Monday, May 24, 2010

The Past Is Not Past

Lately there has been a fresh round of attacks on Judge Richard Goldstone related to his judicial activities in apartheid South Africa after "revelations" in an Israeli newspaper that he had sentenced blacks to death. There is much to criticize about the Goldstone Report, and perhaps about Goldstone's record during apartheid as well... but doesn't this line of attack from pro-Israel groups just serve to raise the question of Israel's own record in supporting the state terrorist South African regime? How can Dershowitz go on about Goldstone's lending an "air of legitimacy to an entirely illegitimate and barbaric regime" without so much as mentioning that Israel (along with the US) was one of the very last diplomatic defenders of the apartheid regime in the 1980s, after nearly every other civilized country in the world had withdrawn their support? Defenders of Goldstone will ask with a certain amount of justification: is it worse for a young lawyer to participate opportunistically in an unjust judicial system (and then later to protest and undermine it) or to peddle to an "illegitimate and barbaric regime" military equipment that was used to maim and murder thousands of blacks in the Soweto uprising of 1976? Let us be clear: there are many realpolitik rationalizations of Israel's amoral diplomatic behavior, and of course there is the excuse that "the US did it, too." But there are similar excuses for Goldstone's opportunism as well. If we are going to have a discussion about who did what to support South African apartheid, let us put everything on the table without fear and favor.

For those who are interested, Sasha Polakow-Suransky has just published what is likely to be (for a while, at least) the definitive treatment of the Israel-South Africa relationship -- the book is intelligently and sensitively reviewed by Benjamin Pogrund here.