The behaviour of the South African judge Richard Goldstone, whose report on Israel's actions in Gaza has drawn furious criticism not just from Israel but by many neutral observers, will not surprise those who have followed his career.
Three things stand out about Goldstone since his student days. Those who know him say that, above all, he has always been extremely ambitious. Second, he is able and intelligent. And third, he is a man of great political shrewdness. Many believe that all his legal and judicial actions are ultimately dictated by political considerations.
As a young advocate in apartheid South Africa, Goldstone devoted himself to commercial law. He drew criticism for the way he entertained at his home the attorneys who might bring him cases: this was greatly frowned on for it was viewed as touting for custom and a sign of overweening ambition. Similarly, his decision to accept nomination as a judge from the apartheid regime was deplored by many liberal lawyers who refused to accept such nomination because it meant enforcing the country's laws.
But when entrusted by President F. W. de Klerk with a Commission to investigate the causes of violence, Goldstone displayed nifty footwork and turned up all manner of damning evidence against the regime but did not investigate the ANC's armed wing or any form of violence organised by the organisation. This made him the ANC's favourite judge, particularly since he seemed intent on producing the maximum political publicity.
Given the sensational nature of these reports — at a time when the eyes of the world were fixed upon South Africa — the result gave Goldstone an international reputation as a fearless crusader against apartheid. Reports began to circulate that he was attempting to set himself up for a large international job. Moreover, although he was supposed to report to de Klerk and Mandela, he carried out a surprise raid on the offices of military intelligence and issued a statement suggesting that the military were involved in illegal behaviour. De Klerk had to dismiss 23 senior military figures though the evidence for their guilt which Goldstone had promised was never forthcoming. The officers sued de Klerk, who had to back down and apologise, but the damage was done. De Klerk was furious at the deliberately sensational use of untested evidence and, knowing that Goldstone's ambitions went as far as succeeding Boutros Boutros-Ghali as UN Secretary-General, referred to him as "Richard Richard-Goldstone".