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A Libelous Legacy

April 6, 2011
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Talk about a case of too little, way too late. Despite all the hype surrounding Richard Goldstone's sudden change of heart -- admitting that he erred in accusing Israel of deliberately targeting civilians in its war against Hamas -- the damage is done.

The fallout from the initial report struck an incalculable blow to Israel's image in the global arena, aiding and abetting the forces bent on delegitimizing the Jewish state.

Beyond the public-relations nightmare that ensued, it inspired anxiety among Israeli officials that the country's ability to act in self-defense would forever be subject to international scrutiny and legal wrangling. The 2008-09 Gaza operation was, after all, a response to years of rocket attacks on Israel's southern population.

Now, for mysterious reasons, Goldstone has reversed course.

"If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document," he wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post. He confirmed that Israel did not intentionally target Palestinian civilians, as his original report had alleged. He also credited Jerusalem with carrying out credible investigations into alleged wrongdoing by individual soldiers.

Despite the current media attention, the report and its libelous legacy will continue to live on. Like a charge of spousal abuse, once the accusation has been made, it's next to impossible to remove the stain.

So what comes next? Will the United Nations Human Rights Council, which commissioned the invidious witch hunt to begin with, take the responsible step and retract this blood libel? That's unlikely. Despite pressure from Israel and Jewish groups, the council spokesman has already indicated that it plans to stick by the original report.

Will there be a renewed call for Hamas to investigate its war crimes, which it has refused until now to do? Again, that's highly unlikely.

Israel can try to use Goldstone's retraction to its advantage. In the end, however, one op-ed is unlikely to have much impact.

More critical is whether those same forces so quick to condemn the Jewish state will ever register the seemingly obvious: If Israelis are to take new risks for peace, they will need assurances that those risks can be backed up by their own defense, without incurring the unjust wrath of the world.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly considering a new peace initiative. And a group of prominent Israelis are unveiling their own new plan. Israelis recognize that while the forces of change convulse their region, inaction could be more dangerous than launching an initiative on its own terms. But any new initiative must be made cautiously, without the fear of another Goldstone, let alone Hamas, ready to pounce.

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