Justice Richard J. Goldstone, head of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, received both warm support and vocal criticism during his speech Wednesday.
Goldstone, former member of the South African Constitutional Court, delivered the George Herbert Walker, Jr. Lecture in International Studies, entitled “Accountability for War Crimes.” Goldstone addressed issues of proportional retaliation in wartime, demanded accountability for war crimes and expressed support for the International Criminal Court to a standing-room only crowd in the Luce Hall auditorium.
Goldstone, previously the Chief Prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, has been vilified by many Israeli politicians, and prominent American Jews for the “Goldstone Report,” produced by the Fact Finding Mission, which found that both Israeli and Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during the 2009 war in Gaza. However, majority of the blame is placed on the Israelis, who are also accused of violating international human rights and humanitarian laws. The Israeli military’s Operation Cast Lead targeted Gaza “in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population,” the report said.
“Israel claims the international laws of armed conflict should be changed to allow disproportionate military responses to attack terrorist group,” Goldstone said in the speech. “This can only be interpreted as a plea to take measures that are regarded as unlawful under present rules of international law.”
Goldstone also criticized the second Bush Administration’s attempts to avoid the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction, arguing that America’s support for the court would give it more widespread credibility.
At the beginning of the question-and-answer session, the lecture was disrupted by two men carrying a long white banner. It listed the Dreyfus Affair, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (both expressions of anti-Semitism) and the Goldstone Report. Goldstone refused to continue until the protesters lowered the banner.
Goldstone also addressed recent media reports that say Israel is preparing to submit a rebuttal to the United Nations. Goldstone said that he believes it is important that Israel conduct “objective, independent” investigations into these accusations, but that “a rebuttal” is not likely to include investigations.
Goldstone also conceded “Israel is treated unfairly in my view,” in regards to the many UN Security Council resolutions passed against Israel. “It’s about politics, not morality. The issue of Palestine is very important to the non-aligned groups. South Africa used to receive this attention. But ultimately, this was an even-handed mandate that I received.”
Audience members had mixed reactions to Goldstone’s lecture — some clapped and others booed.
Ian Shapiro, Sterling Professor of Political Science, who introduced Goldstone, said in an interview that there was no resistance among Yale administrators to inviting Goldstone to speak. Shapiro also said that he disagreed with a Jan. 26 column in the News (“A different forum needed for Goldstone” by Adam Yoffie and Noah Pollak), which argued that by allowing Goldstone to deliver the address, the Yale administration was taking sides in the controversy.
Two other students interviewed said they enjoyed Goldstone’s speech.
“I was impressed with his professionalism and objectivity,” Luke Beland ’11 said.