Russel Tribunal — Why I picketed

Yesterday I picketed the Russel Tribunal on Palestine.

Before you hit the refresh button in your rush to disassociate yourself from dissent, (in an editorial, the liberal Cape Times opined:  “turning the tribunal into an object of scorn and hatred, as has been done by some of its more vociferous critics, is to exhibit an intolerance and a lack of respect for intellectual inquiry that is out of step with the great traditions of Jewish scholarship,” sheer hypocrisy from a newspaper which conveniently looks the other way when such scholarship is thrown out of a local court.)

I wish to remind readers that my views on the Israel-Palestine issue are well known. As an anarchist, I have been highly critical of the Zionist State and have attended many Pro-Palestinian events, including Stop the War, Ashley Kriel Memorial Lecture, the Sministim Tour and a host of local debates on the subject.

Earlier this year I gave a seminar at the IDASA Democracy Centre on the environmental dimension of the Middle East problem. I  am also on record in my opposition to the separation barrier and, just happen to be one of those activists present at the formation of the Open Shuhada Street campaign. (Although Nathan Geffen will probably balk  at any suggestion the campaign was a continuation of  the Anti War Coalition, programme).

Having said this, I am extremely concerned about the way support for freedom is taken as carte blanche support for ‘by any means necessary’ — and what is now turning into predictable violence emanating from the Palestinian quarter (as well as the religious right).

The ejection of a journalist is one such incident, see Eye Witness News coverage. and Open Letter 

Then there is the issue of  the abuse of the historical record in South Africa, in particular the denigration and obliteration of the memory of the victims and survivors of the apartheid system.

I therefore do not write this lightly, knowing full-well that doing so opens one to  further  sectarian violence and the usual accusations that if I don’t support one party, I must be supporting Zionism and the Other. But some things need to be said. Since not only was I also subjected to verbal abuse by people who think they have immediate access to what is inside my head, (to them I am just a religious fanatic) but in one notable incident, an organiser from the Russel Tribunal pathetically attempted an assault,  outside the venue, physically threatening grievous bodily harm — a  failed attempt to also prevent the gathering picketing outside the District Six Museum where the Cape Town leg of the tribunal was being held.

(If anybody has videotape I would appreciate it.)

Firstly there is the uncomfortable fact of ongoing attacks against progressive Jews. One has only to look at the absurd outcome of my own solidarity with Palestine — being the  failure to resolve a 5 year labour dispute involving an apartheid-era media company, which has now turned into an example of Anti-Semitism enshrined as Law in South Africa.  If it were not for the problem of ongoing apartheid in South Africa, I would probably still be one of the many self-satisfied members of the left, who remain oblivious to such problems in the politics of forgetting.

Whether I support a Free Palestine or not, whether I support rights for all or not, and even rights for those who are now vicitms of violence, makes no difference in a world that insists on creating simplistic, binary opposites. Since I am not the right type of modern victim I am regarded as nothing more than chattel labour, an object, rather than the subject of rights, by a system which insists on lumping all Jews into one category regardless of their beliefs or opinions. I currently do not possess equal status in terms of the law, and do not possess rights which people of other faiths take for granted.

Needless to say, those same Palestinian activists who demanded my attention and support over the past two decades, without bothering to debate on points where we diverge, have failed the test of solidarity —  singularly failing to object to the interrogation of  Jewish  identity in terms of apartheid era race classification — the sad denial of my own right to religious and cultural freedoms supposedly guaranteed by our constitution in the country of my birth. Solidarity with the dispossessed and disenfranchised is not a one-way street. Sympathy with a cause has its limits, in particular when the cause impinges upon ones own rights to liberty and freedom.

Having fought for freedom and equality for all, it is extremely difficult to acknowledge that apartheid is alive and kicking in the 21st Century. What is happening in Palestine may be  far worse than what happened in South Africa. However calling it apartheid merely strips the historical record of any meaning.  South Africa is not the miracle we would like it to be —  our own struggle at home is far from over.

I picketed the Russel Tribunal not because I am against the rights of those who call themselves Palestinian, nor because I am blind to the abuses of international law perpetrated by the right-wing Israeli government, but because I am extremely concerned about the abuse of the historical record in South Africa, in particular the denigration and obliteration of the memory of the victims and survivors of the apartheid system.

Whatever is occurring in the Middle East, it is not apartheid, dasein, the thing itself, saying so merely shifts the burden of evidence, in the process denying the rights of those who still suffer from the affects of the apartheid system. It is all too easy to simply deny the reality of faith-on-faith violence and problems such as the historical blood libel against Jews, in the logical game which turns our collective experience as South African’s into legal fiction.

One has only to examine the manner in which the TRC evidence has been rendered null and void by the denialists who have prevailed in my own case to see how disavowal of the tragic affects of apartheid in the form of apartheid denial is destroying the very basis for South African society — the way the tragic effects of the Group Areas Act are now being explained away as nothing more than  a “coincidence of homogeneity” to realise there is something fundamentally wrong with taking the apartheid analogy too far.

It is all very well to say what is happening in Israel is like Apartheid, but saying Israel is Apartheid is one step away from holding the Jews collectively responsible for what happened in South Africa, while in the process disclaiming any involvement of Hendrik Verwoerd. As Judge Richard Goldstone  puts it, the apartheid analogy is thus “an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations.” The analogy is used to tar and feather progressives and conservatives alike. Even if one dissociates oneself from Israel and the nation-state, the effect is that all Jews, no matter what our beliefs or associations, are now presumed guilty of the “crime of apartheid’ in a modern reworking of the Christian blood libel.

For all the allure of victimhood and status as a cause celebre of the 21st Century, there are some real problems associated with the Free Palestine Movement. Its failure to articulate anything more than violence as a means to settle the conflict is abundantly obvious — self-evident by the lack of a coherent foundation document to a struggle that continues to assert a claim, based on the Ottoman Empire, to all land in the former British Mandate of Palestine, the colonial territory in which 75% of the land was handed over to to create Jordan, while the remaining 25% was split between Jews and Arabs.

Would we even be having this discussion if similar forces had prevailed in South Africa? If those who wished to have a black supremacist government in a whites-free Azania were given full leeway in articulating their views?

Can one expect the religious right to seriously negotiate over sharing a pizza with a person who insists on eating all the pizza? However much we may wish to sympathise with the victims of Zionist aggression, one has to admit they have a point – Unlike the South African struggle, there is no Freedom Charter for Palestine, guaranteeing rights for all.

Whether one is progressive, radical, conservative or orthodox, it makes no difference. As far as today’s Palestinian Activists are concerned, we are all merely cannon fodder in the rush to claim ownership of the South African struggle, in the process, the meaning of our struggle is lost.


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