Judge Goldstone: Too little, too late

Backtrack: Richard Goldstone has changed his mind over Gaza

Backtrack: Richard Goldstone has changed his mind over Gaza

It is to Richard Goldstone's credit that he has now, a year and seven months after the publication of his eponymous report into Operation Cast Lead, changed his mind over its most damning and poisonous allegation.

The Goldstone Report found Israel guilty of a "deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population". In other words, Israel had set out to murder Palestinians when it launched its operation to stop Hamas from firing rockets at Israel in December 2008.

Last week, writing in the Washington Post, he said that was wrong. His report "would have been a different document" if he had known then what he knows now.

What he knows now is that "civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy". Israel's detailed investigations of over 400 allegations of war crimes have led him to this revised conclusion.

That admission that he got it wrong is indeed to his credit. But that is the only thing to his credit in this entire episode, with his report's seeming insouciance towards facts and justice.

It seems clear that Mr Goldstone still does not have the least conception of the harm that his report's lies about Israel's conduct have done. The idea that writing an article admitting his mistake somehow wipes the slate clean is, to put it mildly, breathtakingly naïve. As one observer, Jeffrey Goldberg, has said: "It is somewhat difficult to retract a blood libel, once it has been broadcast across the world."

The harm done by the report is incalculable. It has, for instance, directly aided terrorists. Realising that their tactic of using of civilians as protection was effectively recommended by the report - Israeli action against Hamas camps was viewed as a war crime - Hizbollah have carefully moved their encampments into towns and villages in southern Lebanon.

More broadly, the report acted as a form of acceleration device for the most insidious tactics used by Israel's enemies. It gave credibility to the delegitimisation of Israel, to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and to the idea of Israel as a rogue state.

With its supposed evidence of war crimes, the report lies behind the inability of Israeli politicians and soldiers to travel to the UK. Every anti-Israel activist has trumpeted the report, written by a Jew, and with the imprimatur of the United Nations. Or rather, of the UN Human Rights Council, an organisation which even Mr Goldstone admits has a "history of bias against Israel".

But whatever Mr Goldstone might write in an article, the process he set in train is, after a UN Human Rights Council vote last month, seemingly unstoppable. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General are now mandated to step up their action against Israel.

So while Mr Goldstone offers a modest mea culpa, the tempest which he unleashed gets stronger with every passing month.

The damage of his report has been done, its lies set in stone and Israel's image shattered among those who will probably never learn of the judge's retraction.

The admission of his mistake was a necessary and essential first step. But what does Mr Goldstone intend to do next? The worst accusations, on which so much of the attacks on Israel have been built, are wrong. He cannot in all conscience, surely, do anything other than demand that the report be formally withdrawn, and the facts given their head.

Last updated: 12:25pm, April 7 2011