Judge Goldstone’s bar mitzvah attendance, books that mention Jeffrey Benzien.

Controversial judge Richard Goldstone will be allowed to attend his grandson's bar mitzvah next month.

Judge Richard Goldstone will attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah after all.

A Mail and Guardian article explained that the SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) and the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol in Sandton were reported to have barred Goldstone from the synagogue service after an outcry over his criticism of the Israeli military in the Goldstone Report.

In the report, Goldstone accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza.

This is not the first time that Goldstone has waded into controversial waters.

The former head of an eponymous commission, Goldstone and his colleagues provided strong evidence during the waning years of the apartheid era of a “third force” that implemented many of the government’s bloody initiatives.

The commission contributed to a consensus about the need for a public body that later became the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Goldstone later served as the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda from 15 August 1994 to September 1996.

I had the honor of meeting Goldstone and his wife Noleen during a Facing History staff screening of Bill Moyers’ Facing the Truth video.  They knew Archie Findlay, who I had stayed with during the first month of my 1995 Fulbright Teacher Exchange.  We chatted pleasantly before the film began.

But the mood took a darker turn during the film’s early minutes.

“Benzien,” Mrs. Goldstone hissed when she saw the beefy and notorious apartheid functionary testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In one of the commission’s most chilling moments, at the request of MP Tony Yengeni, the dark-haired Benzien stood up from the dock and recreated the “wet bag” treatment he had administered to Yengeni and so many others.

In her book, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, Harvard Law School professor Martha Minow argues that the respect and deference the torturer showed his former victim demonstrated the commission’s effectiveness.

But in Country of My Skull, poet Antjie Krog made the point that within 30 seconds Benzien brought out that Yengeni had broken under torture and revealed the names of African National Congress comrades, a source of great shame to the politician.  Krog also wrote how, far from gaining satisfaction at confronting their perpetrator, a number of victims were left with the demoralizing realization that Benzien did not even remember having tortured them because he took the same actions against so many other people.

Benzien ultimately received the amnesty for which he had applied-a decision that I am confident rankled Mrs. Goldstone, given the visceral distaste she expressed toward the man while watching the Moyers film.

Hers and her husband’s views aside, I am glad that they will have the joy of seeing their grandson become a man in our tradition next month.

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2 responses to “Judge Goldstone’s bar mitzvah attendance, books that mention Jeffrey Benzien.

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