Jeff Jacoby
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The Goldstone Report was a blood libel.

Issued in September 2009 by a UN "fact-finding mission" headed by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, the 450-page document was an indictment of Israel's conduct during the brief war it launched in Gaza at the end of 2008 to end the intolerable rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas on Israel's southern towns. The Israeli campaign, the report charged, was nothing less than "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorize a civilian population." It repeatedly suggested that Israel was guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Goldstone report did incalculable damage to Israel's good name. Breathlessly hyped in the media, it accelerated the already frenzied international campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. Like the widely publicized "shooting" of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura in 2000 and the Jenin "massacre" of 2002, the UN accusation of Israeli war crimes in Gaza blackened Israel's reputation and inflamed its enemies. In reality, the al-Dura and Jenin incidents never happened -- they were eventually exposed as Palestinian propaganda hoaxes. The Goldstone Report too was a Big Lie. As even Goldstone himself has now confessed.

In an article published Friday in The Washington Post, Goldstone admitted that his mission's venomous central allegation -- that Israel purposely murdered Palestinian noncombatants -- was false:

"If I had known then what I know now," he writes in his opening paragraph, "the Goldstone Report would have been a different document." What he knows about Israel now is "that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy." By contrast, "that the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying -- its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets." He acknowledges that Israel has been conscientiously investigating incidents in which civilians were killed, whereas Hamas has investigated nothing. And he states the most elemental truth about the Islamist extremists who rule Gaza, a truth nowhere mentioned in the UN report that bears his name: "Hamas . . . has a policy to destroy the state of Israel."

That is a point that an honest investigation of the fighting in Gaza would have stressed. An objective inquiry would have focused on the conflict's asymmetrical nature -- Israel, a nation-state that bends over backward to avoid harming civilians, was facing Hamas, a terrorist organization that not only targets Israeli civilians, but deliberately puts Palestinian civilians in harm's way.

But Goldstone's investigation was a one-sided sham. His commission was a production of the UN Human Rights Council, which has a history of disregarding real human rights abusers (several of which are council members) in order to single out Israel for condemnation. Indeed, the panel's original mandate presupposed Israeli guilt: It called for an investigation of "the grave violations of human rights" caused by "the recent Israeli military attacks."

Goldstone blames the Israeli government for not cooperating with his "investigation," but the Jewish state was under no obligation to assist in its own lynching. And a lynching it was. The commission had made "a mockery of impartiality," commented the Washington Post when the report was issued. Goldstone's panel claimed not to know "that Hamas hid its fighters among civilians, used human shields, fired mortars and rockets from outside schools, stored weapons in mosques, and used a hospital for its headquarters, despite abundant available evidence." Yet it had no problem concluding that Israel's goal was to kill civilians.

A blood libel: Not merely a falsehood, but a willful moral inversion of the truth. For as the Post noted, "Israel is ahead of most other nations" in the efforts it makes to spare lives. "In Gaza its forces used thousands of e-mails, phone calls, and even non-lethal explosives to warn civilians away from airstrike targets." One military expert -- Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan -- testified that the Israeli military "did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare."

Goldstone has been lionized in many quarters for his role in the UN report. The Swedish Bar Association honored him with an international human-rights award, while Tikkun, the left-wing Jewish magazine, hailed him just last month as a "progressive leader" notable for "his courage." It cannot be easy for him to repudiate the report that made him a hero to the Israel-bashers and the international left. Perhaps after all this time he has had an attack of conscience.

Probably we will never know, just as we will never know the full extent of the damage the Goldstone Report caused. A simple lie, it is said, can get halfway around the world while the truth is still tying its shoes. A blood libel travels faster and can get even farther, and even a heartfelt mea culpa cannot call it back.

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Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.