THE argument that Israel represents the ‘Jews of South Africa’, often made by members of the SAJBD is as fallacious as the equal assertion that BDS and its leadership represent the diversity of Jewish history and culture, in particular the legacy of Jewish activists during the freedom struggle.
A letter by a US academic Judith Butler written to UCT and published by the Mail & Guardian, ironically refers readers to a committed Zionist and treason trialist, Arthur Goldreich, alongside a liberal supporter of Israel sovereignty, Helen Suzman. This in order to embroider upon an evolving work of fiction — the false analogy between the ongoing struggle of the Palestinians and our own country’s struggle against apartheid.
Butler maintains, that “BDS draws on longstanding traditions, some of which were importantly developed in the context of the struggle against apartheid”. While the two struggles may appear similar in mode at the surface, there are significant and important divergences, differences which we disregard at our peril.
For starters, the South African struggle was an epic battle against colonialism and white domination in support of democracy and secularism. Activists such as myself were pitted against a white regime which was theocratic, undemocratic and avowedly Christian in outlook.
Butler goes on to write: “Let us not forget the large numbers of Jews who have fought in social justice struggles, including the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa (Joe Slovo, Arthur Goldreich, Ruth First, Albie Sachs, Helen Suzman), who contest the radical inequalities that form the basis of Israel’s claim of Jewish sovereignty and its claim to maintain Jewish demographic advantage at all costs.”
The claims made with regard to Goldreich and Helen Suzman are instructive and bear greater consideration. A piece published by Benjamin Pogrund for the Helen Suzman Foundation states: “Use of the apartheid label and repeated references to “genocide” against Palestinians and denunciations of Zionism as “racism” are at best ignorant and naïve and at worst cynical and manipulative.”
Unlike the South African struggle where Jews enjoyed leadership roles, and where persons such as Joe Slovo were in many respects over-represented than other minority groups, both Fatah and Hamas have failed miserably to include Jews in top positions.
Palestinian claims about the alleged “Jewish race” share more in common with the racist objectives and malicious aims of the puritans of the Nationalist Party than the alleged non-racialism of the ANC. To reiterate, nations are not races.
Unlike the Palestinian struggle which lacks any meaningful document such as the Freedom Charter setting out winnable aims and objectives, civil rights for all, the South African situation is rather different, and thus the recipe for achieving a negotiated outcome and peace settlement in our own country was founded upon a winning constitutional formula.
BDS have failed time and again to canvas the opinion of persons either referred to as ‘Jews’ or self-defined as Jewish, in a skewed solidarity politics that ignores the problem of Jewish identity. Butler is only able to espouse her own views because other views and Jewish voices have been silenced by the BDS politburo.
Though Butler’s misguided rhetoric on anti-semitism is to be welcomed, let’s be forthright and stop beating around the bush, anti-semitism is open hostility towards secular Jewish identity.
Attempting to provide a non-violent and anti-racist veneer to a religious struggle in which both sides are informed by religious texts in a battle over the final status of Jerusalem, avoids the open inquiry and evidence-based empirical research that needs to occur if we are understand the many dimensions to the problem.
As a person whose Jewish identity has become the subject of a racist legal inquisition in South Africa at the behest of the perpetrators of apartheid, I therefore do take exception to the banning of opinion and obliteration of independent voices outside of these two diametrically opposed camps, injustice vs injustice.
The experience of BDS campaigns within South Africa itself has not been a pleasant one.
I can only commend UCT council for not caving into the zealots.
It is not too late, nor out of the bounds of reason, to embrace a secularist and non-partisan ‘third way’, that avoids scapegoating of those who disagree with leaders and pundits on either side, and which avoids sacrificing democratic freedoms, freedom of speech, while protecting constitutional rights in our own country.
NOTE: For the record, DRL a graduate of UCT Center for African Studies, is opposed to the separation barrier, is in favour of a limited arms embargo against the State of Israel, and does not support any cultural or academic boycott targeting persons of Jewish descent on the basis of our alleged history and identity.
SEE: Dear Steven Friedman
As a hostage to the conflict being waged by conservatives on either side, I wish to once again place on record my objections to the war in the Middle East. In particular the internecine, sectarian conflict involving members of various faith groups, who refuse to recognise the rights of secularists such as myself.
The conflict is clearly a long-standing, religious-based conflict involving the deployment of displacement theology by either side, in the battle over identity and the status of Jerusalem, a city regarded as holy by many religions.
I also wish to reiterate my objections to the separation barrier and my rejection of the so-called ‘right of return’ on the basis of my Jewish ancestry, placed on record shortly after the wall was built in 2000, and published prominently in the Israeli media.
As a secular humanistic Jew and subscriber to the principles of the Society for Secular Humanistic Judaism, Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment. The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.
As a struggle veteran and war resister, I also wish to remind my fellow South Africans of my objections to the rationalisations of members of the IDF, in a combined ECC-IDF platform on UCT campus during 1987, and also the continued dispute involving my Jewish identity recorded in the decision of a South African court, and involving offensive race testing.
Apartheid, and its sequel in the new South Africa, should never be used as the justification for domination by one group over another, nor should its motivations be forgotten. Dialogue and compromise by all sides, is the only way forward. As objectors on both sides have shown, another reality is possible.
Let peace prevail on earth.
Dear Die Antwoord,
The recent letter from the Dagga Party and BDS refers.
There was a time when the solidarity campaign with Palestine tolerated secular Jews such as myself, who do not ascribe affiliation to any particular branch of Judaism as such. Over the years, as the campaign has grown, we have seen the closing down of debate, which has merely short-circuited around an untested analogy — the wholesale relocation of our nation’s own experience under apartheid — with the dire results, that unlike the anti-apartheid struggle, dissident points of view, divergent opinions and alternative solutions are ignored.
At no point has there been any consultation with those like myself, who require special needs, in particular that our justice system recognise that freedom of religion, is also freedom from religion, the right not to be subjected to laws governing a religion. The short-circuiting of debate on Israel and the Middle East, and the closing down of secular norms and values, has occurred hand in glove with the erosion of civil rights and freedoms in our own country.
I currently face religious and discursive sanctions in the newsroom as a music journalist, in a country which, having miraculously escaped its past under a Christian Theocracy and the Dutch Reformed Church (NGK), looks set to repeat its historical failures and mistakes. A disputed decision handed down by a civil court in South Africa as late as 2010, and 16 years after democracy, not only slated the late Robbie Jansen and trashed the findings of the TRC Final Report, but it upheld the supposed right of employers to interrogate, to discipline and to enforce conformity, over those persons, like myself, who may not be members of a major religion per se, but merely secularists.
Despite my insistance that I am a secular humanist and progressive, who subscribes to the principles of secular humanism as outlined by the Society for Humanistic Judaism, I have been turned into a pariah, apostate and heretic by our justice system, which seemingly eschews secular Judaism and thus the roots of secularism, as anathema – outside the health and boundaries of acceptable discourse in the community.
To make matters worse, legal professionals such as Kahanovitz SC and Ashraf Mahomed, President of the Cape Law Society, have turned into religious police, and this conservative backlash against progressive values is increasing, with absurd consequences. None other than Jeremy Acton of the Dagga Party has jumped on the ecclesiastical band wagon, who when he is not campaigning for the abolition of cannabis prohibition in South Africa, finds the time to oppose cannabis research in the Middle East. His views on the subject in his recent letter to you, must therefore be rejected as the work of a hypocrite and opportunist.
Israel is the leading proponent of Medical Dagga in a region, where both homosexuals and drug users are routinely faced with capital punishment. In Syria, the death penalty is meted out for drug use and trafficking by a despotic regime, whose Ba’ath party under Assad bears the exact same Pan Arab flag waved around at BDS meetings. Unlike any of the Arab States, Israel has also turned into a technology leader where Cannabis is concerned.
Unlike some Orthodox Jewish sects, whose members in New York recently blessed the herb as Kosher for Passover, attempts to raise the issue of harm reduction, public health, rational drug use, medical cannabis, and the abolition of dagga laws amongst BDS, is guaranteed to raise the ire of affiliate organisations such as People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad). The organisation eschews all forms of inebriation, recreational or otherwise. I do not have to explain to you what this means for your band, associated as it is with recreational drug use, and civil liberties.
The conservative assaults against traditional Khoisan herbs and beverages by religious cops and the vice squad in South Africa, supposedly enforcing the fatwas, edicts and religious strictures issued on a daily basis by BDS and others, have occurred in an atmosphere of intolerance and political inquisition. I have only to refer to the closing down of popular Observatory Jazz Venue Tagores, following a campaign against Jazz music by the Woodstock constabulary who perceive music itself as licentious, since it supposedly is a gateway to drug use.
Despite criticism of the BDS movement by academic luminaries such as Noam Chomsky, who has publicly stated that it is “a mistake for BDS campaigners to target Israeli cultural and educational institutions” and who has argued that “parallels between BDS campaign and action against apartheid-era South Africa are misleading”, the campaign continues along its merry way, and now looks set to launch into a vigorous campaign against Die Antwoord.
Chomsky and many musicians and activists like myself, favour a limited sanctions campaign targeting goods produced by Israeli firms actively involved in the occupation. Such a position is both moderate, accurate and reasoned. It gives opportunity to engage both parties at the same time that it places our voices, behind peace and resistance to war on both sides. It also embraces and articulates the bipartisan position of our nation’s founder, the late Nelson Mandela.
Mandela whilst on the Ted Koppel Show shortly after his release from prison, explained his principled position on Israel and Palestine thus:
“I explained to Mr Sigmund, that we identify with the PLO because just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination. I went further however to say, that the support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders, but of course, as I said to Mr Sigmund in Geneva in August, that we carefully define what we mean by secure borders, we do not mean that Israel has the right to retain the territories they conquered from the Arab world, like the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. We don’t agree with that, those territories should be returned to the Arab People.”
Clearly the lesson learnt from South Africa’s bitter and tragic experience under apartheid, in particular its unprecedented resolution, is that until we accepted that the other party was a part of the solution, there could be no solution to the problem. Similarly, unless we recognise the rights of both parties to the conflict, in particular Israel’s right to exist, which includes guarantees of access to Jerusalem and other holy sites in the region, as well as the right of access of all Muslims to Al-Aqsa, there will be no end in sight to to the conflict.
I therefore kindly request that you join solidarity with the global campaign for a secular solution to the problems in the Middle East.
David Robert Lewis
NOTE: A news story Activists request meeting with Die Antwoord over Israel boycott, is not the lead story about the Dagga Party Letter, but merely one of a sequence of events surrounding Acton’s sudden activism on the subject.
THE HIGH court is allowing 16,000 protesters to gather outside US singer, Pharrell Williams‘ concert in two days. Williams, who recently performed in Tel Aviv, has come under fire from several pro-Palestinian groups for partnering with retailer, Woolworths, accused of trading with the Jewish state. South Africa currently has diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, and Pharrell Williams’ tour thus has full support of the country’s laws.
BDS is comprised of mainly religious groups and the anti-Secular left.
The move comes days after a fact-finding mission by opposition leaders, including Mosiuoa Lekota (Cope), Bantu Holomisa, (UDM), Pieter Mulder, (FF+) Kenneth Meshoe (ACDP), and Mangosuthu Buthelezi (IFP) who returned from Israel and the Palestinian territories, after meeting with the Palestinian Authority ambassador to South Africa.
In an interview on Radio Islam, Holomisa and Lekota explained their reasons for the mission, and the group’s findings.
The opposition group believes that Israel is not an apartheid state per se, and supports South Africa’s bipartisan role, drafted by the late Nelson Mandela, in bringing both sides to the negotiation table. The country must rather support peace though negotiations they say.
“I don’t see the signs of apartheid there,” says Lekota, “in Israel today, in the Knesset, their parliament, are sitting Jewish people, both supporting the party in power and other parties, and also sitting there are Palestinians with their representatives, and Muslim elected representatives. We could never sit in the Assembly under apartheid.”
Both Lekota and Holomisa met with their counterparts, leaders of the opposition in the Knesset and the Palestinian Authority. Holomisa, has travelled previously to Ramallah, as a guest of the late Yasser Arafat.
“They indicated their dissatisfaction, for instance, the Israeli flag does not express them. They don’t have equal language rights, the national anthem does not express them, when it comes to land rights, they don’t have equal land rights. Now those elements are there, but to say this is apartheid is a misnomer.” says Lekota.
This view is backed up by Holomisa who concurs: “What we have seen in Israel, we went to hospitals, we saw that Israelis and other communities are treated equally. We also saw in the streets that we don’t see taxi ranks, this one is for Israelis, that one is for Arabs. We also heard from minority MPs in the [Knesset], who say they don’t have access to land, and when we asked this question, they didn’t give us any answers. If Israel was an apartheid state, South Africa, I submit would not have established diplomatic ties with [the country], under the ANC.”
Lekota says he holds the firm views which Mandela taught him. “When we were here under apartheid, we understood from him that it was critical on our part to convince our oppressors that there would be no solution unless there was negotiation between us and them.The situation is not very dissimilar. It is critical to find a counterpart to negotiate with in Israel.”
Both agree with the Palestinian Authority, that the conflict in that part of the world, will never end “as long as USA is the sole mediator of peace”, in order to solve this problem, they would like to see a similar thing, as the team which negotiated in South Africa. But in order for this to happen, “we need to recognise the realities of people who have lived in the area for centuries”.
TWO incidents involving campus politics in South Africa need some explanation.
The first involved the Durban University of Technology (DUT). Last week its SRC chair was calling for all Jews to be deregistered and in particular, those Jews who support Israel.
This week, the SRC was issuing a retraction. The announcement was shortly followed by news that members of the University of Cape Town (UCT) students council would be visiting Israel, ostensibly on a fact-finding mission.
The predictable anger from the vocal Palestinian lobby on campus looks set to disintegrate into yet another round of name-calling. So far as PSF is concerned, issues in the Middle East should not be debated, Jews must be banned or restricted from holding any opinions not authored by the BDS central committee.
It is not surprising then that some of the basic tenets associated with the campaign are falling apart, since BDS appear to be living in a Cold War time warp, cherry-picking UN resolutions to back up their arguments.
After the end of the Cold War, the same UN general assembly issued a resolution reversing the earlier resolution.
Thus in 1991 “the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly … to revoke the bitterly contested statement it approved in 1975 that said “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
“The official count found 111 nations in favor of repealing the statement and 25 nations, mostly Islamic and hard-line Communists, voting against. Thirteen nations abstained. Seventeen other countries, including Egypt, which recognizes Israel, and Kuwait and China, did not take part in the voting.”
The earlier 1975 resolution 3379 is the basis for several conferences in South Africa, each one arriving at the conclusion that Zionism is Racism and worse, apartheid.
The 1975 resolution is also the basis for a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) research paper reiterating its findings.
No resolution has ever been issued by the UN for any similar form of ethnic nationalism, for example: Kemalism.
FIRST there were the fatwas and pronouncements by Islamic scholars on the status of Woolworths in the global BDS movement. Then well-heeled young Muslim students staged a bizarre flash-mob event, consisting of coordinated dance and movement while shouting Pro-Palestinian slogans. Then the combined sit-ins by SACP and BDS members, and now the latest round involving COSAS and a badly executed pig.
Although Woolworths stocks less than 0.1% products sourced in Israel, the high-end retailer has come under fire by youth groups and students who wish to see Israel replaced by an Islamic republic under the Caliphate.*
The recent COSAS porker incident, (what about cruelty to animals?) involved a failed attempt to contaminate a “kosher” meat section of an outlet in Sea Point, frequented by Jews, and marks a strange new turn in the campaign.
If anything, COSAS has merely demonstrated the troublesome nature of competing dichotomies in the Middle East.
It is one thing to target so-called ‘Israel Made’ goods, it is quite another thing entirely to black-list Kosher products eaten by Jews, forcing Woolworths to also recall Halaal products. Similar dietary laws apply to both groups and many of the products affected have duel labeling.
“Woolworths is appalled by this incident. Placing a pigs head in our store is unacceptable and offensive to our employees and customers, including Jewish and Muslim employees and customers” according to Woolworths Group Director of Retail Operations Paula Disberry
“We will destroy any halaal products that may be affected and take any other appropriate measures.” she said.
The resulting misadventure, in essence the expose of the culinary habits of rival and competing religions, and the rules surrounding kashrut and halaal produce, signals a troubling escalation, and we have surely not seen the end of it — over 40 BDS members were arrested over the weekend for creating a public nuisance in a campaign endorsed by SACP Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and struggle luminary Denis Goldberg.
While Goldberg has criticised the SAJBD for not taking a stand on apartheid, it should be noted this position was also common to the MJC which refused to demand an inquiry into the death of Iman Haron. Muslim support for apartheid as recorded in the TRC Final Report, is thus also part of the broader picture relating to BDS’s political project — the revision of South African history, and the relocation of apartheid to the Middle East in a short-circuiting of debate that avoids crucial questions regarding a solution.
The Woolworths ruckus may seem opportunistic and ill-considered, given that other retailers such as Pick ‘n Pay and Shoprite have more exposure to Israeli produce.
Then there are the uncomfortable questions which need to be posed regarding Israel’s many BEE deals with the ANC ruling party.
Remgro, a South African industrial conglomerate, which is also a large investor in Kagiso and Sabido, own several Israeli equity and IT firms, including Veritas Venture Partners and Fring.
Naspers which has ties with Remgro, recently bought Similarweb, an Israeli IT firm.
(*Certainly, the nuanced bipartisan and non-sectarian secular views of the late Nelson Mandela relating to a two-state solution and the 1967 borders, do not make for a pithy slogan, as those waving around the Jordanian flag and shouting: Free Palestine! The paradox of support for another Palestinian state while there is a war against a renegade Islamic State has also been remarked upon.)
WHEN Jean Paul Sartre wrote his seminal work, ‘Anti-Semite and Jew – an exploration of the etiology of hatred’, it was shortly after the liberation of Paris, Sartre had noticed that in discussions about postwar France, “the imminent return of French Jews deported by the Nazis was never mentioned …. Some of the speakers, he guessed, were not pleased by the prospect; others, friends of the Jews, thought it best to he silent. (Neither they nor Sartre knew how many of the deported Jews would never return.) Thinking about these discussions, Sartre decided to write a critique of anti-Semitism. ”1
In critiquing Rebecca Hodes opinion piece on the recent events surrounding the singing of “Dubul’ iJuda/Shoot the Jew”, Wits SRC deputy president Tokelo Nhlapo ignores the problems of stigma raised by Hodes while pursuing an offensive anti-Semitic inquiry on the issue of race identity: Does the Jew exist, and who exactly is a Jew?
“I don’t understand how black people in this country have experienced Jews differently from other whites,” writes Nhlapo in the Daily Maverick “Put simply, we experience Jews first as whites, then as Jews. “ he says, defending the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign and its troubling resort to Dubul’ iJuda/Shoot the Jew – merely an “unfortunate” incident which “diverts attention from the real issue at hand: the contention that Israel is a racist, colonial Apartheid state in the name of the Jew.”
Nhlapo could do well to read Sartre, since his work serves as a prelude to the equally troubling question of existence, in this case, the imminent return of the Jews of District Six. A recent exhibition by the South African Jewish Museum paid homage to the contribution of South Africa’s black Jews — the Jews of District Six — expelled from a community which once represented a mosaic of culture and cross-pollination. Rendered all but invisible by the apartheid government, and persecuted today by ideologues like Nhlopo who would have every Jew conform to a normative model of Judaism in which the only Jews with acceptable identities are European, and the only Jews considered in possession of religion are the Orthodox.
The problem of South Africa’s Jewish assimilados, many of whom were assimilated into the coloured community, and who still identify as Jews while practicing a variety of faiths, are not wished away by a simplistic narrative which views the Jew as the oppressor and the Palestinians as the oppressed. It is thus dangerous to make such assumptions and associations, in articulating our history of struggle as a nation by linking with a solidarity campaign that opposes the history of Jews living in Israel, many of whom are as black as Nhlapo, and who are as much a part of African history as black people living in Europe are a part of European history.
Let us not make the further error of forgetting all the Arab Jews, some 50% of Israeli’s, and those Arabian refugees, deported to Israel after 1948 or exiled from North Africa and the Arab States, and Southern Africa’s own Lemba people, a tribal group living in Zimbabwe and Limpopo who identify as Jews.
The ongoing middle east conflict, and its patina of similarity with the South African experience, does not allow for essentialist notions of struggle, and while one may sympathise with the Palestinian cause and the manner in which the quest for identity / self-identity is being raised by those seeking out the holy land as a focus point, can one do so without also posing the equally obnoxious question – do Palestinians exist and who exactly is a Palestinian?
Such inquiries if they do not result in violence because of the ongoing blood libel against Jews by the Christian Church and Islam’s ever-present vendetta against Israel, invariably produce an uncomfortable impasse — the answer usually presented in the form of a composite and patchwork view of idealised historical communities with tribal and religious affiliations to the holy land, all of whom need to be accommodated under a future political dispensation.
My own Jewish bobba, Fanny Katsef, the product of refugees from Eastern Europe spent most of her life escaping the Nazis and “blending in”, classified as white, but passing as coloured. Along with so many working class from Woodstock, Maitland and Salt River, she had both a white card and the card enumerated by people like A Abdurahmen and C Vogel who elaborated coloured identity according to the discourse of fraternization and assimilation deployed by the apartheid government in its pseudo-scientific attempt to remove undesirables from the white race.
Would Nhlapo wish that people chant “Kill the Gogo?” In his reductionist efforts to save the Palestinian struggle and its demand for self-determination and autonomy, the university graduate fails miserably. In not relating the problems presented by competing nationalisms and ethnic identities, the so-called colonial project, Nhlapo merely conveys his own ignorance of the subject matter. When people resort to the self-same logic of every brute who ever wished to persecute a minority group, first, by removing us from history, then by denying our common humanity, can one really blame those “unjust” Jews who support Israel, separating those who seek justice from those who at the face of it, do not, even though their religion may demand it?
Israel was created so that the Jews would no longer be treated as the objects of political intrigue but rather the subject of human rights. If entertaining a world in which “Zionism” exists alongside “Hamasism” makes one a collaborator in Nhlapo’s view, then so be it.
1 Michael Walzer, in preface to Anti-Semite and Jew, An exploration of the Etoilogy of Hate, Schocken Books Inc. 1948