ON JANUARY 13, 1898 the newspaper L’Aurore published a letter by the writer Emile Zola. Addressed to the French president, it accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus a French Army General Staff officer sentenced to penal servitude for life for espionage. Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence. The letter was printed on the front page of the newspaper, and caused a stir in France and abroad. As a result of the popularity of the letter, even in the English-speaking world, J’accuse! has become a common generic expression of outrage and accusation against someone powerful.
If Zola were alive today, it is unlikely that he would receive the kind of acknowledgement in this country that he did back in France near the end of the 19th Century. For starters, South Africa’s jingoistic and censorious press is in and of itself, flagrantly anti-Semitic. The reason I say this, is because of the ongoing failure to report on a 7 year discrimination case involving an apartheid media house, which to this day, refuses to apologise for its complicity in the crime against humanity known as apartheid.
A 40 page affidavit detailing judicial impropriety and corruption at the Labour Court of South Africa as well as the circumstances surrounding the suppression of an interview conducted with the late Robbie Jansen and various accusations made by Media24 regarding my “Jewishness” was lodged with the South African Human Rights Commission earlier this year and acknowledged by the commission in an email dated August 28. My complaint against the Republic of South Africa summarises the many problems with the South African legal system and the flawed process which began as a complaint to the CCMA in 2006. I have little reason to believe that the SAHRC will act on the information, or that there is any chance that my rights as a progressive Jew will be upheld in a South African court of law.
As I write this, a campaign calling itself “Stop the JNF” is holding protests outside Reggies, a well-known toyshop. Their reason for doing so is because they believe the owner to be an avowed supporter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) which is accused by the campaign of supporting the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians and also of being “directly involved in the forced removal and dispossession of the Palestinian people.”
However one feels about the 64 year old conflict this much is clear: – any view in South Africa which directly contradicts the Hollywood polarity of Palestinian vs Israeli, the presumed gulf between Jew and Arab, and in particular the equation of Zionism with Apartheid, is immediately shut down by our local press. It cannot be because of simple expediance.
While letters pages of the dailies are often filled with the flotsam and jetsam of routine Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestinian invective, it has become all too easy in my home country to simply accuse another person of being Jewish (or Pro-Islam), while those on the receiving end of hate speech are denied the right to debate their opponents in a meaningful way, with the kind of intellectual rigour that would be needed to get to the bottom of the problem.
The resulting censorship and apartheid denial denigrates both the memory and dignity of the victims and survivors of the apartheid system. It allows us all to feel comfortable about ourselves as a nation, while the real perpetrators and transgressors of human rights abuses walk free. The politics of race hatred is thus merely reiterated in another form as we enter a dangerous zone in which merely being associated with any element of the conflict can get one into big trouble.
I want to live in a country where it is okay to listen to jazz music, where the colour of one’s skin makes absolutely no difference, where nobody can accuse another of being a Jew or an Arab and thereby gain some right to determine how they think or behave, where the right to dissent is not simply a polite political theory, but a reality, where newsroom censorship is a thing of the past, where apartheid is a relic, where all are considered in possession of rights and are equal.
My views on the apartheid analogy have thus been published at length on this blog. I have actively fought against apartheid and injustice on either side. In particular, I believe we are making an horrendous mistake by engaging in broad generalisations which allow us to forget the details of our nation’s own tragic past while presuming that dasein, the very being of the “thing itself”, is immediately accessible and open to instant extrapolation into other realms. Further, I believe we have embraced a massive category error by creating a too simplistic analogy, one which does not allow for realpolitiek, the kind of world in which a Jewish idiom is allowed to coexist with the traditions and practices of other faiths within an historical context that deals both with the Holocaust and the Catastrophe which followed.
It is thus not that hard to presume that we have already reached that time in our near future, when such modal realities may become a sheer impracticality, in which it is already a practical impossibility to be Jewish and South African at the same time.
It is very near the stroke of Midnight of a world-wide conflagration, one in which the events of Kristalnacht, as well as the Holocaust and Nakba look set to play themselves out once again, as we are all doomed by our turpitude to repeat history.