April 23, 2010
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
What the South African Jewish community did last week was shameful.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.