In October Archbishop Desmond Tutu appealed to the Cape Town’s renowned opera troupe to cancel a performance of Porty and Bess in Israel in November. The opera company refused and the performance went ahead – accompanied by a creative flashmob protest in Tel Aviv (see Youtube clip above). Meanwhile, in South Africa the Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein wrote an Open letter to Tutu saying there was ‘no apartheid in Israel’. Allan Boesak & Farid Esack responded.
Cape Town’s renowned opera troupe says will not take political position, cut cultural ties with either Israel or PA
Associated Press, 27 October 2010
The opera’s managing director Michael Williams said in a statement Wednesday that the opera would not take a political position and cut cultural ties with Israel or the Palestinian territory.
Tutu, who earned a Nobel for his peaceful opposition to apartheid, on Tuesday compared Cape Town Opera’s planned visit to international artists performing in apartheid South Africa.
He said Israel is “luring” international artists to the Tel Aviv Opera House to advance its “fallacious claim to being a ‘civilized democracy.'”
Tutu has emerged as a sharp critic of Israel. Last month, he backed calls for a South African academic boycott of Israel.
An Open Letter to Tutu – “No Apartheid State in Israel”
By Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, South African Star, 4 November 2010, p.16
Dear Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I write to you with a heavy heart.
You are a revered leader in South Africa, but recently have added your iconic voice to the campaign for sanctions against Israel.
Archbishop, I believe you are making a terrible mistake. Without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there can be no peace. The Talmud says: “The world stands on three things: justice, truth and peace.” These three values are inseparable. Archbishop, I am convinced that the sanctions campaign against Israel is morally repugnant because it is based on horrific and grotesquely false accusations against the Jewish people.
The truth, archbishop, is that Israel is simply not an apartheid state. In the State of Israel all citizens –
Israel is a vibrant liberal democracy with a free press and independent judiciary, and accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its people, including its more than 1 million Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority including that of cabinet minister, member of parliament and judge at every level, including that of the Supreme Court. All citizens vote on the same roll in regular, multiparty elections; there are Arab parties and Arab members of other parties in Israel’s parliament. Arabs and Jews share all public facilities, including hospitals and malls, buses, cinemas and parks. And, archbishop, that includes universities and opera houses.
The other untruth is the accusation of illegal occupation of Arab land. Like the apartheid libel, this is outrageously false. There is no nation that has a longer, deeper or more profound connection to its country than the Jewish people have to the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.
Archbishop, you and I as religious leaders always turn to the Bible as a source of truth. What does it mean that Israel is the “promised land”? It means, as we both know, that it was promised by God to the Jews – the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This promise was first fulfilled by God more than 3,300 years ago, when Joshua led the Jewish people into the land of Israel. Since then there has been an unbroken Jewish presence in the land, albeit small during the Roman exile.
All the books of the Old Testament – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. – describe the deep connection between the Jews and the land of Israel, including the West Bank, known in the Bible as Judea and Samaria – the area that contained the great cities of the two previous Jewish commonwealths, such as Jericho, Shiloh (where the Tabernacle stood for hundreds of years), Beit El (where Jacob had his vision of the ladder) and Hebron (where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried with their wives Sarah, Rebecca and Leah).
Three thousand years ago, there was no London or Paris, no Washington or Moscow, no Pretoria or Cape Town, but there was a Jerusalem, capital of a Jewish state.
“If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning… if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.” Those words from Psalms are recited by Jews at every wedding. At every funeral, the statement of comfort given to the mourners refers to Zion and Jerusalem. Jews pray for Jerusalem three times a day, and also after every meal.
Archbishop, the Arab/Israeli conflict is not a struggle against apartheid or occupation. It is a century- long war against the very existence of Jews and a Jewish state in the Middle East. There have already been seven major Arab/Israeli wars since the birth of modern Israel.
Today the front includes an alliance between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah, the latter now with 40,000 rockets aimed at Israeli cities. Iranian officers train Hizbullah forces, while Iran pursues nuclear weapons and openly declares its intention to wipe out Israel. Hamas, the terrorist Palestinian government in Gaza, sides with Iran and Hizbullah in rearming with the declared aim of destroying Israel.
Since 1967, one aspect of this century- long conflict has been the demand for a Palestinian state. In spite of the deep historical and religious roots of Jews in all of Israel, generations of Jewish leaders have been prepared, for the sake of peace, to give up ancestral and covenantal land to establish a Palestinian state.
SO WHY has there not been peace? The ANC taught us you can’t make peace on your own. No matter how deeply the ANC was committed to a peaceful resolution of the South African conflict, until the National Party was prepared to accept that black South Africans had a place in their own country, there could be no peace. And so too, until the Arab/Muslim world accepts that Jews have a right to a state of their own on their ancestral land, there will be no peace.
In 1948, the Jews accepted the UN resolution establishing a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, but the Arab world rejected it and five Arab countries invaded Israel to destroy it.
After that, the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands until 1967.
There was an opportunity then – every day for almost 20 years – to establish a Palestinian state. It never happened. And since then there have been numerous opportunities – each rejected by Arab leaders.
Why? Because this war has been more about the destruction of the Jewish state than about the establishment of a Palestinian state. Even today, so-called moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
In 2000, the Palestinian leadership launched a massive wave of suicide bombers into Israel, leading to more than 1,300 civilian deaths and 10,000 injuries. Proportionately, such carnage in South Africa would mean more than 10,000 killed and over 80,000 injured! Israel erected a security fence with checkpoints to shield it from such attacks launched from the disputed territories.
Archbishop, you compare these checkpoints to apartheid South Africa. But they are not about pass laws, which don’t exist in Israel. The checkpoints are on the border between sovereign Israeli territory and the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza in order to keep civilians from being murdered, and have been very successful in doing so. These checkpoints – like those found in all airports – are there to prevent suicide bombers from blowing up innocent people.
Archbishop, do not bestow respectability on an immoral sanctions campaign that is an affront to truth and justice, which prevents peace and prolongs the terrible suffering of people on both sides of this painful conflict. Archbishop, let us pray for an end to all this agony, and for the fulfillment of the verse in Isaiah: “And the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.”
The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.
Allan Boesak and Farid Esack*
10 November 2010
In the opening lines of an open letter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, leader of the South Africa’s Orthodox Jews, makes a plea that: “Without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there can be no peace.” If ever there was a case of a single swallow not heralding summer, alas, this is it. The rest of his article bears little relationship to the truth:
1. “Jew and Arab – are equal before the law.”
Goldstein conflates life inside Israel and life in the occupied territories. Jews and Palestinian citizens in Israel are certainly not equal before the law: one set of laws does provide for equal rights, but another equally formidable set provides for separate and superior rights for Jews. Presently Israel has several Basic Laws that confirm this inequality, so the system is codified and formal: discrimination within Israel is official. A state founded for any ethnic or religious community cannot but be one that must necessarily discriminate against others. In the occupied Palestinian territories, Jews enjoy special protections and rights to settle and conduct business, and Palestinian civilians as non-Jews are denied those rights.
In both areas, there is certainly a “Population Registration Act”: everyone in Israel and the occupied territories is identified by ethnicity – Jewish, Arab, Druze or whatever — and this is listed on their ID cards. All rights and privileges in Israel follow from these distinctions. Hence there is a Group Areas Act, too – people who are Jewish can live in certain areas (actually, 93 percent of Israel is reserved exclusively for Jews) and people who are not Jewish are banned from living in those areas. If there is no “Mixed Marriages Act” per se, there are still laws that prohibit Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories from living with Israeli spouses, a prohibition of civil marriage (it is impossible to marry in Israel except in religious courts,) and a host of laws, rules and codes that keep the populations strictly apart. Petty apartheid is hardly required where segregation is absolute.
Israel indeed has no “Separate Representation of Voters Act” but for two unpleasant reasons. First, half of the entire population under Israel’s control (the 5 million Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip) are not allowed to vote at all. Every one of the five million people living here can attest plenty to Israel’s draconian pass laws, which constrict and destroy their life chances every single day. Second, twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinians and can vote, but are not allowed to vote for any party or law that alters Jewish national supremacy and special privileges. That is like giving the vote to slaves but preventing them from voting against slavery.
2. “Israel accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its people, including its … Arab citizens.”
Goldstein need only ring up any Palestinian mayor, public figure or Knesset representative to be corrected on this. The poverty and isolation of Palestinian Arab communities in Israel is notorious. Of course, there are Arab parties that do provide some Palestinian representation in Israeli politics. But this representation is akin to Apartheid’s Tricameral Parliament of the 1980s: they operate in highly constrained conditions and have been unable in those roles to relieve the endemic poverty and isolation of their communities, or to alter the edifice of racism that suffocates their communities. And again, some five million Palestinians under Israeli rule remain entirely excluded from the political system solely because they are not Jews and have no rights whatsoever except what Israeli military law provides them.
3. “The other untruth is the accusation of illegal occupation of Arab land.”
According to Goldstein, Israel is not “occupying” the West Bank and Gaza Strip but reclaiming these areas for ancient Jewish sentiment dating to antiquity. Only religious fundamentalists insist on their own religious texts as the only arbiter between them and others. God is reduced to a dishonest estate agent who parcels out land to His Favorites, land with borders clearly demarcated as if these were registered in a 20th century title deeds office – all at a time thousands of years ago when national boundaries were rather unknown. This sort of thinking is simply outdated – it belongs to a time of colonial conquest and racial domination.
4. “… until the National Party was prepared to accept that black South Africans had a place in their own country, there could be no peace. And so too, until the Arab/Muslim world accepts that Jews have a right to a state of their own on their ancestral land, there will be no peace.”
Goldstein had best draw the lesson from his own example: until the Israeli and Zionist movement is prepared to accept that Palestinians have a place in their (own!) country as equal citizens, there can be no peace – there should be no peace! The solution in South Africa was precisely NOT to accept separate black states, but to reject that “solution” for the lie that it was. Israel must give up the premise of separation – apartheid. Only then will the country be able to join the rest of the world (not just the Arab world) as a “normal” country.
The South African story is simple: states founded on ethnicity are unworkable and evil – it is reprehensible to synonimize your God, religion and your ethnicity and culture with an ideological state. The separation of people from people on the basis of religious or ethnic identity – apartheid – and the privileging of that identity over that of others is simply incompatible with the ideas of universal human rights.
It is in this context that we salute our dear friend and comrade, the Archbishop, for consistently carrying through the prophetic vision. This time, in actively responding to the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel until, in the least, Israel abides by international law and the universal principles of human rights.
*Allan Boesak is Professor Extraordinaire at the University of Stellenbosch and Farid Esack is a Professor at the University of Johannesburg.
[A shortened version of the above article appeared in the 10 November edition of the Star Newspaper, 10 November 2010]