Toy Wars: The Reggies Boycott

THERE are a number of things which need to be said in regard to the recent action against Reggies, a Jewish-owned business operating in South Africa. Firstly it would appear that children are now being used as political pawns in a war being conducted by adults.  Secondly, a boycott of Jewish Toys is ill-considered. It is one thing to tackle an adult beauty product on the basis of a dispute over the borders facing the Dead Sea, but another thing entirely to boycott toys for kids, on the grounds of a businessman’s apparant support of a fund ostensibly being used to plant trees in greater Israel.

The Open Shuhada Street Campaign against AHAVA which conducts some of its business in territories occupied by Israel and which are disputed in terms of international law, is most certainly a well thought out action aimed at bringing the territorial dispute to the attention of the general public.

The Reggies Boycott on the other hand fails to consider the ramifications of a broad boycott against Jewish business. Horwitz’s rationale behind the action is apparently due to Reggies owner Issy Zimmerman’s support of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The fund is accused by the group of  “being used by the Israel government to cover over the villages from which Palestinians were forcibly removed from land they’ve owned since the Ottoman times. And that continues we cannot allow this ethnic cleansing.”

Aside from the vigilantism inherent to this type action — there are legal options which have not been fully explored —  the case against the JNF has by no means been decided in South Africa. The evidence referred to by Horwitz in his supposed correspondence with Zimmerman, has not been tested and has not received anywhere near the kind of open intellectual inquiry that would be needed to determine whether or not there is any veracity to any of the claims.

To give an indication of the kind of claims that would need to be tested in a court of law. The Stop the JNF website refers to trees planted on Mount Carmel in the District of Haifa, which is in the State of Israel. A booklet published by the campaign quotes Max Bluthenthal’s description of ” the environmentally destructive role of the JNF-planted pines in last year’s fire in Northern Israel that killed 42 people.”

“The JNF planted hundreds of thousands of trees over freshly destroyed Palestinian villages like al-Tira, helping to establish the Carmel National Park. An area on the south slope of Mount Carmel so closely resembled the landscape of the Swiss Alps that it was nicknamed “Little Switzerland.” Of course, the non-indigenous trees of the JNF were poorly suited to the environment in Palestine. Most of the saplings the JNF plants at a site near Jerusalem simply do not survive, and require frequent replanting. Elsewhere, needles from the pine trees have killed native plant species and wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. And as we have seen with the Carmel wildfire, the JNF’s trees go up like tinder in the dry heat.”

South Africans have no doubt witnessed similar debates about our local fynbos, in particular the controversy over Cecilia Forest, in Cape Town which has now been cut down and replaced with indigenous trees in a programme that aims to rectify water shortages and some of the supposed excesses of colonialism in Southern Africa. Unfortunately, the problem in Israel has absolutely nothing to do with British colonialism. Underlying the environmental issues, is the controversial issue relating to the recapture of land gained during successive periods of conquest.

To make a comparison, an equivalent scenario, would be if a group calling itself the Front for the Return of the Phoenician Empire, were now demanding that all land in the Cederberg be returned to the Phoenicians, since it is clear from historical data, that Phoenicians planted ceders there during their journeys around the African continent. There is a very good reason that people calling themselves “Palestinians” have been removed from Carmel. For starters, the land was gained through acts of colonial conquest, infanticide and outright murder.

Where did it all start? With slavery in the land of Egypt and an Egyptian Empire that murdered workers in order to prop up a tyrannical family posing as Gods?  Or the Roman Empire which proceeded to destroy the Jewish State through acts of cultural genocide and expulsion? The province of Syria-Palaestina created by Herod following the defeat of the Bar Kokbah Revolt in 135CE was a concoction of the Roman bureaucracy which sought to destroy Judaism, lest its ideas of tolerance and egalitarianism be allowed to overthrow the Empire. In the end, an offshoot of Judaism known as Christianity succeeded where the Maccabees failed.

The State of Israel keeps reappearing throughout history. A map of the Kingdom of Israel shows the state on both sides of the Jordan River. This state was replaced by the Crusader Kingdom, which was destroyed by the Ottomans and then regained during World War 1. After the genocide of six million Jews during World War 11 and the murder of 100 000  Jerusalem Jews by the Ottomans, demands for the return of Israel to the Jewish people became hard to deny. Despite the Balfour Declaration and attempts by politicians to carve up the land of the British Mandate of Palestine into unequal pieces, with the vast majority of land being given to the Jordanian-Palestinians, the State of Israel was eventually regained by the Jews though a war of Independence. It is this war which Horwitz seeks to undo, in his ill-considered attempt to repatriate property to an illegitimate entity which seeks to destroy the Zionist State by replacing the narrative of Jewish Independence, with an Hamasist fable that ignores the existence of Jordan and other Palestinian entities.

He could do a lot better by simply demanding that Jews and Arabs receive equal treatment in a new dispensation which puts an end to the strife between Palestinian and Jew, and which seeks reconciliation in a new entity based upon fundamental human rights. Furthermore, there is no reason why Palestinians, under the current system should not be treated equally either as Israelis, or receive citizenship as Jordanians, in the land given to them by the British Empire.

UPDATE: An article carried by the M&G now refers to the judeafication of the Negev Desert, as if Jews do not have any right to the land granted in terms of UN Resolution 242. Whatever ones feelings about the plight of the Bedouin, who are now threatened by housing projects, the fact remains that Arabs already have over 75% of the British Mandate of Palestine. This fact is conveniently omitted in the propaganda war, which seeks the delegitimization of the State of Israel, on the basis of previous Empires acquisition of property via acts of conquest, as well as the removal of Jewish rights in the diaspora. Such conquests are specifically outlawed under international law, and is the basis for the dispute over the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.

NOTE:  Lewis is an anarchist and progressive Jew, he does not support the state, but rather the idea of universal human rights. He is thus opposed to any dispensation which lacks a Freedom Charter. He wishes to express his outrage at having to reiterate common knowledge merely in order to demonstrate why statism on either side is bound to fail.

South Africa, J’Accuse

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.