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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Serving Hashem, Mitzvot and Repentance

OOPS

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So the Goldstone Report condemning Israel for "war crimes" in the Gazan operation against Hamas got it wrong. Richard Goldstone after whom this infamous document bears its name has come out publicly and declared that the UN Human Rights Commission erred in its findings against Israel. He also recognized that body’s prejudice and past animus towards Israel. While it certainly is admirable for Richard Goldstone to come forth now and admit his error it is undoubtedly impossible to fully correct the damage done to Israel by his initial report. Nevertheless Richard Goldstone is to be admired for his ability to publicly admit error. This is a trait that is noticeably absent in public officials who always seem to assert that they have never been wrong in their decisions, statements, judgments and policies. But the damage done to Israel by Goldstone’s original report is almost irreparable. And even in his retraction Judge Goldstone offers no apology for the erroneous report and its vicious conclusions regarding Israeli "war crimes" and still insinuates that Israel’s non-cooperation with the commission is of major responsibility in the commission’s erroneous report. Well, Goldstone himself admits that it was naïve in the extreme to think that Hamas would in any way conduct any investigations or regret any of its actions of indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israeli civilian targets. And though he hints at it, it would have been naïve in the extreme for Israel to receive a fair and unbiased hearing from a UN commission blatantly biased against Israel. The whole sordid process was just another stunt of deligitimatizing Israel by the Moslem and European world, a process begun at the notorious Durban conference and is continuing throughout the world since then.

All of this being said, Goldstone’s admission of error has a certain air of nobility to it. Shimon Peres has never admitted that Oslo was an error. Tzipi Livni or Ehud Olmert has never admitted that their support of the destruction of Gush Katif was badly mistaken. Ehud Barak has never revisited his shameful abandonment of Lebanon which has led to wars and the rise of Hezbollah. In our country all of our leaders, religious, governmental, social, societal and educational are never wrong. There is no personal accountability for errors in judgment and policy. It is only the criminal behavior of our leadership that eventually brings them down but even then there is scant evidence of admission of guilt or of apology to the long suffering public. They are all innocent even when found to be guilty. The necessity for admitting guilt and identifying one’s sins of commission and omission is a central tenet of Judaism. The Torah teaches us that no one individual, great as that person may be, is truly infallible. Jewish tradition teaches us that the main difference between Saul and David lay in Saul’s inability to admit his error in the war against Amalek while David publicly admitted his errors and sins. Judaism recognizes that people in leadership roles make mistakes. Such is our human condition. But it always demands accountability and remorse from those leaders for those errors. Therefore in effect it is this second statement of Richard Goldstone, his admission of error, which should serve as a reprimand to our society and its leaders.

King Solomon in Proverbs states that "one who admits [errors] and forsakes repeating them will be mercifully pardoned." Without personal admission of error there can be no pardon or forgiveness. The High Priest of Israel had to confess his own personal shortcomings on Yom Kippur before he could beseech Heaven for forgiveness on behalf of all of Israel. One sees throughout rabbinic literature the willingness of great men to admit that they overlooked something or that they erred in their judgment or logic in a previous decision. We see numerous instances in rabbinic responsa where a later response to an issue admits that the original response was wrong and should no longer be followed. Every author will tell you that if it were not for the insistence of the editor of his or her work no precious original word of that work would have been changed or corrected. It is difficult to erase or delete. It is even more difficult to admit to one’s self, let alone publicly, that one has made an error. Judge Goldstone has perhaps redeemed his name from eternal infamy in Jewish history by this statement retracting his earlier judgment regarding Israeli actions against Hamas in Gaza. It is not my task to decide what type of action he should take to try and undo the effects of his original report. But I feel he is to be complimented for issuing this new statement on the matter and owning up to the error that originally was his. Would that there would be more that would emulate him in this regard.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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