SAZF is disingenuously attempting to absolve itself of responsibility for barring Justice Richard Goldstone from attending grandson’s barmitzvah

In Tearing Ourselves Apart, The Politics of Politics on April 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Open Shuhadah Street, 04/16/2010

Julie Berman, Executive Director of the SA Zionist Federation (Western Cape) has written a letter to the Jewish community claiming that:

* Media reports that Goldstone has been banned from Sandton Shul are false; and that

* The SAZF, Chief Rabbi and Beth Din actually played some kind of supportive role, counselling and protecting the family from a nameless, faceless “barrage of protestors” that were “almost certain” to arrive “on the day of his grandson’s Barmitzvah”.

This is a deeply dishonest portrayal of reality.

The SAZF, Chief Rabbi and Beth Din are three of the major communal bodies in the Jewish community. Had they collectively decided that, despite their legitimate political differences with Goldstone, his grandson should not be made to suffer on the day of his barmitzvah, they could quite easily have ensured that the barmitzvah went ahead without serious disturbance. This is their duty as Jewish leaders. To suggest that they were powerless to stop the “barrage of protestors” cannot be taken seriously.

Were it actually true that the level of hatred towards Goldstone had spiralled beyond their control then that would be an extremely serious indictment of the state of Jewish communal life. It would in fact mean that Jewish leaders have failed to maintain a civil discourse, and have allowed it to degenerate to the point where it is unsafe for prominent dissenters to attend synagogue. Were this true these Jewish leaders would need to resign.

And even if it were true the Jewish leaders in question – SAZF Chairman Avrom Krengel, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein and Beth Din chief Rabbi Moshe Kurstag – should have offered to stand between angry demonstrators and a grandfather and grandson on his barmitzvah day. By way of illustration, we give a real example:

On Wednesday 7 October 2009, at an event at Cape Town’s Albow Centre – a Jewish communal facility – at which young Israeli conscientious objectors spoke, the crowd, which contained militant right-wing Zionist elements, became hostile and at one point verged on violence. SA Jewish Board of Deputies Chairman (Cape) Owen Futeran, a lifelong Zionist and passionate defender of Israel, placed his body between the aggressors and their targets. He did this despite the fact that he strongly disagreed with the politics views, and actions, of those being targeted. That is what civilised people do. The principle, that I defend your right to say that with which I will never agree, applies. That is also what someone who wants to preserve a diverse and tolerant community does.

The simple fact is that events did not unfold the way Berman claims. The leaders in questions were involved in instigating Goldstone’s non-attendance. Kurstag himself says in the SA Jewish Report article: “I heard also that the SAZF wanted to organise a protest outside the shul – (there were) all kinds of plans.” By Berman’s own account Kurstag met with Krengel and Goldstein. By Krengel’s own account said the SAZF had “interacted” on the matter with the chief rabbi, the Beth Din and others. Given Kurstag’s extensive contact with Krengel on this question there is little reason to doubt Kurstag’s admission of the threats made by the SAZF itself. Is Berman disputing Kurstag’s word?

On Krengel’s own account his organisation was “coming across most forcefully because we represent Israel”. Does Berman expect us to believe that “coming across most forcefully” is compatible with the new revisionist account of events which has the SAZF playing a mediatory role and protecting the Goldstones from the “barrage of protestors”?

Berman acknowledges that Goldstone’s family “did not want this important simcha to be tainted by protests of any sort”. And yet, according to Kurstag, it was the SAZF proposing protests. Clearly then the family’s decision to continue without Judge Goldstone was a decision made under coercion by the SAZF and others. It is therefore accurate to say, as the SA Jewish Report reported, that the SAZF “effectively barred” Goldstone from attending.

The visceral contempt for Goldstone promoted by official Jewish leaders is well known. At an SAZF meeting on 14 March 2010 Krengel said Goldstone was the worst thing to happen to the Jews since the Inquisition. Goldstein, writing in the Business Day on 20 October 2009 said Goldstone did his work without “integrity and care”, that it was a “disgrace” which was “wanting in truth”.

It is clear that Goldstone’s exclusion from the synagogue service was designed at the highest levels. Does this mean that Jewish dissidents against Israel can expect this treatment more generally? Will family members be prevented from attending weddings? Will children be prevented from attending their parents’ funerals?

The consequences of this development are severe. It implies that the boundaries of Jewish identity are now determined by one’s political belief and conduct in relation to one particular political situation, that between Israel and the Palestinians. No matter how fine a person, no matter what contribution to society is made – and Justice Goldstone’s lifetime of work for peace and justice is hard to equal – if a Jew oversteps the line in criticising or exposing the very real political and military abuses of the Israeli state will his or her citizenship of the Jewish community be effectively revoked?

Not since the months leading up the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin has such a climate of incitement against a Jew, by Jews, been present within the SA Jewish community. Then as now local rabbis used their pulpit platforms to heap personal scorn on their political foe. Then as now harsh words turned into religious and quasi-religious attempts at excommunication. Then as now what seemed like only words portended a real possibility of violence in the future.

It is absolutely incumbent on the leadership of the SA Jewish community to tell the truth about what has happened and to find a solution to this situation which does not involve Goldstone’s exclusion from his grandson’s barmitzvah.


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