Tikkun has published an important interview conducted by Rabbis Michael Lerner and Brian Walt with Justice Richard Goldstone that should be read by anyone concerned with the (now ill-fated) Goldstone report. Among other things, it contains a fascinating analysis of the perennial double-standard issue:
Rabbi Michael Lerner: OK. Let me give you one of the frequent criticisms of the Goldstone report that I’ve heard and that I’d like to put to you. Not that it’s inaccurate but that it’s a reflection of a prejudice because of selective prosecution. The UN gives this attention to the sins of little countries or powerless countries, relatively powerless countries, while never daring to do a comparable report on big guys like the human rights violations of the United States in Iraq, of Russia in Chechnya, China in Tibet. The argument goes that when one picks on historically oppressed groups like Jews for their sins while ignoring the far greater sins of the more powerful, the UN participates in a kind of double standard that in other contexts would be seen transparently as racist or illegitimate. So that even though you, Judge Goldstone, were perfectly fine in what you did, the actual investigation itself by virtue of selecting this target by a body that doesn’t target the more powerful is a reflection of prejudice.
Justice Richard Goldstone: Generally I agree with the criticism. I think the powerful are protected because of their power. But it’s not prejudice it’s politics. It’s a political world. There’s no question of not investigating countries because of who they are for religious reasons or cultural reasons, it’s because of their power. They use their power to protect themselves. It doesn’t mean that investigations [in countries] where politically they can be held are in any way necessarily flawed or shouldn’t take place. The same argument was raised by Serbia in particular. They said, “Why was the international criminal tribunal set up for us? It wasn’t set up for Pol Pot, it wasn’t set up for Saddam Hussein, it was set up for Milosevic.” And my response at the time when it was put to me by the Serb minister of justice, as I remember very well, was if this is the first of the lot, then I agree with you, it’s an act of discrimination, but if it’s the first of others to come then you can’t complain, you have no right to complain because you’re the first. And if crimes are being committed then at least, to go after those that one can go after politically is better than doing nothing.
ML: For example, there haven’t been any comparable investigations of human rights violations by Syria, by Saudi Arabia, by Egypt — admittedly these are against their own populations.
RG: I think that what distinguishes this from that is that these war crimes are committed in a situation of international armed conflict. It’s not going to be a civil war situation.
ML: And you don’t think there is something inconsistent or one-sided and prejudicial in investigating this type of crime but not internal crime?
RG: I think it’s a double-standard more than prejudice.
ML: So you would agree that there’s a double-standard.
ML: And that it should be changed, but that doesn’t invalidate what you do.
RG: This is why. The best way of changing it is for every nation to join the International Criminal Court.
It’s an extremely compelling argument. Is it a double-standard to only investigate the human rights abuses that are politically possible to investigate? Probably. But it doesn’t mean that investigations such as this are not important and it certainly doesn’t mean they are ipso-facto anti-Semitic.
We in the Jewish community are right to shine a light on this kind of hypocrisy, but I sense this accusation only goes so far. Are we willing to admit that after a certain point, the double-standard argument essentially serves as a way of avoiding certain painful truths about Israel’s conduct?
As Justice Goldstone correctly points out, the best way to ensure that the UN and the ICC fulfill their mandates is for all nations – particularly the most powerful – to agree to be held accountable for their actions.