Between a Rock and a Very Hard Place: Leadership in International Conflict

New Product: Reputation, Credibility, and the Goldstone Report

by Amanda Reilly, Lisa Brem, and Elizabeth Moroney

Richard Goldstone

When the United Nations published the Goldstone Report assessing the 2008 Israeli military strike in Gaza, it (and its main author, Jewish South African jurist Richard Goldstone) received a barrage—a landslide—a torrent—of criticism. Certainly, Goldstone did not set out to engender such a visceral response. So what went wrong? Was there some way Goldstone could have mitigated the negative impact, or was this mission doomed from the start? And if such missions are doomed, what does this say about the people willing to wade into the most intractable international conflicts? Are they misguided or courageous? These are some of the questions put to senior managers from governments around the globe at Harvard’s Kennedy School last August when Professor Philip Heymann debuted his new case study, Reputation, Credibility, and the Goldstone Report. They also wrestled with questions such as: What were the UN’s goals for the Gaza Mission? Would you have counseled Goldstone to take or refuse the position? How should Goldstone respond to the massive attacks on the Report and on him personally? This case study covers the years from 2008 to 2011, examining the fact-finding mission and the decisions Goldstone made before, during, and after the report’s publication.  The follow-up “B” case details the actions Goldstone took in response to the public backlash.

In his class, Heymann asks participants not to find the truth about Operation Cast Lead, but rather to understand the difficulty of being charged with finding it. Students ponder whether they would take on such a controversial situation, how they would navigate it, and what they could do to keep their reputation and credibility intact throughout the process.

Airstrikes in Gaza (Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, Flickr)

Heymann, who studies criminal justice, political violence, and terrorism, has also taught the case study in his Harvard Law School course: Decision-Making and Leadership in the Public Sector at Harvard Law School (Fall 2012).

For more information, or to discuss how to adapt the case study for your academic or professional education needs, contact Lisa Brem, Case Studies Program Manager, at

About Lisa Brem

Lisa Brem is the Case Studies Program Manager at Harvard Law School.
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