Goldstone report clouds family affair

Johannesburg - The internationally respected South African jurist who wrote a UN report on Israel-Palestinian clashes won't be attending an important Jewish rite of passage for his grandson, but did not confirm reports he was put off by possible protests by Jews angered by conclusions he drew about Israel.

All Richard Goldstone would say Saturday was that after discussions with a South African Jewish group that has sharply criticised his findings that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza in 2009, he decided not to attend the bar mitzvah.

"In the interests of my grandson I will not be attending the bar mitzvah ceremony," the retired member of South Africa's highest court said in an e-mail to The Associated Press Saturday. "At this time I am not prepared to say more than that after consultation with the rabbi and leaders of the congregation at the Sandton Synagogue, to which the South African Zionist Federation was a party," he said.

The Zionist Federation has called Goldstone's UN report "flawed and biased." The group's chairperson, Avrom Krengel, told the AP he could not comment on the bar mitzvah until after the affair under an agreement with the Goldstone family. Neither he nor Goldstone would say when the bar mitzvah, a milestone heavy with religious, cultural and family meaning at which 13-year-olds traditionally come of age, was scheduled.

"It is a day of celebration and we don't want to detract from it," Krengel said.

Harelle Isaacs, office manager at the synagogue, told The AP, "As far as we're concerned, Judge Goldstone is welcome on our premises. No one has asked him not to come.

"We actually don't know where that's coming from," Isaacs said.

Talk of protests has roiled on blogs.

Bar mitzvah a divisive issue?

In a statement on Friday, South Africa's Jewish Board of Deputies said it was concerned the bar mitzvah "would turn into a divisive issue within the Jewish community."

In what could be taken as a veiled rebuke at any planned protest, the board called for tolerance, and said the exercise of the right to free speech must take "into account, with due sensitivity and understanding, the feelings of others."

Goldstone is a respected figure in South Africa. In addition to serving on the country's Constitutional Court, Goldstone once chaired a South African commission of inquiry into apartheid-era political violence, and was a prosecutor for the UN War Crimes Tribunal for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He currently holds a visiting post at Georgetown University in Washington.

But he has faced heavy criticism at home and abroad for his Gaza report. Some of the criticism from fellow Jews has been especially pointed, but other Jews have supported him.

The United States said the report did not fully deal with the role of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the conflict. It also objected to a recommendation that Israeli actions be referred to the International Criminal Court, saying such moves could damage efforts to restart peace talks.

Goldstone has expressed disappointment at the criticism and rejected any suggestion politics played a role in the findings in his 575-page report.

"We believe deeply in the rule of law, humanitarian law, human rights and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm," Goldstone told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last year. The council commissioned the report.

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