Response to the Chief Rabbi on Gaza

Karl Marx famously opined that ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’. He was influenced by his observation of religious authority, which more often than not, served as instruments of tyranny, while attempting to soothe the masses with niceties to accept their worldly state, promising a utopia in the afterworld. Such religious authority not only provides a veneer of morality to temporal power but also serves to corrupt religion itself. Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein gives credence to this with his article (http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/let-world-see-our-rainbow-nation-1.1728669). In calling for civility in debate and invoking the notion of a rainbow nation he attempts to create a veneer of moral authority. One can never argue against the rationality of civil debate and the rainbow nation. Both are noble in themselves. But civility in debate should not mask the underlying violence in such discourse.

The Chief Rabbi supports violence by being a cheerleader for Israel’s massacre of Palestinians. He compounds this violent discourse in blaming the victims for their own deaths, by invoking the tired myth of human shields. Despite claiming so, these are not simply his own views; he is uncritically echoing the Israeli propaganda narrative. One may ask: were the four boys killed while playing football on the beach human shields; were the five children killed on a playground human shields; were the seven children killed playing on a swing-set human shields; was the Christian woman killed a human shield; was the bombed home for disabled children inhabited by human shields; were those in a UN shelter human shields or were those lying sick in hospital human shields? Is the bombing of mosques, churches and hospitals justified? Such justification of Israeli violence betrays the Chief Rabbi’s agenda – which is to create a veneer of morality for such violence in the interest of the Occupation. The massacre of civilians can never be justified. Also sadly nowhere does he display an iota of compassion for those innocents killed – and there are over 1000 of them. The truth is that civilian casualties are part of Israel’s collective punishment and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli lawmaker spoke frankly when she called Palestinians “little snakes” and declared that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” – legitimating civilians as targets.

The Rabbi’s chief concern is not justice or human rights but about good manners while justifying killing. His care and concern is limited to Israelis or Jews more broadly. Underlying such a parochial concern is a racist discourse which views Jewish life as more sacred than Palestinian life or non-Jewish life. Just listen to the Chief Rabbi’s speech at the memorial service for the three murdered Israeli teenagers from an illegal settlement and you will find it dripping with racism and Islamophobia. No platitudes or even sympathy for Palestinian victims.

The Rabbi also disingenuously inverts the narrative thereby manufacturing victimhood, when he speaks of defenseless people of the southern towns of Israel. He perhaps missed the memo from the IDF which states that these ‘defenceless people’ have early warning systems, bombs shelters and the Iron Dome to protect them. Palestinians are caged in by Israel in an area 11km by 40 km and truly defenceless – at the mercy of the most sophisticated bombs available.

Needless to say, nowhere does the Rabbi attempt to get to the root cause of the conflict – which is the Israeli occupation and the siege of Palestinian lands rendering them serfs in the land of their birth. The tunnels are built as a lifeline for a besieged population – or would the Rabbi rather that the population starves to death. Those of us who struggled against Apartheid remember that our rainbow nation was constructed out of a struggle against a colonial enterprise; the Palestinian struggle is no less. We remember all too starkly the Apartheid government’s frequent attacks on innocent civilians in the neighbouring countries in the name of fighting terrorism.

One of our great freedom fighters, Ahmed Kathrada, recently condemned the Chief Rabbi on his bullying tactics. After personalizing his initial attack on the ANC’s Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte, the Rabbi then turned his ire on the Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Obed Bapela. The latter was called by the Rabbi and asked to dissociate himself from the ANC statement on Gaza and further demanded that it be removed from the ANC website. When Minister Bapela refused the Rabbi threatened that there would be “consequences” for the ANC. Such bullying by the Zionist lobby is not isolated; just ask editors at newspapers, radio and television stations. So it is rich irony when the Rabbi says “lets banish the bullying and the intimidation …’ while he and his constituency bully anyone willing to speak out against Israel’s gross human rights abuses. Just ask Judge Richard Goldstone. The Chief Rabbi did not stop there – he challenged the ANC to a public debate. The ANC did not respond to what it probably considered grandstanding. However Open Shuhada Street and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign took up the challenge of a debate and allowed the Chief Rabbi to choose between Professor Steven Friedman and Zackie Achmat to debate the contents of the ANC statement. The Rabbi baulked at the offer providing a cowardly reason.

South Africans, appreciating the value of international solidarity from our own struggle, are known to stand up for human rights all over the world. Palestine is one such case. One can only agree with the Rabbi that this should not create conflict between communities in our beloved country. But how do we as a country deal with South African Jews who are enlisting in the Israeli army to fight in Gaza and are financially supporting Israel’s war effort, including through Magen David Adom (MDA), thereby bringing this conflict to our shores and being party to war crimes.

Rabbi, let us move beyond the pious platitudes and give effect to the ideas of Nelson Mandela and the notion of a rainbow nation – which you so glibly invoke. Here is my challenge to you: let us hold hands and call for the establishment of a rainbow nation in Israel and Palestine, and do away with religious, ethnic and racial hatred. Let us support a unitary secular democracy for all of Israel and Palestine, with equal rights and opportunity for all its people – Jews, Palestinians and others living within its borders, including African migrants. After all it is the home of all three Abrahamic faiths. This would be faithful to this legacy – and not simply using it as a smokescreen for racism and religious bigotry. Would you baulk at this challenge as well?

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5 thoughts on “Response to the Chief Rabbi on Gaza

  1. There is an urgent need to work out the mechanics of a one state solution as a true home for Jews and Arabs. The South African experience would be a good start point.

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    • How do you reconcile the role of religion in this all inclusive state? Do you think religion should have no role at the state level and be confined to the church and private life?

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      • Hi Johnny

        Like in South Africa, the state you have a sensitivity to religions and equally recognize all religions but be completely secular. Religion should be a personal affair and one that is dealt with at the level of civil society. Religious personal law, where necessary, needs a process of careful navigation to respect individual preferences and codify them. My view is that such a codification protects largely women who most often are the ‘victims’ of such religious laws.

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