Little Goldstones

Sometimes you have to point out someone else's defects in order to expose your own.

There is absolutely no doubt: Richard Goldstone has turned out to have a defect, and it's no small one. It's not necessary to continue to coddle him after he has been found defective. A thousand excuses about constraints will not save his soul, from the time he consented to be appointed an appeals judge in the service of apartheid. Even the seal of approval given him after the fact by the African National Congress will not remove the stain. At best, he will be able to stand with those who repent.

If someone places his hand in the bosom of apartheid - even if he later removes it - his hand becomes leprous. This is the hand that signed execution orders and handed over the backs of children to be lashed. Although a penetrating and disturbing account can be received even from the hand of a leper, there is no obligation to shake that hand, and certainly not to wash it.

With the fall of Goldstone there are many people rejoicing here, because with him his report will fall. This is only the rejoicing of the poor in spirit, rejoicing about which we can ask: What is it doing here? After all, Israel itself cooperated with the regime of racial segregation, and the Pretoria government had no better friend that the government in Jerusalem.

This has always been our way: To relax for our own benefit on the darkened side of the globe, to spend time in the shadow of oppressive regimes. We have never refused an indecent offer from a leprous country, and a business permit has always been found for it.

It is hard to resist temptation; and the more disgusting the government, the more skilled it is at being tempted.

They tried once to tempt me, too: After I publicly expressed reservations about the special relationship between the two countries, the South African ambassador phoned and asked to meet. He invited me to visit his country. Of course my wife was invited too, of course I would meet with ministers and legislators in the capital and rhinos in the nature preserve, and of course we would also meet with opponents of the regime, if we so desired; the name of Archbishop Desmond Tutu was mentioned.

I refused. It's true that I wasn't offered a judgeship, but I didn't even want to be a temporary guest.

I don't care that stones are now being thrown at Goldstone - a real white intifada - but I wouldn't want to identify among those stone-throwers people who went at the time to investigate apartheid at his expense, and returned full of impressions.

We also have to make sure that the glass in our house will not shatter. Many are liable to be hurt - even judges - and mainly those who sit in judgment wearing uniforms. Although our military courts do not mete out death sentences, they end lives, and not necessarily according to due process of law, as Ilana Hammerman occasionally reports in her columns.

"Those were the laws at the time," the great Goldstone is now arguing in his defense, and without realizing it, in the defense of others like him; this country is full of little Goldstones, and somewhat bigger ones too.

When Georges Clemenceau realized during the Dreyfus trial how quickly the mills of justice grind, and how human beings are ground into human dust, he bequeathed us a perpetual insight: Military justice is to justice, he said, what military music is to music.