To the unnamed authors of the advert in the Mail and Guardian 14/12/12.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’? Rabbi Hillel

These words, uttered by one of Judaism’s greatest sages in the period immediately preceding our common era and predating the birth of Jesus Christ, compel all Jews to speak out against injustice.

The principle of reciprocity: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn,” was outlined by Hillel and recorded in the Mishnah, which forms part of the canon of Jewish thought which emanates from the Holy Land as well as the Diaspora and which has been bequeathed to all of humanity. This “golden rule” inspired progressive Jews such as myself to oppose segregation and human rights violations in South Africa under apartheid and continues to impose a duty to speak out against similar violations occurring in the Middle East on either side, in the name of religion.

It is thus ironic, that I write this letter whilst under sanction from South Africa’s legal authorities, who have declared there to be nothing inherently wrong or immoral in allowing employers to interrogate employees on issues of religious doctrine. [SEE: Lewis v Media 24 Ltd (C88/2007) [2010] ZALC 218; (2010) 31 ILJ 2416 (LC) (4 May 2010 paragraph 128, “an employer may surely raise a question over whether the commitment to observe a religious practice is genuine.”]

After being accused in writing, in a legal writ no less, of being Jewish — first accusation, I am not a Jew and second accusation, if I am a Jew, I am “not genuine in my observance of religion” -– I lead evidence to the effect that the Jewish community was “neither homogeneous nor monolithic”, and thus there existed a diverse and multifaceted Jewish identity in South Africa. The accusations were made by an apartheid-era media company which refuses to acknowledge its complicity in the apartheid regime, and which continues to withhold an apology to the victims and survivors of the apartheid system.

This evidence was rejected by a corrupt labour broker moonlighting as a judge of the labour court. My complaint against the corruption and outlining my assertion of the unlawfulness of the decision, in particular persecution of belief, was received by the Human Rights Commission of South Africa in August 2012.

I am most certainly a Jew, just not a Zionist. I have always believed that Universal Human Rights are a far better protection against Antisemitism than believing in a state called Israel, in particular the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion outlined in article 15 of our Bill of Rights, are all universal rights fought for and supported by leaders such as Nelson Mandela, and which should have been sufficient to remove the necessity for an exclusive Jewish Homeland.

Unfortunately, South Africa’s legal authorities have sought to entertain racist notions of eugenics, upholding the apartheid race classification system while including all Jews in a broad category that denies the divergence of opinion referred to in the abovementioned tract. Effectively demanding that we all subscribe to a strict and literal interpretation of the Torah and an interpretation of religious doctrine which would surely have surprised rabbinical sages such as Hillel? My beliefs and identity as a Jew are thus considered non-genuine in law because I refuse to condone racism and the strange idea that we should be obliged to follow an ultra-Orthodox view regarding the enjoyment of music on the Sabbath.

Tragically the Jewish community in South Africa have shown themselves reticent to support any legal challenge in this regard, one which risks upsetting the applecart insomuch as Jewish privilege in South Africa and the Middle East is concerned. A reason perhaps for the reliance on anonymity? One cannot expect all Jews to be solely defined by the conflict in Israel-Palestine. We experience discrimination regardless of the outcome and in fact, the pressure to conform to a specific religious identity at odds with the secular world has merely confirmed what many Zionists suspect, that a secular state can never be a sufficient guarantee of freedom of religion, since freedom of religion is not simply about obedience to authority.

I would therefore urge the authors of the tract and in particular the Stop the JNF, to re-examine and re-evaluate their foundation beliefs with regards to Israel. Clearly a situation in which all Jews, regardless of their individual beliefs are expected to seek religious instruction from employers in an environment which favours the religious views of the majority, would tend to invalidate the democratic claims made by the Republic of South Africa to protection of fundamental human rights and religious freedoms.

Yours faithfully,

David Robert Lewis

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