HE COULD have given a speech from constitutional hill, a lecture from an academic institution or a civil society NGO, instead Ronnie Kasrils, the self-appointed deacon of moral rectitude in the Middle East chose Claremont Main Road Mosque. Delivering a scathing rebuke of the treatment meted out to two pupils by Herzlia, a Jewish day school, following afternoon prayers.
The timing and location of the Friday address by our former ‘intelligence minister’ (surely an oxymoron?) brought into strong contrast the religious and binary nature of the 70-year-old conflict between Palestine and Israel.
Referring to a recent incident at the school ‘where two pupils were punished for kneeling during the singing of Hatikva, a Jewish poem written by Naphtali Herz Imber, and adopted as the Israeli national anthem.
Kasrils apparently ‘slammed the school’s attitude as bigoted’
Calling the pupil’s gesture in ‘taking the knee ‘a “perfectly peaceful expression of dissent popularised by American athletes” but failing to note that bending the knee within the context of religion, like doffing ones hat, or kneeling and praying, may have a very different motif to that taken within a civil context.
A popular television series about thrones also springs to mind.
Kasrils opined “the school authorities have demonstrated contempt for what Jewish culture has once been famous for: and that is open mindedness, tolerance, the encouragement of independent thinking and freedom of expression.”
“Secondly, they treat the student’s actions as shameful – yet the bending of the knee is totally passive and peaceful; a very dignified non-violent demonstration of dissent,” he said.”
Readers may remember a similar case in which an openly lesbian Methodist minister Ecclesia de Lange failed in her bid to have sanctions by the Methodist church overturned.
And the silence of Kasrils when it comes to the topic of secularism and religious pluralism.
In 2011 the country banned the Dalai Lama.
There has been quite a bit of debate online about the Herzlia incident. None of the authors of the various articles and documents, including a missive by Herzlia alumni, make any reference to religious pluralism, secularism and the prevailing law in South Africa, fraught as it is, by the legacy of theocracy during apartheid.
The constitutional values which Kasrils purports to defend, including the right to dissent, (values with which I wholeheartedly agree and support), are certainly not bolstered by pitting one religion against another, and Kasrils has been rather shy when it comes to defending secular identity in this respect.
The constant parade of photo-opportunities and news briefings attended by religious leaders, usually Christian or Muslim, is positively nauseating, as too the lack of any platform for representatives from mainstream Judaism, secular Judaism and civil society for that matter.
The ongoing theme of my recent writing on the subject, that of injustice versus injustice has therefore once again played itself out. Thus Kasrils’ religion vs religion is merely injustice versus injustice squared. And the binary position taken by the man is surely contrary to secular identity, especially when it comes to the complexity of the problem?
Imam Rashied Omar is thus reported to have ‘commended Kasrils for speaking out against injustices to the Muslim community in the Israel-Palestine conflict.’
No word on the injustices meted out to secular Jews because of their views, since as the Herzlia alumni are at pains to point out, we don’t count. Not every Jew in South Africa has attended a Jewish day school, nor has visited Israel on holiday camp, nor even intends to do so in the near future.
The comment by Iman Omar comes after Kasrils said “this makes BDS a powerful tool, as was the case during the Struggle against racist South Africa, to isolate Israel until change comes.”
Or until the Messiah arrives, you be the judge?
For readers wanting a better perspective, a BDS video on Youtube purporting to carry the views of the late Nelson Mandela on the subject of Palestine, redacts an interview with Ted Koppel, by removing any reference to Mandela’s equal support for Israel, and hence Jewish nationalism and self-determination.
Mandela’s bipartisan, nuanced and pragmatic position in regard to his support for the 1967 borders are thus turned into an open endorsement of the prevailing position within BDS on South African campuses, that of the complete and utter removal of the country from the face of the earth.
Not that one necessarily supports nation-statism, Global Jihad nor even Kasrilism, but if readers are going to get involved with BDS, at least know what it is that you are supporting.
For the record, as a person of Jewish descent, I support limited sanctions including an arms embargo, a pragmatic approach with achievable goals, not the extremes of the BDS platform bordering upon persecution, and one most certainly opposed to the role played by religious leaders in prosecuting the conflict.