Dear Steven Friedman,
I understand you have become somewhat of an expert on Jewish identity?
Since the decision by the SCA overturning a decision by the Equality Court, you are now able to tell a Theist from a Non-Theist, and a Zionist from a Non-Zionist, simply by looking at the other person?
The SCA decision requires some decoding, since an earlier decision by the Equality Court is replete with captions from Bongani Masuku of trade federation COSATU regarding a supposed “Jewish race” (nations are not races) and both findings carry his exortions to ‘target every Zionist’ including their families, “to subject them to perpetual suffering until they withdraw from the land of others and stop their savage attacks on human dignity.”
The statements made at a 2009 Pro-Palestine rally, were found to be hate speech by the Equality Court, in contravention of section 16(2) of the Constitution, and also section 10 of the Equality Act, and are consistent with equally incendiary statements, made in 2014 by one Tony Erenreich calling for ‘retribution against all Jews’ and for a policy of an “eye for an eye”, which were also found to amount to hate speech by the SAHRC.
If anything, the 2014 statements by Erenreich, build upon and far exceed the position articulated by Masuku in 2009 and need to be seen in the context of emerging policy development within the union movement in South Africa, and all feeding into the ruling party’s own position, as well as that of various opposition groupings. (See Vavi’s position here).
It should be stated that Masuku appears to have toned down his race rhetoric somewhat, at first pleading that he did not single out the Jewish race (sic), ethnic gender, or religious group, and then by qualifying his statement further.
The SCA decision therefore records Masuku’s somewhat altered (and apparently acceptable) position, that “the only group that he made specific reference to is the Zionists and that Zionism is a political ideology which is inclusive of various religious groupings.”
As such, the SCA decision opines “his statements were directed at supporters of the State of Israel from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, rather than to Jewish students. He asserted that the religion and ethnicity of the supporters of the State of Israel were of no concern to him (and COSATU) and that his references to ‘Zionists’ connoted adherence to a political ideology rather than a religious or ethnic orientation.”
And therein lies the rub, since how does one aver a political ideology supposedly flowing from ones identification as a Jew (or love of Jews), but apparently devoid of religion, ethnic orientation, cultural predisposition or otherwise? As a cartoonist put it, ‘there may be something Jewish about the state of Israel’. And the result has been a veritable war of definitions — who gets to decide who is Jewish or not — and equally affecting those who are not Jewish per se but merely allies, friends, lovers, philosemites or what have you?
In Anti-Semite and Jew, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre defined a Jew as ‘a person that others look at and say, “look, he/she is a Jew”. Just as a chair is a chair by virtue of our considering it a chair’.
Last year the SACP, a hot-bed of bureaucratic tinkering and economic flatulence, released an equally novel statement deploring, ‘crypto-Zionism’ and railing against undercover Zionists, or any people who may know other people who happen to be Zionists … and who may simply be Jews?
The Society for Secular Humanistic Judaism for instance, an organisation which eschews ‘supernatural authority’, defines a Jew as ‘anyone identifying with the past, present and future of the Jewish people’. A website by the SSHJ contains the following:
- Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people.
- Jewish history is a human saga, a testament to the significance of human power and responsibility.
- Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment.
- Ethics and morality should serve human needs.
- The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.
So far as you, Friedman are concerned, there is a convenient border (and brick wall) between Zionism on the one hand, and Jewish identity on the other, and for my part, (and speaking as somebody who has signed many statements distancing myself from both the SAJBD and Israel), and who for years has found it possible to be both a Non-Zionist and Non-Theist, (at least until one Halton Cheadle attempted to define my Jewish identity), without being tackled by hate-mongers on all sides, the issue is rather moot.
The SCA decision for instance, carries a definition of Zionism as ‘a political movement that had as its original aim the creation of a country for Jewish people, and that now supports the state of Israel.’
By this erudite definition, (and Masongu’s defense) anyone supporting the borders of 1948 and/or the armistice of 1967, as Nelson Mandela did, is a Zionist or worse.
Which brings one to the core problem of defining hate speech and anti-Semitism within a South African milieu and developing local jurisprudence, which if the SCA decision is anything to go by, suggests that attacks against Jews for simply having Jewish family (or odd members who may also be Zionists), is all fair game, acceptable discourse within the bounds of protected speech and righteous political action?
So let’s be frank about the problem.
It certainly is a thang when it comes to Cheadle and Erenreich
Other definitions abound, such as one by the European Union, for example, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.” or “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”
In September the UK Labour Party adopted in full an international definition of anti-Semitism, after months of similar controversy.
It incorporates all the 11 examples of anti-Semitism cited by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance into its code of conduct.
Time for South Africans to arrive at an acceptable and internationally binding definition, one that does not eviscerate legitimate criticism of the State of Israel.