Richard Goldstone: I Have No Regrets About the Gaza War Report

Former South African jurist answers critics following claims he was involved in apartheid-era death sentences.


Judicial decisions Richard Goldstone made in South Africa that resulted in sending black South Africans to their deaths under the apartheid regime have nothing to do with his report on the Gaza war, he told Haaretz yesterday.

The comments came in response to an article in which he was accused of being in no moral position to judge Israel because he was involved in capital punishment in the apartheid regime.

The article in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily said Goldstone, who headed the UN committee that accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during the Gaza war of 2008-2009, was responsible for sending at least 28 black South Africans to their deaths when they appeared before him in court.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's no connection to the appointment I had in South Africa to these accusations," said Goldstone, who calls himself pro-Zionist. "I took an appointment to the bench, as did a number of liberal judges, and we had to uphold the law of the country. It was a moral dilemma to do that, but the approach was that it was better to fight from inside than not at all. The moral dilemma came up when I had to apply the law."

Goldstone said he sentenced only two people to death directly, but upheld a majority of appeals in the Supreme Court, as one of three judges on a panel.

"The law at the time stated that when there were aggravating circumstances, the death penalty was obligatory," he said. "The regrets I have now are the same that I had at the time. I have not changed my position on this. It was unpleasant to be involved in capital punishment - then and now. And I've always been against the death penalty. But when I accepted the position to the bench I had to honor the oath of office."

Regarding the UN report on the Gaza war, for which many Jewish groups have attacked Goldstone, the judge said he has no regrets about the position he took.

"I felt that because I was Jewish, it would be hypocritical not to get involved in the Middle East," he said. He said he advises Israel to have an open public inquiry into the war crimes allegations.

Goldstone said he was "extremely upset" by the attacks and by the effect they have had on his family.

Some members of the Jewish community had tried to keep Goldstone away from his grandson's recent bar mitzvah in Johannesburg because they objected to his position on Operation Cast Lead.

"It was a wonderful simcha," Goldstone said of the bar mitzvah. "It was joyous and meaningful, and it came after much aggravation. There were people who wanted to stop me from attending. But that was eventually solved after a meeting on Monday."

Goldstone said no South Africans, including the country's much revered first black president Nelson Mandela, who appointed him a judge, had accused him of undermining his moral authority by sentencing defendants to death or dismissing their appeals.

"I never had accusations of this sort," he said. "The first time I have been accused of such things is now, by Yedioth."