Sunday 9 May 2010

Goldstone and the Barmitzvah

The furore surrounding the barmitzvah of Judge Richard Goldstone's grandson, and whether or not his famous grandfather will attend, has again catapulted Goldstone into the news. I have previously written about the Goldstone Report into Israel's war in Gaza in the blog "The Goldstone Farce". I was outraged, angry and let down by Goldstone's agreement to head up the UN Fact Finding Commission on the Gaza Conflict by the Human Rights Commission. I was even more outraged by his investigation, and the resulting report which he produced. This feeling has not subsided over the months that have passed since his report was published. I feel that he has done the State of Israel irreparable damage in the pursuit of his own personal objectives.

When it was made public that the barmitzvah would take place at the Sandton Synagogue, I was most interested in the reaction by the South African Jewish community. My understanding is that the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) spoke out against his attendance of the barmitzvah, and the judge decided with his family that he would not attend in order to spare embarrassment and inconvenience on all sides. After a few additional days of consultations and negotiations involving the SAZF, the synagogue, the Jewish Board of Deputies (the umbrella body representing South African Jews) and the Goldstone family, a compromise situation was reached in terms of which Goldstone would attend the event.

I feel in two minds about the whole situation. On the one hand, I was pleased to see the South African Jewish community finally take a public stand against a man who has behaved incredibly badly. In objective terms, he took on a brief that was openly anti-Israel, a brief that even non-Jews were not prepared to accept. He represented an organisation, the UNHRC, which has a history of adopting an anti-Israel position over many years and which has passed more resolutions condemning Israel than any other country. He has leant unjustified credibility to the organisation and to the brief by allowing outsiders to say that his report represents the point of view of a Jew. As a Jew, he has caused undeniable damage to Israel, and so to Jews around the world. As a respected South African jurist and member of the Jewish community, I believe that the members of the community have a right and a responsibility to speak out against him and his damaging actions, and to show their displeasure.

On the other hand, however, I feel that creating a situation where a grandfather is unable to attend the barmitzvah of his grandson is not the correct way to demonstrate displeasure. While it is true that a synagogue is a public place which is representative of the community and its wishes, it is also a place where personal and family events and rites of passage are celebrated. No Jew has the right to prevent another Jew from celebrating a right which is prescribed by the Torah, and is part of the relationship between man and G-d. The action by the community of acting in a way which prevents a family member from attending a family event in a public place represents a dangerous precedent. Does this mean that we should evaluate the history of every father or grandfather before allowing him to attend the barmitzvah, batmitzvah or wedding of his child or grandchild? Which transgressions are acceptable, and which cannot be tolerated? Do the claims have to be independently proved, or is here-say and gossip enough to prevent them from attending? All of a sudden, many issues come into play which should not form part of the considerations involved in allowing a somebody to attend a family rite of passage. The synagogue is a place of prayer, learning and a meeting house for all members of the community, all done in the sanctification of G-d's name. Where the relationship between G-d and man is concerned, there is no room for judgements to be passed by other men, many of whom have their own missteps to answer for. Judaism teaches us that each man will be called to account for his actions on his day of judgement. Until then, it is the responsibility of other members of the community to behave in a way that will allow them to answer for their actions when their own day of judgement arrives.

Even though I am happy that Goldstone was ultimately able to attend the barmitzvah and I feel that the sense prevailed within the community, he should not be allowed to get away entirely scot-free. If I was the SAZF, I would call a community meeting of protest to the Goldstone report. I would be fair to the judge and invite him to attend to present his position. I would also invite a speaker, perhaps a senior Israeli, to present the contrary view which makes clear the damage done by his report to Israel and the wider Jewish community. Hopefully, the judge would be able to hear first-hand how much damage he has caused by his actions. In short, the South African community should use the publicity and outrage generated by the barmitzvah story to encourage the community to speak out against Goldstone as much as possible.

It seems as if any personal aspirations that Judge Goldstone felt he might be able to promote by agreeing to head up the fact-finding commission have been dashed. We can at least take some comfort from that fact. Hopefully, the furore surrounding his report will also prevent him from taking on further similar positions which could cause additional damage in the future. The power that he has provided to anti-Israel groups and to anti-Semites around the world can sadly not be reversed. For this, he will always be responsible. In the meantime, I hope that the South African community continue to make their displeasure felt to Goldstone and those around him. I would also like to add my mazaltov to the barmitzvah boy.

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