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 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.
Anti-Semitism like racism, is a thang when it comes to South Africa, see here.
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.
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.
Controversial article by Peter Beinart published in the Daily Beast claims there is no significant Reform movement in South Africa, that all South Africa’s Jews are Zionists:-
“South Africa is America on steroids. It’s even more sports-obsessed. It’s even more violent. Its state-sponsored racism was even more brutal. Its racial progress has been even more jaw-dropping. Its gulf between rich and poor is even more awful.”
“South Africa’s debate over Israel is more extreme too. The right is further right; the left is further left. And the big reason is apartheid, which haunts South Africa’s Israel conversation at every turn.” More
Melissa Levin of Africa is a country, responds:-
The next time , Peter Beinart who wrote a post on “The Israel Debate in South Africa” for The Daily Beast, visits South Africa, he ought to spend more time, with more people, getting a deeper sense of the complexities of the country and its struggle history. He may learn then, for starters, that South Africa is not America on steroids. America is America on steroids. And he’ll also learn that the affinity of the masses of people to the Palestinian struggle is hardly as mysterious and convoluted as he would suggest.” More
Some background on the current debate around conservative vs reform Judaism can be found here
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.
Yesterday I picketed the Russel Tribunal on Palestine.
Before you hit the refresh button in your rush to disassociate yourself from dissent, (in an editorial, the liberal Cape Times opined: “turning the tribunal into an object of scorn and hatred, as has been done by some of its more vociferous critics, is to exhibit an intolerance and a lack of respect for intellectual inquiry that is out of step with the great traditions of Jewish scholarship,” sheer hypocrisy from a newspaper which conveniently looks the other way when such scholarship is thrown out of a local court.)
I wish to remind readers that my views on the Israel-Palestine issue are well known. As an anarchist, I have been highly critical of the Zionist State and have attended many Pro-Palestinian events, including Stop the War, Ashley Kriel Memorial Lecture, the Sministim Tour and a host of local debates on the subject.
Earlier this year I gave a seminar at the IDASA Democracy Centre on the environmental dimension of the Middle East problem. I am also on record in my opposition to the separation barrier and, just happen to be one of those activists present at the formation of the Open Shuhada Street campaign. (Although Nathan Geffen will probably balk at any suggestion the campaign was a continuation of the Anti War Coalition, programme).
Having said this, I am extremely concerned about the way support for freedom is taken as carte blanche support for ‘by any means necessary’ — and what is now turning into predictable violence emanating from the Palestinian quarter (as well as the religious right).
Then there is the issue of the abuse of the historical record in South Africa, in particular the denigration and obliteration of the memory of the victims and survivors of the apartheid system.