JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said Sunday it was launching an international campaign to push the United Nations to rescind a scathing report on Israeli war conduct in the Gaza Strip two years ago, after the report’s author backtracked from key allegations against the Jewish state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that he had ordered the diplomatic offensive in response to the new admissions from international jurist Richard Goldstone, who said over the weekend that his most serious accusation against Israel — that it deliberately targeted civilians — appeared to have been wrong.
Writing in the Washington Post, Goldstone said that in hindsight his report would have looked very different.
Addressing his Cabinet, Netanyahu said Goldstone’s comments vindicated Israel’s wartime conduct and that Goldstone’s report, which accused both Israel and Hamas militants of possibly committing war crimes, should be scrapped.
“There are very few instances in which those who disseminate libels retract their libel. This happened in the case of the Goldstone report,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday. “This leads us to call for the immediate cancellation of the Goldstone report.”
He said he was forming a special committee of top officials “to minimize, in even the smallest way, the great damage this smear campaign has caused the state of Israel.” The committee will be chaired by Netanyahu’s new national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, and include officials from the foreign, justice and defense ministries.
“I expect their recommendations in the coming days. We will act on the public diplomacy front and on other fronts with the international community and the U.N. in order to demand the justice that is due to Israel,” he said.
The Goldstone report, released in September 2009, concluded that both Israel and Hamas committed potential war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The findings triggered outrage in Israel and a personal campaign against Goldstone — a respected South African Jewish jurist with close ties to Israel.
Israel attacked the Gaza Strip in an offensive known as “Operation Cast Lead” in December 2008 in response to years of almost daily rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel.
During the three-week campaign, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed as well. Israel has blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian toll, saying the militant group staged attacks from heavily populated residential areas, as well as mosques and schools.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Moshe Yaalon said the experience of the Gaza war showed that traditional laws of war that differentiate between civilians and combatants have been blurred. Yaalon, a former Israeli military chief of staff, said laws “should be adjusted to (recognize) the rogue elements who do not consider international law.”
Goldstone’s team traveled to Gaza to collect evidence, but Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation, accusing the panel of bias. It was commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body that has a long record of attacking Israel.
The report accused Israel of using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure, and using people as human shields. It also accused Hamas of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through its rocket attacks.
The report called on each side to conduct independent investigations into the allegations.
Israeli President Shimon Peres called the report a “blood libel” against the Jewish people, and Goldstone himself faced criticism from Jews around the world — with even threats of protests against him in South Africa before his grandson’s bar mitzvah.
In Friday’s op-ed, Goldstone agreed that the U.N. Human Rights Council that set up the panel had a “history of bias against Israel” and that a U.N. committee of independent experts found that Israel has since carried out investigations into more than 400 allegations of misconduct in Gaza.
He complained that in contrast, Hamas has not carried out any credible investigations.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Goldstone’s about face was “too little and too late” and that the time has come to renounce his report publicly and not just in a newspaper.
“I think that now is the time to … start working much more seriously how to correct the international rules, norms and laws in order that it will enable both us and others to fight against terrorists even if terrorists are acting from within heavily condensed civilian populations,” he said.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said “Goldstone’s retreat is reprehensible.”
He said the Palestinians called on the U.N. to implement its report despite Goldstone’s backtracking. “These reports are based on facts and meetings with families of victims as well as the honest, documented work of human rights institutions,” he said.