Larry Derfner What the South African Jewish community did last week was shameful published in the Jerusalem Post on 22nd April 2010; and Gilad Isaacs What South African Community Leaders Should Have Done – The Goldstone Scandal published on Mondoweiss on 25 April 2010
27 April – LATEST – Open Shuhada Street in South Africa has produced a summary The Goldstone Bar Mitzvah saga from beginning to end (at least so far)
Larry Derfner, 22nd April 2010
Judge Richard Goldstone, talking last October with a group of liberal North American rabbis, explained why he agreed to head the UN’s investigation of the war in Gaza.“I knew,” he said, “there would be strong and negative opposition to my doing it on the part of members of the Jewish community and particularly with the government of Israel and its supporters in Israel and the Diaspora. But I really felt that to live with myself and to live with my own conscience, I couldn’t justify having gotten involved in the investigations in many other countries and because I was Jewish refuse to use the same norms and the same principles in relation to Israel.”
I don’t think there is a single Israeli or Diaspora Jew in a high position of leadership today who understands what Goldstone was talking about. What he was talking about, plainly and simply, was moral courage.
It’s not here. It’s not what Israel is about, not what Diaspora Jewry is about, certainly not the leadership, and not the followers, either, who want to stay inside the warmth of the consensus. To be a good, patriotic Zionist Jew today, you have to pour out your wrath on Goldstone. A “small man,” was how President Shimon Peres described him. An “evil” man, a “traitor,” was Alan Dershowitz’s description.
As far as I’m concerned, neither Peres nor Dershowitz nor any of the legions of other proud, patriotic Zionist Jews who’ve ganged up on Goldstone are worthy of carrying his briefcase.
He is the absolute best of the Jewish tradition. He stands up for justice, he stands up for the oppressed and he speaks truth to power – no matter who holds the power and no matter what it costs him. This is one of the great Jews of our time. Goldstone is the secular equivalent of a Jewish prophet, and by trying so hard to dishonor him, Israel and the Diaspora Jewish establishment have succeeded only in dishonoring themselves.
LAST WEEK the Zionist and Orthodox Jewish establishment in South Africa stooped to forcing him to agree to stay away from his grandson’s upcoming bar mitzva in Johannesburg. (Goldstone now lives in Washington DC.) The South African Zionist Federation threatened to lead a protest outside the synagogue, so Goldstone, “in the interest of my grandson,” announced he wouldn’t be attending the ceremony.
The machers of the South African Jewish community were pleased. Avrom Krengel, chairman of the Zionist Federation, said his organization had been duly “sensitive” to the bar mitzva boy and his family. Rabbi Moshe Kurtsag, head of the South African beit din, or religious court, pronounced the outcome “quite a sensible thing to avert all this unpleasantness.” No religious or communal leader of South African Jewry said a word against this abomination. Neither did any Jewish leader outside South Africa. Neither did anybody important in Israel.
There were, however, some prominent, independent South African Jews who still knew the difference between right and wrong. “If it is correct that this has the blessing of the leadership of the Jewish community in South Africa, it reflects on them rather than on Justice Goldstone. They should hang their heads in shame,” said Judge Arthur Chaskalson, retired president of South Africa’s Constitutional Court.
By the end of last week, the ostracism of Goldstone had backfired. The story ran in The New York Times, the British papers, all around the world. The leaders of organized South African Jewry had brought shame on the community, so this week they’re in damage control mode, suggesting that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, after all, to destroy a kid’s bar mitzva to get at his grandfather.
I’m sure that by the end of this week, the South African Jewish machers will have shoved the whole episode down the memory hole. They’re very good at this. So is Israel. Ever since apartheid ended, South African Jewish officialdom has tried to make everyone forget they ever went along the system, while Israeli officialdom has tried to make everyone forget the special relationship they had with the white regime.
In his book Rivonia’s Children, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Frankel writes that as Afrikaners began to identify with Israel after the Six Day War, leading to the closest of military/diplomatic relations between the two nations, “South Africa’s Jews became increasingly identified with the government and less with its opposition in the liberation movement. All of this began to unravel with [Nelson] Mandela’s release, and ended upon his taking office. In denying their own culpability, many Jews pointed to the fact that their brethren were prominently involved in the anti-apartheid movement; indeed, some used this to suggest that the Jewish community as a whole had been committed to the liberation cause.”
Israel, likewise, professes to have been against apartheid all along, preferring not to mention that from the mid-’70s, as Frankel writes, “the two sides began sharing nuclear technology… Israeli technicians, engineers and retired military officers increasingly took up places as consultants and planners of the new tribal homelands, the nominally independent puppet states that the Pretoria government created out of rural wastelands.”
None of this is mentioned anymore in polite Jewish company in Johannesburg or Jerusalem.
No, as everyone recalls, we all stood up against apartheid; as Jews, we had no choice.
One day, if Israel ever ends its tyranny over the Palestinians, it will be difficult to find a Jew in this country or the Diaspora who ever supported Operation Cast Lead. It will be difficult to find a Jew in this country or the Diaspora who ever said a bad word about Judge Richard Goldstone.
If Israel ever ends its tyranny over the Palestinians, a whole lot of proud, patriotic Zionist Jews are going to be loaded down, searching frantically for the memory hole.
Gilad Isaacs, 25 April 2010
The leadership of South African Jewish community has retreated in shame over the barring of Judge Goldstone from his grandson’s barmitzvah. In a statement released late Friday afternoon it was confirmed that Judge Goldstone would attend the event and that no protests would take place.
The international embarrassment that has followed the disgraceful ‘effective barring’ of Goldstone has no doubt contributed to this reversal. Whilst we should celebrate this victory thought should be given to the manner in which these events unfolded. The recent capitulation of the community leadership does not excuse their previous behaviour.
Following the initial media reports the Chief Rabbi, South African Zionist Federation and South African Jewish Board of Deputies released statements that were equivocal and disingenuous attempting to argue that no barring had taken place. Further they asserted that the SAZF and Chief Rabbi had merely “interacted” with the family and facilitated a “compromise” where Justice Goldstone would refrain from attending in order not to mar the occasion. Despite the polite sounding words this should be understood as having brought enough pressure to bear on the family in order to achieve this outcome.
Subsequently Chief Rabbi Goldstein has publically voiced his support for the “the eternal principle of open synagogues” and therefore Goldstone’s ability to attend the ceremony. However Goldstein attempts to rehabilitate his image it must remember that Goldstone himself has said that the Chief Rabbi brazenly politicized the occasion and that there was a deep incongruence between his rhetoric and the manner in which the family was treated.
Equally it must be remembered from whence the threats to protest originated. Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag, the Head of the Beth Din (the highest body of religious authority in the community), was originally quoted as saying: “I heard also that the SAZF wanted to organise a protest outside the shul – (there were) all kinds of plans. But I think reason prevailed.” This was confirmed by Harelle Isaacs, speaking on behalf of the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, in the Cape Times (Friday 16 April 2010) who said that “there will probably be a protest by the SAZF”. Avrom Krengel, the chairperson of the SAZF, was then quoted in the Cape Times (Monday 19 April 2010) as saying they would protest should Goldstone change his mind and attend.
Numerous leaders, including Ze’ev Krengel, the chair of the SAJBOD, have defended the legitimacy of protest action as part of exercising the right of freedom of speech (Jewish Report 23 April 2010).
Defending freedom of speech, however, does not mean that leaders should sanction protest action at any opportunity. The right to freedom of speech is sacrosanct but we are entitled to decry the exercising of this right when we consider it grossly inappropriate. To choose a random example: we are entitled to protest outside the house of a dying man but this may be unnecessarily cruel and therefore legitimately discourage (not forbidden) by responsible leaders.
What the community leaders should have done:
1. Unequivocally denounced and distanced themselves publically from any people or group planning to protest at a child’s bar mitzvah. This would have isolated the protesters and turned them into a small group of unsanctioned radicals.
2. Ensured that the protesters, whilst being allowed to exercise their right to freedom of speech, where not allowed access to the synagogue grounds as it may disrupt the peaceful religious proceedings.
3. Assuming that the protesters did not seek permission from the city council and police, as is necessary to hold any legal demonstration, the security and leadership could politely insist they hold their demonstration a safe distance away from the synagogue so as not to disrupt. Legally they would be entitled to call the police but this would be unnecessarily heavy handed.
4. Supported Justice Goldstone’s religious right to get an “honour” in the synagogue.
5. Refrained from visceral personal attacks on Goldstone, for example Krengel’s reported remark, at a SAZF meeting on 14 March 2010, that Goldstone was the worst thing to happen to the Jews since the Inquisition.
6. Should they wish to go the “extra mile” and demonstrate real support for diversity in the community, as they often say they do, they could have personally attended the ceremony.
The original position of the community leadership implied that they were powerless to prevent community members for legitimately exercising their right to freedom of speech. The recent reversal says exactly the opposite.
The fact remains that the community leadership failed in their duty to promote civil communal life and deal honestly with their constituents. Under their watch one of the most powerful community organizations (the SAZF) actively sought to protest at a child’s bar mitzvah. The initial response gave a deliberately distorted view of their role and the nature of the “interaction” with the Goldstone family. Now they have change their position but failed to apologize or take responsibility for the harm done.
What emerges is a picture of community leaders that are dishonest bullies who ignore common decency in pursuing their narrow ideological goals. They have actively fostered intolerance and conflict in the community and failed to take responsibility for their actions. Their policy reversal is not commendable but simply the only decent thing to do.
New York, ex-Cape Town