House Passes Gaza Measure After Dueling Critiques

Visiting Professor Richard Goldstone in The New York Times, November 03, 2009

Media Source

House Passes Gaza Measure After Dueling Critiques
By BERNIE BECKER

The House on Tuesday approved a nonbinding resolution rebuking a United Nations report on last winter’s conflict in Gaza, after architects of both the U.N. report and the House resolution recently criticized the other’s work as inaccurate.

The resolution, which passed 344-36, called the investigation of the conflict — led by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge — “to be irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.” Twenty-two House members voted present on the resolution.

As The Times’s Neil MacFarquhar reported in September, the investigation led by Mr. Goldstone found evidence that both Israel and Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups committed war crimes during the conflict, but reserved “its harshest language for Israel’s treatment of the civilian Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, both during the war and through the longer-term blockade of the territory.”

Last week, Mr. Goldstone responded in a letter to two of the driving forces behind the House resolution, telling Representatives Howard Berman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — that the resolution had misstated some facts and taken statements out of context. The letter then introduces and rebuts a string of the resolution’s clauses.

On Monday, Mr. Berman and Representative Gary L. Ackerman, chairman of the Foreign Affairs panel’s subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, released their own point-by-point rebuttal to Mr. Goldstone.

The report, which has already been endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, is scheduled to be taken up by the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

Mr. Goldstone’s mandate in investigating the conflict and whether the report gives a fair description of Hamas’ actions were two of the issues at the center of the back-and-forth.

According to the House resolution, Mr. Goldstone and his team were authorized only to investigate Israeli actions in the conflict, a move which “pre-judged the outcome.”

But, in his recent letter, Mr. Goldstone, who prosecuted war crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, writes that the original mandate was rejected because it focused solely on Israel and that investigators worked under a broader authorization that covered the actions of both sides in Gaza.

For their part, Mr. Berman and Mr. Ackerman assert that Mr. Goldstone made “earnest” attempts to change the mandate, but was not completely successful. The final resolution included language that took note of those efforts, according to a spokeswoman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The resolution also says the U.N. report “downplayed or cast doubt” on claims that Hamas and other groups used civilians and civilian institutions like mosques as shields.

In his response, Mr. Goldstone termed that a “sweeping and unfair characterization.” He added that, because Israel did not cooperate with the investigation, the report does not include any information the Israelis might have collected on actions by Palestinian groups during the conflict.

Mr. Berman and Mr. Ackerman, however, charge that “the report uncritically attributes numerous statements to ‘Gaza authorities’ (meaning, Hamas), while often casting doubt on information derived from the international and Israeli press and from non-government-affiliated Israelis.”

The White House did not come down either way on the House resolution, although administration officials have called many of the U.N. report’s findings “flawed.” As The Times’s Sharon Otterman reported recently, Mr. Goldstone has asked the White House to clarify “what the flaws in the report that they have identified are.”