WASHINGTON (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would launch an international campaign to cancel the Goldstone Report after its author, ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone, wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the report.
Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on "minimizing the damage caused" by the report.
"There are very few instances in which those who disseminate libels retract their libel. This happened in the case of the Goldstone Report," Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. "Goldstone himself said that all of the things that we have been saying all along are correct — that Israel never intentionally fired at civilians and that our inquiries operated according to the highest international standards.
"Of course, this is in complete contrast to Hamas, which intentionally attacked and murdered civilians and, naturally, never carried out any sort of inquiry. This leads us to call for the immediate cancellation of the Goldstone Report."
Goldstone wrote in Saturday’s Washington Post that "We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document."
Goldstone withdrew what perhaps was his most damaging conclusion: That there was evidence suggesting Israel had deliberately targeted civilians during its war with Hamas.
Referring to a U.N. committee’s recent independent assessment of his report, Goldstone wrote in his Op-Ed that "While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy."
Goldstone said he may have drawn different conclusions had Israel cooperated with his inquiry; Israel refused to do so, seeing the U.N. Human Rights Council as irredeemably biased.
He also said that it "goes without saying" that Hamas intentionally targeted civilians and noted that unlike Israel, the group did not investigate its own actions.
Goldstone would have to ask the United Nations on behalf of his committee to rescind its report on Israel’s actions during the 2009 Gaza war to set such an action in motion, a U.N. spokesman said. The U.N. Human Rights Council, which commissioned the report, has not received such a request, The Associated Press reported Monday.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Saturday that Goldstone’s "retreat does not change the fact war crimes had been committed against 1.5 million people in Gaza." Abu Zuhri said that Hamas cooperated with the Goldstone commission.
Senior Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Shaath said Sunday that Goldstone retracted his committee’s report due to pressure.
Netanyahu on Saturday night called on the United Nations to "cancel" the report in light of Goldstone’s article, although he did not make clear what this would involve.
The American Jewish Committee said Goldstone should ask the United Nations to "revise and update" the report.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to "retract" the report, which it had adopted.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that "What is so distressing is the fact that Goldstone rushed to judgment in the first instance as to Israel’s alleged intention to target civilians without any convincing evidence." He added that Goldstone’s "specious conclusion caused Israel untold damage in the international community and played a key role in fostering the campaigns of delegitimization of Israel."
Foxman called Goldstone’s renunciation of his own report "A story of the continuing bias of the United Nations against Israel, a story of the unwillingness of the international community to take seriously the extremism and violence of Hamas, and a story of how a renowned jurist and member of the Jewish community allowed himself to be used by enemies of the Jewish state."
Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said Goldstone "was misled by an orchestrated campaign led by powerful NGOs" and that the so-called ‘evidence’ provided by these groups was at the core of the political war against Israel. Goldstone was taken in by crude manipulation."
World Jewish Congress Chair Evelyn Sommer called on the United Nations to recognize Goldstone’s retraction and "to revise the report issued by the U.N. that did immeasurable harm and damage to the State of Israel."
"It is high time that the United Nations, which gives much lip service to the concept of reform of the world body, re-evaluate its methods of reporting and documentation of investigations such as that of Israel’s Operation in Gaza of 2009," she said.
Meanwhile, the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, citing an unnamed source close to Goldstone, reported Sunday that the former South African judge first approached The New York Times to print his Op-Ed, but that the newspaper turned him down.
"We do not comment on our editing and reporting procedures," The New York Times said in response.
But Politico’s Ben Smith reported Monday that a "source familiar with the paper’s dealings" said that Goldstone approached the Times a couple weeks ago with a "very different" Op-Ed that did not repudiate the Goldstone Report’s claim that Israel intentionally targeted civilians.