Judge Goldstone and the small print


By Jennifer Lipman
April 6, 2011
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For some, Judge Goldstone’s bizarre about-turn on his findings on Operation Cast Lead has vindicated Israel and wiped the slate clean. For others, his sudden crisis of faith on the Goldstone Report is merely personal opinion and doesn’t change a thing about what happened or didn’t happen in Gaza two years ago.

Outside of Westminster Village or the Beltway (you get the idea), it makes little difference. Anyone who had a prior stance on Israel has simply had whatever they believe reinforced, yet again. For most people, though, the ins-and-outs of Goldstone’s backtrack are fish-and-chip wrapping or, in our multimedia world, a footnote in yesterday’s browsing history.

If they read anything at all about Goldstone’s comments, confined as they were to the depths of the world news sections, the likelihood is that they gave only a cursory glance over yet-another Israel story.

The average man on the street doesn't have a clue who Goldstone is, what his 2009 indictment of Israel entailed, or what he wrote in the Washington Post last week.

But ask them about Israel or Gaza and they'll probably have a one-line opinion to share. They’ll have a vague memory of a story about the conflict, not much but enough to know what they believe.

Goldstone’s apology / retraction / concession to the “Israel lobby” (insert whichever you so choose) is just semantics. It doesn't change the debate, because when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians – in fact, when it comes to the media in general - we’re not interested in specifics.

The Goldstone report was proof for those who wanted it, not an exposé of what happened. People's minds were made up long before the UN told us what to think.

Our attention is on big statements, main events. We understand news in terms of footage of protesters massing in their thousands, or photos of statues being toppled and dictators being deposed.

The picture of a protester smashing his way into a London department store will always trump the details of the debate on cuts; so too, bold headlines about casualties and vast picture-spreads of anguished mourners are far more engaging than the inner-workings of a UN commissioned report.

Goldstone’s report did damage Israel’s reputation, not because of its specific content, but because it enabled another round of “big bad Israel” stories to be published – stories which chip away, one by one, at Israel’s international credibility. Those are what stick in the public consciousness, not the step-by-step analysis of the findings below.

Had his report celebrated Israel for 344 pages and included only one page criticising the IDF, it wouldn’t have made the blindest bit of difference to the triumphant stance of Israel’s detractors or those who railed against Goldstone for conducting the probe in the first place. Nobody reads the small print.

An explosion, a death, a headline accusing Israel of war crimes. That's visceral, that’s real. That, if anything does, is what prompts someone to sit up and pay attention.

Not a line in a judge’s report, or another, two years later, changing his mind.

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