Friday 15 August 2014

Sunday Times Shame

We, as South African Jews, are appalled and devastated by
Israel's assault on Gaza.

This was the headline to a half page advert taken out in the Sunday Times in South Africa on 10 August 2014.  The advert is signed by "500 Jewish South Africans for peace, democracy and human rights in Israel and Palestine", some of whom asked to remain anonymous out of concern that they or their families have faced or may face intimidation or marginalisation by members of our Jewish community.

I read the text of the advertisement carefully a few times.  There are certainly more than a few points that I could take issue with.  The text is worded in such a way to lead the reader to believe that the Israeli actions that are criticised by the signatories, were the first actions taken while the Palestinian actions were retaliatory.  The Palestinian casualties of Operation Protective Edge are mentioned as the headline, followed by Israeli casualties.  There is no context offered that demonstrates that reality of the Israeli attacks coming in retaliation to constant, indiscriminate rocket-fire towards Israeli civilians over a number of years.  Whose statistics show that 70% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians?  This needs to be questioned and verified before it can be used as a statistic to justify a petition of this nature.  Who could be foolish enough to suggest that Israel's actions are "disproportionate"?  Not only does Israel have the right to defend her civilians against the constant barrage of rockets that they have been forced to endure, Israel has the obligation to do so.  Even when discounting the more than 3,000 rockets fired towards Israel during Operation Protective Edge, there are statistics to show that the last 5 years have seen 4,500 missiles fired from Gaza towards Israel.  I wonder what "proportionate" response another sovereign government would deem appropriate under these circumstances.  It seems disproportionate to use this term against Israel, when it is clear that the same threat against another country would be taken care of in a much stronger manner in order to end the threat without a further consideration.

My main objection to this advert is not what is written in the text, or the fact that many of the signatories are not even Jewish despite holding themselves out to be.  My objection is the aggressive way in which it has been drafted, and the fact that it was found appropriate for these supposedly proud Jews to air their grievances against Israel in this public and critical manner.  I respect the fact that people have empathy for innocent civilians, and for suffering brought upon them through no fault of their own.  I even respect the rights of each Jew to have critical views of Israel, and for them to have the right to freely air their views.  My problem is that this advert goes a lot further than these rights to hold independent views, and to freedom of speech.

The signatories to this advert found the necessity to show non-Jewish South Africa that there is a split within the Jewish community, and to demonstrate the extent to which Jews in South Africa oppose Israel.  If they were trying to show their objections to their Jewish colleagues, there are surely different and less damaging ways of achieving this.  By taking out a large advert in a national newspaper read predominantly by non-Jews, I understand that their message of objection to Israel was directed towards a wider audience than simply the Jewish community.  Why is this?  Are they hoping that their business customers and colleagues will see that they are on the anti-Israel list, and therefore continue to give them business support?  Is it because they hope that they may not be shunned by their non-Jewish friends who may otherwise isolate them for supporting Israel?  Are they afraid that the politicians and influencers in the country may assume that they are Israel supporters, and that they may lose their influence and access as a result?  I fail to understand the need to go out and have your name attached to a public statement of this nature.

Anti-Semitism around the world has been fanned by Operation Protective Edge.  Countries around Europe are all reporting substantially increased levels of anti-Jewish (not necessarily anti-Israel) behaviour, and threats to the local Jewish communities are much greater than before.  Chants of "Hitler was right", are being heard and tolerated on streets and squares around the world, including in South Africa.  Jews in the diaspora are clearly under attack.  I don't believe that Operation Protective Edge has suddenly created new anti-Semites who, previously, loved Jews.  Instead, I believe that the environment of vitriol and hatred towards Israel fanned by the latest Gaza operation has made it more acceptable for people to show their anti-Jewish sentiments in public.  Whereas swastikas were reviled and considered to be an attack on humanity over the course of many years following the Shoah, we see them openly advertised and tolerated in public as never before.

The public advertisement in the Sunday Times is a clear demonstration to our enemies of a split within the ranks of the Jewish community.  There may only be 500 signatories to the advert, and many of them may not even be Jewish.  It sends a message, however, of disunity and weakness within our community at a time that we need to be united against the evils of anti-Semitism.  And while this does not require us all to agree with each other on points of substance, and even not on points relating to the way in which Israel chooses to defend herself and her citizens, it does require us to stand together against those who would wish to see the end to all Jews.  And it also requires an appreciation and recognition that Israel, with all her strengths and weaknesses, is the ultimate power in protecting Jews against the forces of anti-Semitism.  There are many anti-Semites who hide their true colours behind anti-Zionism when being anti-Israel is regarded as acceptable, even by "some of my friends who are Jews".

On a visit that I made to the Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam a few years ago, I was flabbergasted to learn how the smart  Nazi machinery was able to manipulate some members of the Jewish community to promote a message within their communities that assisted the Nazis in their cause.  Reading the Sunday Times advert took me back to that moment in Amsterdam when this penny dropped in my mind.  I had the feeling that this advert by Jews in our community was working in a way to assist our enemies to promote their anti-Semitic rhetoric.  I am sure that they cannot believe how this has fallen into their laps.

Former Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski acknowledged Israel's bad points, and summed up the situation for Jews around the world perfectly in a statement that he once made by saying, "If there was another Jewish state, I would advise you to go there.  Israel is the only Jewish state and, therefore, that is where I recommend you should be".  We know that Israel has made many mistakes over the years, and has questions that require answers.  Israel is, however, unrelenting in the way that she fights for her survival, fights for the safety and security of her citizens and fights to protect the rights of Jews around the world.  It would be fitting for Jews around the world to show an element of loyalty to this cause by being selective in the way in which they air their grievances about Israel.  It is acceptable to be critical of Israel's actions, as long as you are sure that you have all your facts right.  It is acceptable to hold discussions and debates (apparently we have some of the country's best debaters on our team) within our community to make their complaints known, and to invite those who disagree to respond.  In my view, it is unacceptable to take out anti-Israel adverts in national newspapers, in a way that weakens the fabric and the security of the Jewish community.  For me, this crosses the line.


nitza levin said...

its so sad Anthony that we as jews have such a short memory almost like the jews in Germany I am an israeli I live is south African I went to the army I love my country I pray for the idf I and hope they all come back home well and to those jews that conden the idf I fell sorry for them kol hakavod to you I second to you

Nick Silver said...

Dear Anthony, I think your posts are well argued and thoughtful. However, I take a different view and would be interested in your comments:

Nick Silver said...

Dear Anthony,

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post, I do appreciate it. You say that it may be difficult for me to understand due to my distance, so I would appreciate it if you could correct me on my core argument:

1. Hamas find themselves in a very weak position. This is confirmed by everything I have read and by Hamas’ own actions – if they were in a position of strength, they would either do something which does more damage to Israel, or wait until they could. Do you not agree? I don’t even think that this statement is particularly controversial
I also do not see that you being in Israel give you any ore insight than me into Hamas’s motives.
2. If Hamas are in a week position, then attacking Gaza is counter-productive. This is confirmed by logic (if you attack people they tend to get pissed off) a long history of governments employing similar tactics which have not worked and by Hamas themselves (if they want to provoke Israel, then surely they have an insight into how their own people will respond)
3. It would be wrong of me to just critisise, so it is incumbent on me to come up with a better alternative in the circumstances. Based on my premise that Hamas are acting from a position of weakness, the best tactic would be to ignore the attacks and use propaganda to further undermine them. Here I would like to apologize; I did not mean to suggest that ordinary Israelis were not in danger from these attacks an did not mean to cause offence; i was just outlining a propaganda tool.
4. if Israel’s response which you support is counter-productive in that it plays into the hands of extremists within Gaza, then this does not help “secure Israel’s peaceful existence for its citizens against anybody who presents a threat”, in fact quite the opposite.

i am therefore supporting Israel, in the sense that I am pointing out an error in their tactics/strategy, which, if I am correct will cause future loss of lives of Israelis.

The Israel/Palestine conflict is unique, but there have also been countless number of other conflicts which are also unique but have similar characteristics. One way of learning is to look for other similar situations and see if there is anything that can be learnt from them. I picked Northern Ireland, because it does have some similar characteristics and has been such a spectacular success.

I was a bit disappointed by your comment about Northern Ireland. In my article I suggest that the Israeli government has been strategically stupid because it has not learnt and adapted its strategy. When I suggest, look at Northern Ireland, your response is “totally different, doesn’t apply here” rather than, those guys were implacable enemies and now live in peace, it would be worth studying how they did it in great detail if it only saved 1 Israeli life. I note that you are a hedge fund manager. Is this the approach you take in investment? “This investment is unique so I won’t learn lessons from other investments that I or anyone else have made”?

You have challenged me in 2 important ways though, firstly I need to write a blog “lessons from NI that can be applied to Israel/Palestine” and I look forward to meeting up with you in Israel for a beer where I can try and convince you of the flaws in your arguments.



Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

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