Eli Yishai
Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Photo by Moti Milrod
Text size
United Nations
Retired South African justice Richard Goldstone. Photo by United Nations

A diplomatic drama unfolded late Tuesday night over a conversation between Richard Goldstone and Interior Minister Eli Yishai following the appearance of the judge's op-ed piece in which he changed his stance on Israel's Gaza offensive two years ago.

Goldstone headed the UN Human Rights Council commission on Israel's conduct in the offensive, known as Operation Cast Lead. In an article in the Washington Post over the weekend, Goldstone retracted allegations by the commission that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians.

Since the essay's appearance, however, Goldstone has taken issue with Yishai's claim that the judge was ready to work to have the UN report withdrawn. He has demanded a public correction from Yishai. After a response from Yishai was not immediately forthcoming, Goldstone issued another statement opposing the rescission of his commission's report.

Senior Israeli officials said the dispute between the two erupted Tuesday afternoon when Goldstone read an English translation of an interview Yishai gave to Army Radio earlier that day. The minister said Goldstone had promised him to work to have the commission's report rescinded.

Goldstone then contacted Israeli diplomats demanding a correction from the interior minister. The judge said Yishai's English was not good enough to understand what Goldstone had said when the two discussed the issue. He said the minister was trying to give their conversation an inappropriate media spin.

Despite Foreign Ministry efforts to issue a correction, Yishai delayed a response several hours and ultimately released a short statement correcting the record after midnight.

Around 1:30 A.M., Goldstone, who was in California, was informed of Yishai's statement, but he had already gone to the media denying Yishai's earlier remarks and saying that he had never discussed the report in his conversation with Yishai. A Foreign Ministry source said the spat with Yishai will make it much harder for Israel to get Goldstone to approach the United Nations regarding its stance on Cast Lead.

Also speaking on Army Radio, Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who also took part in the phone call between Goldstone and Yishai, quoted Goldstone as saying he was ready to take steps to change the status of his commission's report. But first he wanted to wait for the dust to settle following his op-ed in The Washington Post.

Yishai spokesman Roi Lachmanovitch said yesterday that the minister didn't speak with the required clarity in his radio interview. He said Yishai had told Goldstone that if he had toured southern Israel and had seen the suffering there, his commission's report would not have been written.

Goldstone said he thanked Yishai for calling and said his goal was to work for truth, justice and human rights. The judge confirmed that Yishai had invited him to visit Israel and that he had accepted but would be unable to travel to the country until July.

"I ended the conversation by expressing my love for Israel," Goldstone said, adding that Yishai spoke in Hebrew, which was translated for the judge.