CAPE TOWN, South Africa (JTA) — In the face of intense pressure, South African judge Richard Goldstone has agreed not to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah.
Following negotiations between the South African Zionist Federation and the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol in Sandton, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg where the event is to take place, an agreement was reached with the family that will keep Goldstone from attending the synagogue service early next month.
Goldstone was the head of a United Nations-appointed commission that investigated the Gaza war in the winter of 2008-09. The commission’s final report accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
Some of the participants in the negotiations were tight lipped about the decision when contacted by JTA, with Avrom Krengel, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, saying that “We understand that there’s a bar mitzvah boy involved – we’re very sensitive to the issues and at this stage there’s nothing further to say.”
Jewish groups, including the South African Zionist Federation, had planned to organize a protest outside the synagogue if Goldstone was in attendance, according to reports.
Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag, who heads the South African Beth Din, or religious court, said he was not involved in the negotiations, but he lauded the outcome. "People have got feelings about it, they believe he put Israel in danger and they wouldn’t like him to be getting honor," he said.
Reached in Washington, where he is now based, Goldstone was reluctant to comment, but did say that “In the interests of my grandson, I’ve decided not to attend the ceremony at the synagogue.”
Arthur Chaskalson, a retired chief justice of South Africa, said it was “disgraceful” to put pressure on a grandfather not to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah.
“If it is correct that this has the blessing of the leadership of the Jewish community in South Africa, it reflects on them rather than Judge Goldstone," Chaskalson said. "They should hang their heads in shame.”