to the other who is correct. In essence, Rabbi Eliezer and the elders are both trying to divine God’s will. The irony is that, regardless of our articulation and passion, none of us can divine God’s will or intent. If we could, we would have no denominations and less ambiguity on what God really wants from us as Jews. However, in this case, we can indeed divine the author’s intent. Goldstone was wrong. He had the fortitude to admit so. J Street and Ban Ki Moon now have the responsibility to right the wrong and fix this injustice to the State of Israel.
To err is human. To forgive, divine. To retract damning comments even when we once supported them is the right, and dare I say, Jewish thing to do. Maybe that is what the “J” should stand for. Let us ask the leadership at J Street and the United Nations to stand for it too.