Like a political virgin, Essa’s writing is not an oxymoron, just moronic

In a strange confluence, both the Daily Vox and Daily Maverick published Azad Essa’s ad hominem attack on BDS-SA. The Daily Vox had the integrity to publish my riposte. The Daily Maverick did not.

(http://www.thedailyvox.co.za/like-active-virgins-bds-sas-activism-is-an-oxymoron)________________________________________________________________________________

The lazy argument

Azad Essa’s attack on BDS (‘Like active virgins, BDS-SA’s activism is an oxymoron’)  reminds me of the observation of the late social and political commentator, Christopher Hitchens: “there are all kinds of stupid people that annoy me but what annoys me most is a lazy argument”. Comical or callow were the first choice words to describe Azad Essa’s piece. Of course, ‘critique’ would be a misnomer since that would entail a position carefully reflected, well-articulated and based on historical antecedents, if not theoretical prescripts. His attempt to look clever, claim a corner as a critical commentator or as a ‘pseudo-radical’ is overridden by his puerility, purposive ignorance or willful dishonesty. That the Daily Vox would afford such prominence to mediocrity is understandable as Essa is the executive editor of this online magazine. But why would the Daily Maverick do so?

False notions of middle-class activism and ‘career-activists’

In a sweeping condemnation of BDS-SA Essa musters all the trendy banalities he could – including ‘career-activism’ and ‘hackery’. Not only that, he also arrogates to himself a constituency when he pontificates: ‘But Desai and Co must know too that we aren’t fooled’. Granted, he may be using the royal plural. In a Freudian sense Essa projects his own middle-class guilt in condemning middle-class activism as some kind of guilt-balancing act, rather than seeing it for what it substantively is: a commitment by individuals against systemic oppression and promoting human rights and socio-economic transformation. He fetters such individuals by an historical accident wherefrom they inherit their class affiliation. As a simpleton he conflates class affiliation with class consciousness.

Essa is in deserved company amongst a range of liberals and reactionaries who have levelled such attacks against progressive activists using nebulous, but loaded terms such as ‘career activism’ or ‘professional activists’. The subtext characterizes such activists as being self-serving, seeking out causes to prolong their careers, using the subjects of their activism as cannon fodder,  and raising large amounts of money to sustain their activism or bloated salaries. Of course in the main, none of this is true.  In a world of career politicians, career marketing men and women, career lobbyists and even career journalists, why begrudge activists who get paid for what they do – albeit far less than what the market would determine, with financial instability a constant threat, and working under extremely difficult conditions. In confronting the behemoth of capitalism, political power, and its ideological and repressive apparatus, are poor communities supposed to engage these epic battles only with volunteers and amateurism? It is evident that new forms of power demand new forms of resistance. We should rather celebrate our activists who take on causes to advance the cause of the oppressed and marginalized together with many professionals who volunteer their time. Unlike career journalists, who write without responsibility or self-censor to protect their careers.

Essa works up a major sweat about BDS-SA coordinator, Muhammed Desai, exercising his option to a Virgin Active membership. For Essa that is too middle-class for a strugglista – who by Essa’s definition should only be exercising working class options. No bourgeois accouterments accepted (or is it excepted) in Essa’s world. No to temples of capitalism: Virgin Active, Cavendish Square, Sandton Mall, Gateway or even Truth Café. For him it’s probably spaza shops and township culture which pass as working-class proclivities. Many of the most radical and principled activists find no contradiction in visiting such places, unlike the ascetic Essa who harbours juvenile conceptions of progressive politics. In a wonderful essay titled Gramsci and Us, published in Marxism Today in 1987, Stuart Hall characterizes this dilemma in the light of Thatcherism, but whose relevance is evident simply by transposing ‘Capitalism’ for ‘Thatcherism’:

It really is puzzling to say, in any simple way, whom Thatcherism represents. Here is the perplexing phenomenon of a petty-bourgeois ideology which ‘represents’, and is helping to reconstruct, both national and international capital. In the course of ‘representing’ corporate capital, however, it wins the consent of very substantial sections of the subordinate and dominated classes. What is the nature of this ideology which can inscribe such a vast range of different positions and interests in it, and which seems to represent a little bit of everybody — including most of the readers of this essay! For, make no mistake, a tiny bit of all of us is also somewhere inside the Thatcherite project. Of course, we’re all one hundred per cent committed. But every now and then — Saturday mornings, perhaps, just before the demonstration — we go to Sainsbury’s and we’re just a tiny bit of a Thatcherite subject.

The Daily Vox executive editor’s gripe with middle-class activists and activism is not a new phenomenon. Historically those who consider themselves ‘true revolutionaries’ have suffered such ‘infantile disorders’, described as such by none other than that other middle-class activist Vladimir Lenin, who was inspired by another middle-class theoretician, Karl Marx. Part of Lenin’s critique was targeted against those who criticized collaboration with those who they considered to be to their political right, or participation in what they termed bourgeois institutions such as parliament (where ironically workers were in some case voting for right wing parties). The point is that only those not involved in struggle engage in such irrelevant semantics or as that other famous middle-class revolutionary, Leon Trotsky characterized it: ‘‘These creatures are very much inclined to spout ultra-radical phrases beneath which is concealed a wretched and contemptible fatalism’.

An approach to political struggle

Commitment to real change, as demonstrated by a myriad of local activists, requires a broad progressive vision; defining the aims and objectives of political struggle in the attainment of that vision, working out a clear plan for the most effective strategy and tactics, forming broad coalitions with a range of constituencies to advance this struggle, and recruiting activists who have a certain consciousness, commitment and ability to collaborate within a collective. Of course some of these are developed within the crucible of struggle. The class extraction of individuals is meaningless – as conscious and committed activists hailing from middle-classes have led and participated in many, if not most progressive revolutions in the world. On the other hand there is no higher virtue to simply being working class – which has produced its own fair share of reactionaries or who are too engaged in multiple jobs eking out an existence to participate in any of these campaigns. Of course many conscious working class activists have been, and continue to be inspiring leaders. Essa seems to be trapped in an archaic paradigm, confusing class and consciousness, and I recommend he reads Goran Therborn’s insightful exploration of the changing dynamic of class and class struggles in Class in the 21st Century, published in the New Left Review (2012), that old leftist rag.

Political and human rights struggles are a struggle for hegemony – challenging the narrative, the assumptions, and importantly the power that is both concentrated and diffused throughout society –and I daresay throughout the world. The site of this struggle is manifold and multi-levelled, depending on objective conditions –and may include Virgin Active or Woolworths. To assume that there is a one trick pony is a false analysis about the nature of power and consequently the nature of resistance. Anyone engaged in political struggle would understand that it is not a linear process that takes you from one point to the next, without deviations, contradictory impulses, strategic and tactical blunders, successes and failures, and incidents of indiscipline among your ranks. These are part of the dialectic of struggle. But only those disengaged from the dynamics of struggles would remain untainted and can preach any sense of puritanism or self-righteousness. In fact some use their self-righteousness to disengage from the very struggles they pay lip service to. This is pithily expressed by, ironically a bourgeois President, Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Politics after all is the art of the possible. In deciding tactics struggles are always going to be selective based on practical considerations, the ability to mobilize people, the odds of victory and the impact factor. Universal struggles begin with selective and local struggles. No movement can take on countless struggles without diluting its focus and effectiveness. Unarguably, any struggle must ensure popular participation and participatory democracy.

Moving on from his obsession with class, Essa then inveighs about the limitations of this middle-class agenda with a sweeping statement: “why is an understanding of systemic oppression and a true commitment to political change so limited in middle-class activist circles’.  The question says more about the groups within which Essa fraternizes then about actual activists committed to such struggles. The activists that I have encountered combine political clarity, a superb strategic sense and an amazing sense of commitment, combined with an empowering ethic. Let me provide a simple example: in the quest for safety, security, sanitation, housing and basic services for people living in Khayelitsha, would the cause be advanced any better if we stand on our soap boxes and condemn capitalism and call for a socialist society? Or would advancing the peoples’ cause be better realized by utilizing the instruments available to ensure democratic participation in budgeting processes, for example, and using legal instruments, popular mobilization and local empowerment to achieve a better quality of life for all citizens and holding the government to account on its constitutional obligations. That does not mean that we discount the fact that both capitalism and apartheid have given rise to this skewed social and spatial geography, and the reproduction of poverty. These platforms are used to build social movements which will elevate, enhance and upscale our struggle based on organic leadership.

So on what basis does Essa assume that BDS-SA lacks a commitment to ending systemic oppression? On the contrary BDS-SA is one among a few pro-Palestinian advocacy groups, that does not have a membership, but draws its activists from a range of progressive organizations who are committed to local and international struggles and in transforming society.  BDS-SA works in alliance with a number of progressive forces including trade unions, political organizations, progressive churches, and civil society groupings including COSATU, the ANCYL, YCL and COSAS. While we may not agree with the current state of these organizations we cannot discount their organic and progressive roots.

Boycotts, targets and victories

Essa’s third gripe concerns the merits of boycotting Woolworths. Of course this is a vexed issue. However it is a democratic decision arrived at by a broad coalition of Palestinian solidarity organizations after much discussion and debate. The decision is not a random one but one based on an underlying logic, which Essa may be ignorant of. One can certainly question its merits, but it behooves activists and other constituents to advance leadership decisions.  Without that any struggle will lack focus, coherence, leadership and impact; it will become a free for all and defeat the campaign and dent the broader struggle. That is not to suggest in any way that any strategy or tactic is not open to critique and discussion, provided they are done within the appropriate avenues honestly and engagingly – not sniping in a conceited, churlish and condescending way.

Woolworths may well have been an easy target compared to other large retailers. However a focused campaign cannot overwhelm itself by taking on too many targets at the same time. Paradoxically the very reasons Essa cites Woolworths as not being an ideal target, actually makes it one. The reputational damage and disruption that Woolworths faced for procuring such a small part of their merchandise from Israel makes one think whether it was worth their while stocking such products. It tests the credibility of such companies who are wont to project an image of fair-trade, ethical practice and respect for human rights. Woolworths failed that test. Woolworths are obviously in a Gordian Knot: giving in to one constituency would only encourage others, they would argue in their boardrooms; and placating the pro-Palestinian constituency would alienate a large section of their affluent Zionist customer and shareholder base.

However, by simply focusing one issue Essa misses the bigger picture. In political struggle victory is not defined simply by immediately achieving the set objective; in fact in some cases it is anticipated that victory would not be immediate, with preparation for a war of attrition. Boycotts against companies doing business with the Apartheid state in South Africa took decades to be effective. Admittedly the objective of the current campaign is to use these non-violent initiatives to pressure Woolworths to stop supporting Israeli companies and those who benefit from the Occupation in order to weaken the Israeli economy and strip it of any moral veneer. The corollary to this is to support and strengthen local companies and create more jobs in the local economy. This boycott of Israeli produce would hopefully create the necessary pressure to force the recalcitrant Zionist State to the negotiating table and ensure justice, restitution and human rights to Palestinians. However there are other constant and significant victories along the way, which cannot be ignored. Some of these include the fact that this campaign has caught the public imagination and has created a specific narrative that has gone far beyond traditional constituencies. BDS has embedded itself significantly in the South African lexicon and in people’s conscience. Secondly it created a consciousness amongst many where none previously existed. Furthermore it serves as a passive mode of activism for many who lack the appetite for more vigorous activity. It mobilized a new cadre of activists who have played an important part in building the movement. BDS tested its ability to launch, motivate and sustain this campaign- which was one of their first. The role of social media in this campaign gripped the public imagination – particularly the Pharell-Williams spoofs. Importantly, The campaign created a consciousness regarding ethical shopping among communities; and last but certainly not least it changed shopping patterns among middle-class households, who sought out alternate sources of product, and in many cases procured them from smaller shops, hawkers, and street traders – doing exactly what Essa seems to encourage. I speak from personal experience. Furthermore, the action against Woolworths would force circumspection among other companies supporting Israel. Another significant victory cannot be ignored: Woolworths has unequivocally stated that they do not procure products from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This in itself is a profound commitment.

In one of those statements that at first glance sound profound, but on closer inspection is pure nonsense, Essa claims that the Woolworths boycott is ‘exclusionary by nature because it has no chance of becoming universal’. Boycotting any specific store or product is going to be exclusionary; in fact boycotting Israeli products (Ahava or Soda Stream for example) is exclusionary since few can afford to purchase them. If you shop at store A or use product B, then boycotting them would be exclusionary to those who stop at store X and use product Y. Universality is achieved by creating a consciousness towards ethical shopping and fair-trade including boycotting all Israeli products and institutions. Of course one cannot argue against the need for creating a popular and grassroots momentum for the campaign.

Ironically Essa’s paper, the Daily Vox is exclusionary by its nature because of its language and content and is only accessible to middle-classes with internet access. But that should not detract from its importance as an alternative voice.  In another contradictory impulse, while decrying the BDS boycott of Woolworths, Essa suggests action against Cape Union Mart (CUM) and G4S. CUM of course is a far more niche store than Woolworths and G4S generally protects the wealthy and their corporate assets: would boycotting them not also be exclusionary? Perhaps he is ignorant of the fact that BDS-SA has already issued a statement on the CUM issue indicating that they are evaluating the principles regarding a boycott, and has long and successfully campaigned against G4S, including pressuring government institutions to exclude them from tenders. This does not stop anyone from boycotting any entity or institution as a matter of principle, or for advocating and mobilizing around such a boycott. BDS-SA certainly does not have a monopoly on this form of protest action.

Universal principles and justice

I agree entirely with Camalita Naicker, whom Essa quotes at length, when she says that solidarity with Palestinians “must be rooted in the principles of equality, justice and freedom ….in non-racialism, and in solidarity with all people especially people who face oppression every day”. These principles are essential if our politics is to be driven by ideas, ideology and idealism – not by the politics of partisanship and parochial identity. But her sweeping statement that BDS-SA does not conform to those principles is simply unsustainable, even if Essa chooses to quote her as an authoritative voice. Furthermore the canard of anti-Semitism that detractors seems to attach to BDS, by both its adversaries and its critics is disconcerting. I believe that there is no evidence of any embedded anti-Semitism within BDS-SA despite condemnable actions by individuals hailing from other fraternal organizations (the ANCYL and COSAS)  in putting a pigs head in the food section at Woolworths (in the Halaal section, by the way) or using the slogan ‘dubula i juda’ at Wits. These actions should be unequivocally condemned as being in bad taste and insulting to Jews and others – but I need to be convinced that they are reflective of a broad anti-Semitism – no less than the  slogan ‘shoot the boer’ is reflective of widespread racism within the ANCYL. Others, including comrades, have argued otherwise and I am respectful of their positions.

Another wanton red-herring thrown at Palestinian solidarity is ‘what-about-ery’: what about this struggle, why don’t you take on this struggle, or issue a statement on this. No other struggle has had to endure as much ‘what-about-ery’ as the Palestinian one – simply because it is a convenient distraction. Why can’t we simply engage the Palestinian struggle on its own merits as one of self-determination of a people and the enforcement of their national rights?

Conclusion

There is much more in Essa’s piece that is either patently erroneous or simply irksome, but without getting personal I will conclude with the telling words, ironically of another revolutionary Marx – Groucho – who said: “He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.” That fits in perfectly with Christopher Hitchens abhorrence of the ‘lazy argument’.

SHUAIB MANJRA

Published in The Daily Vox on 31 August 2015

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SHUAIB MANJRA vs CAPE TIMES

Below is the correspondence between myself and the Cape Times around the vexed issue of censorship. The Cape Times published an article by Eric Marx essentially calling for a war against Iran. I responded to that arguing that Iran’s objective seem entirely peaceful. Glen Heneck in a disingenuous retort to my article spends all his words attacking a strawman (things I never mentioned or alluded to in my article). I responded arguing this point and responding to other issues raised  by Heneck. Despite enormous efforts on my part the Cape Times refused to publish or even engage with me. I appealed and the Ombudsman who dismissed by application in a bizarre decision where  he argued that if someone uses “in other words’ they can impute to you whatever they want. I applied for leave to appeal, which was denied. Again the crux of the argument was missed by the Judge who instead decided to focus on the civility of the debate.

What was interesting is that the Cape Times saw fit to publish the Ombudsman’s ruling but not my article – choosing censorship or robust debate; churlishness over honesty. There are five articles below for you to read and judge the merits of this case:

  1. The original article by Eric Marx (SAJBD).
  2. My response to Eric Marx.
  3. Glen Heneck’s (SAJBD) response to my article.
  4. My response to Glen Heneck – which the Cape Times refused to publish.
  5. My complaint to the Ombudsman and his response.
  6. My application for the right to appeal which was dismissed.

Thank you,

Shuaib Manjra

____________________________________________________________________

ARTICLE 1: ERIC MARX – Papers baffling stance on Iran

FROM the start of this cen­tury and even be­fore, one of the most vexed is­sues on the in­ter­na­tional agenda has been how to pre­vent the Ira­nian regime from ob­tain­ing nu­clear weapons with­out re­sort­ing to war.

Ear­lier this month, a deal was con­cluded be­tween Iran and the so-called P5+1 (China, France, Ger­many, the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, the UK and the US) whereby in essence, Iran, in ex­change for the lift­ing of in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions against it, agreed to ob­serve cer­tain re­stric­tions re­gard­ing its nu­clear pro­gramme.

Need­less to say the agree­ment, which is only the lat­est stage in what has been an ex­tended and com­plex diplo­matic process, has elicited a broad range of opin­ions both for and against. In its ed­i­to­rial of April 13 (“A vic­tory for the peace-lov­ing”), the Cape Times placed it­self firmly in the “for” camp. That is fair enough and echoes the sen­ti­ments of the US pres­i­dent.

Need­less to say the agree­ment, which is only the lat­est stage in what has been an ex­tended and com­plex diplo­matic process, has elicited a broad range of opin­ions both for and against. In its ed­i­to­rial of April 13 (“A vic­tory for the peace-lov­ing”), the Cape Times placed it­self firmly in the “for” camp. That is fair enough and echoes the sen­ti­ments of the US pres­i­dent.

How­ever, the ed­i­to­rial goes fur­ther than merely wel­com­ing the deal as a step in the right di­rec­tion to­wards re­solv­ing this fraught and com­plex is­sue. Rather, it presents it as a vic­tory over “war-mon­ger­ing Zion­ist gen­er­als”, and as a vin­di­ca­tion of the “stead­fast­ness” dis­played by the Ira­nian peo­ple in stand­ing up to those un­fairly seek­ing to deny them their right to use nu­clear power for peace­ful means.

Many long-stand­ing Cape Times read­ers have been frankly baf­fled, not to say even an­gered, by the overtly par­ti­san stance taken by the pa­per. Any­one read­ing the ed­i­to­rial would think that Iran is the in­no­cent vic­tim of an Is­raeli-led in­ter­na­tional vendetta. In ad­di­tion to ex­co­ri­at­ing Is­rael’s lead­ers, as if they have no cause to be con­cerned over reg­u­lar Ira­nian pro­nounce­ments that Is­rael is an il­le­git­i­mate “can­cer” that should be wiped off the map, the ed­i­to­rial ig­nores the de­struc­tive role Iran is play­ing in pro­mot­ing con­flict and ter­ror­ism around the globe.

Many long-stand­ing Cape Times read­ers have been frankly baf­fled, not to say even an­gered, by the overtly par­ti­san stance taken by the pa­per. Any­one read­ing the ed­i­to­rial would think that Iran is the in­no­cent vic­tim of an Is­raeli-led in­ter­na­tional vendetta. In ad­di­tion to ex­co­ri­at­ing Is­rael’s lead­ers, as if they have no cause to be con­cerned over reg­u­lar Ira­nian pro­nounce­ments that Is­rael is an il­le­git­i­mate “can­cer” that should be wiped off the map, the ed­i­to­rial ig­nores the de­struc­tive role Iran is play­ing in pro­mot­ing con­flict and ter­ror­ism around the globe.

No one can se­ri­ously deny that Iran, ever since the 1979 rev­o­lu­tion that brought the cur­rent fun­da­men­tal­ist Shia regime to power, has pro­vided fi­nan­cial, ma­te­rial, and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port for ter­ror­ist and mil­i­tant groups. One of the ter­ror­ist groups it funds and arms is Ha­mas, like­wise an Is­lamist fun­da­men­tal­ist move­ment that shares Iran’s oft-stated goal of de­stroy­ing the Is­raeli state. Another ben­e­fi­ciary of its largesse is the Le­banese-based Hezbol­lah move­ment, which has very sim­i­lar aims and ide­olo­gies. By arm­ing, train­ing and fund­ing lo­cal Shia mil­i­tants in Iraq, Iran has been com­plicit in that coun­try’s bloody dis­in­te­gra­tion into frat­ri­ci­dal civil war. Re­gard­ing the war in Syria, its sup­port of the As­sad regime has con­trib­uted greatly to a death toll now fast ap­proach­ing the quar­ter-mil­lion mark.

No one can se­ri­ously deny that Iran, ever since the 1979 rev­o­lu­tion that brought the cur­rent fun­da­men­tal­ist Shia regime to power, has pro­vided fi­nan­cial, ma­te­rial, and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port for ter­ror­ist and mil­i­tant groups. One of the ter­ror­ist groups it funds and arms is Ha­mas, like­wise an Is­lamist fun­da­men­tal­ist move­ment that shares Iran’s oft-stated goal of de­stroy­ing the Is­raeli state. Another ben­e­fi­ciary of its largesse is the Le­banese-based Hezbol­lah move­ment, which has very sim­i­lar aims and ide­olo­gies. By arm­ing, train­ing and fund­ing lo­cal Shia mil­i­tants in Iraq, Iran has been com­plicit in that coun­try’s bloody dis­in­te­gra­tion into frat­ri­ci­dal civil war. Re­gard­ing the war in Syria, its sup­port of the As­sad regime has con­trib­uted greatly to a death toll now fast ap­proach­ing the quar­ter-mil­lion mark.

No one can se­ri­ously deny that Iran, ever since the 1979 rev­o­lu­tion that brought the cur­rent fun­da­men­tal­ist Shia regime to power, has pro­vided fi­nan­cial, ma­te­rial, and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port for ter­ror­ist and mil­i­tant groups. One of the ter­ror­ist groups it funds and arms is Ha­mas, like­wise an Is­lamist fun­da­men­tal­ist move­ment that shares Iran’s oft-stated goal of de­stroy­ing the Is­raeli state. Another ben­e­fi­ciary of its largesse is the Le­banese-based Hezbol­lah move­ment, which has very sim­i­lar aims and ide­olo­gies. By arm­ing, train­ing and fund­ing lo­cal Shia mil­i­tants in Iraq, Iran has been com­plicit in that coun­try’s bloody dis­in­te­gra­tion into frat­ri­ci­dal civil war. Re­gard­ing the war in Syria, its sup­port of the As­sad regime has con­trib­uted greatly to a death toll now fast ap­proach­ing the quar­ter-mil­lion mark.

No one can se­ri­ously deny that Iran, ever since the 1979 rev­o­lu­tion that brought the cur­rent fun­da­men­tal­ist Shia regime to power, has pro­vided fi­nan­cial, ma­te­rial, and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port for ter­ror­ist and mil­i­tant groups. One of the ter­ror­ist groups it funds and arms is Ha­mas, like­wise an Is­lamist fun­da­men­tal­ist move­ment that shares Iran’s oft-stated goal of de­stroy­ing the Is­raeli state. Another ben­e­fi­ciary of its largesse is the Le­banese-based Hezbol­lah move­ment, which has very sim­i­lar aims and ide­olo­gies. By arm­ing, train­ing and fund­ing lo­cal Shia mil­i­tants in Iraq, Iran has been com­plicit in that coun­try’s bloody dis­in­te­gra­tion into frat­ri­ci­dal civil war. Re­gard­ing the war in Syria, its sup­port of the As­sad regime has con­trib­uted greatly to a death toll now fast ap­proach­ing the quar­ter-mil­lion mark.

No one can se­ri­ously deny that Iran, ever since the 1979 rev­o­lu­tion that brought the cur­rent fun­da­men­tal­ist Shia regime to power, has pro­vided fi­nan­cial, ma­te­rial, and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port for ter­ror­ist and mil­i­tant groups. One of the ter­ror­ist groups it funds and arms is Ha­mas, like­wise an Is­lamist fun­da­men­tal­ist move­ment that shares Iran’s oft-stated goal of de­stroy­ing the Is­raeli state. Another ben­e­fi­ciary of its largesse is the Le­banese-based Hezbol­lah move­ment, which has very sim­i­lar aims and ide­olo­gies. By arm­ing, train­ing and fund­ing lo­cal Shia mil­i­tants in Iraq, Iran has been com­plicit in that coun­try’s bloody dis­in­te­gra­tion into frat­ri­ci­dal civil war. Re­gard­ing the war in Syria, its sup­port of the As­sad regime has con­trib­uted greatly to a death toll now fast ap­proach­ing the quar­ter-mil­lion mark.

It should be noted that Iran’s role in pro­mot­ing con­flicts around the world is not lim­ited to the Mid­dle East, but in­cludes a range of other coun­tries, among them Libya, Kenya and Afghanistan. Among the ter­ror­ist atroc­i­ties car­ried out by its agents was the bomb­ing of the Jewish com­mu­nal head­quar­ters in Buenos Aires, re­sult­ing in nearly a hun­dred deaths.

Another deeply dis­qui­et­ing as­pect of mod­ern-day Iran is the ex­tent to which ra­bidly anti-Semitic the­o­ris­ing is be­coming an ac­cepted part of pub­lic dis­course. In Oc­to­ber last year, for ex­am­ple, the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment it­self hosted an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence for what colum­nist David Frum char­ac­terised as “Holo­caust de­niers, Mos­sad-did-9/11 con­spir­acy the­o­rists, an­tiSemites of the far right and far left, and other all-around kooks and haters”. The con­fer­ence was just an­other ex­am­ple of how the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­tates the spread of global anti-Semitism.

Typ­i­fy­ing the kind of del­e­gates who par­tic­i­pated was Kevin Bar­rett, a pro­po­nent of the the­ory that “Zion­ists” (a word now used in­ter­change­ably with “Jews”) cre­ated Is­lamic State (IS) to fight Mus­lims and Chris­tians in Syria and Iraq, and that “New World Order Zion­ism” was tar­get­ing the US for de­struc­tion. Ear­lier this year, Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran Broad­cast­ing re­ported that Jews and/or Is­rael were be­hind the Char­lie Hebdo at­tacks in Paris, cre­ation of IS, the 2011 at­tacks in Nor­way that left 77 peo­ple dead and, nat­u­rally, 9/11.

Typ­i­fy­ing the kind of del­e­gates who par­tic­i­pated was Kevin Bar­rett, a pro­po­nent of the the­ory that “Zion­ists” (a word now used in­ter­change­ably with “Jews”) cre­ated Is­lamic State (IS) to fight Mus­lims and Chris­tians in Syria and Iraq, and that “New World Order Zion­ism” was tar­get­ing the US for de­struc­tion. Ear­lier this year, Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran Broad­cast­ing re­ported that Jews and/or Is­rael were be­hind the Char­lie Hebdo at­tacks in Paris, cre­ation of IS, the 2011 at­tacks in Nor­way that left 77 peo­ple dead and, nat­u­rally, 9/11.

Iran’s ma­lign in­flu­ence in pro­mot­ing con­flict, ter­ror­ism and ev­ery man­ner of racial and re­li­gious ha­tred around the world is well known and at­tested to by in­nu­mer­able in­ter­na­tional stud­ies and re­ports. It is also the real rea­son why the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as a whole, and not just the US and Is­rael, are anx­ious that it not be al­lowed to ac­quire nu­clear weapons. In light of this, it will hardly come as a sur­prise that the Cape Times’ Jewish read­er­ship in par­tic­u­lar has been greatly of­fended by the pa­per’s por­trayal of Iran as a peace­ful state un­fairly per­se­cuted at the be­hest of war-mon­ger­ing Is­raelis. Cer­tainly, it bears lit­tle re­la­tion to the thought­ful way that the pa­per usu­ally deals with con­tentious is­sues of this na­ture.

Iran’s ma­lign in­flu­ence in pro­mot­ing con­flict, ter­ror­ism and ev­ery man­ner of racial and re­li­gious ha­tred around the world is well known and at­tested to by in­nu­mer­able in­ter­na­tional stud­ies and re­ports. It is also the real rea­son why the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as a whole, and not just the US and Is­rael, are anx­ious that it not be al­lowed to ac­quire nu­clear weapons. In light of this, it will hardly come as a sur­prise that the Cape Times’ Jewish read­er­ship in par­tic­u­lar has been greatly of­fended by the pa­per’s por­trayal of Iran as a peace­ful state un­fairly per­se­cuted at the be­hest of war-mon­ger­ing Is­raelis. Cer­tainly, it bears lit­tle re­la­tion to the thought­ful way that the pa­per usu­ally deals with con­tentious is­sues of this na­ture.

Read­ers will also have been puz­zled by the ed­i­to­rial’s sug­ges­tion that just as the achieve­ment of Namib­ian in­de­pen­dence from South Africa helped bring about the ne­go­ti­a­tions that led to the end of apartheid, so can the Iran nu­clear agree­ment “do the same for Pales­tine”. With all due re­spect, what pos­si­ble par­al­lels, his­toric or oth­er­wise, can be found be­tween these two vastly dif­fer­ing sit­u­a­tions? It ap­pears to be just an­other ex­am­ple of the ten­dency to deal with the whole Is­raelPales­tine ques­tion in terms of the South African ex­pe­ri­ence and try to force it, re­gard­less of what the rel­e­vant facts might be, into that in­tel­lec­tual par­a­digm.

The Cape Times, as ev­ery­one will agree, has a right, in­deed an obli­ga­tion, to speak with a pow­er­ful voice on is­sues that con­cern all South Africans. How­ever, it also needs to be cog­nisant that there is a wide range of views among its read­er­ship. The op-ed pages of the Cape Times have been full of ro­bust and con­tested en­gage­ment over the years on a myr­iad is­sues, in­clud­ing the con­tentious Mid­dle East. Its ed­i­to­rial page, how­ever, has al­ways striven to re­flect a more nu­anced and in­clu­sive stance, and that has helped to make the Cape Times the pre-em­i­nent daily in Cape Town. One hopes in this re­gard that the pa­per will be more even-handed in fu­ture.

The Cape Times, as ev­ery­one will agree, has a right, in­deed an obli­ga­tion, to speak with a pow­er­ful voice on is­sues that con­cern all South Africans. How­ever, it also needs to be cog­nisant that there is a wide range of views among its read­er­ship. The op-ed pages of the Cape Times have been full of ro­bust and con­tested en­gage­ment over the years on a myr­iad is­sues, in­clud­ing the con­tentious Mid­dle East. Its ed­i­to­rial page, how­ever, has al­ways striven to re­flect a more nu­anced and in­clu­sive stance, and that has helped to make the Cape Times the pre-em­i­nent daily in Cape Town. One hopes in this re­gard that the pa­per will be more even-handed in fu­ture.

Marx is Chair­man Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies.

 

ARTICLE 2: SHUAIB MANJRA – Israel, Iran and the Nuclear Question – A response to Eric Marx

It is imperative that we pursue a future where peace, justice and freedom reign as supreme values predicated on equal respect for all peoples, nations, national sovereignty and the rule of law – not least because we live in an interdependent world with common interests and a shared future. This demands that that any disagreement between nations must primarily be resolved within a peaceful framework. It is within this context that the issue of Iran, its nuclear ambitions and those who oppose it must be seen. But it is also within this context that we should seek to eradicate nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction and non-conventional weapons. Of course in the light of the enormous power of the arms industry attempting to eradicate all weapons would be a futile exercise.

Iran is a peaceful and remarkable nation with a history, culture and civilisation going back many millennia. Speak to anyone who has been to Iran and you face a reality which is far from the demonic, fanatical caricature painted by those who not only want to demonise it, but also destroy it – as they have done with vibrant,  dynamic and largely secular Iraqi and Syrian societies, in the guise of eradicating despotic rulers. Iran has a sizeable Jewish population, with civil and legal equality and an active religious life, with representation in Parliament in excess of its numbers. In fact it is easier to find a synagogue in Teheran than a Sunni Mosque. It is instructive that Iran has not launched a conventional war of aggression against another state in all of modern history. On the other hand it has been the recipient of numerous aggressive threats, wars and the overthrow of a democratically elected President, Mohammed Mossadeq by the CIA. But Iran is not a perfect state: it subscribes to an aberrant democracy characterised as a theocracy. A superior body vets candidates’ suitability for office based on their character, values and history, and also vets laws to ensure that they are in keeping with its Islamic ethos. It is also a repressive regime that commits human rights abuses against its critics and some minority communities. And from time to time it is blessed with idiotic leaders.

Yes, Iran is a patron of Hezbollah and occasionally Hamas and the Palestinians, and a shadow player in the civil wars of Lebanon and Syria. But both Hezbollah and Hamas are national liberation movements that seek to end Israeli occupation of Lebanese and the Palestinian Territories respectively. Similarly Iran has supported progressive movements around the worlds for many years and continues to foster relationships with left-wing governments in South America particularly.

Iran has made its nuclear ambitions clear – it wants to develop nuclear technology for peaceful civilian purposes. It is a right which each and every country possesses and one that should be respected. Even Obama avers, when he said at the UN, “we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy”.  Yet Iran is not permitted to pursue this technology simply because of invented suspicions, by its adversaries that it could produce nuclear weapons. Such adversaries have shown an aversion to this state since the overthrow of the Shah’s oppressive regime and its escape from the clutches of imperial power. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Iran is producing, on the brink of producing, or has intentions to produce nuclear weapons –  either from the IAEA, the USA or Israeli intelligence. Netanyahu’s own Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, Israel’s chief of staff Benny Gantz, and Mossad chiefs have admitted that Iran has not decided to initiate a nuclear weapons program or build a bomb. Claims come only from propagandists including Benjamin Netanyahu and his coterie of war-mongers and has a transparent agenda: the first is to maintain the façade that Israel is the pre-eminent victim in the world facing an existential threat; the second is to ensure a continued supply of the most up-to-date military hardware and intelligence from its supporters,  pre-eminently the USA; thirdly to use fear mongering as an electoral ruse, and fourthly to create a ruse to launch an attack on Iran.

 It is worth remembering that during Iran’s 8-year war with Iraq (supported by Western powers), where 20 000 Iranians were killed, over 100 000 injured and where Iraq extensively used chemical weapons against Iranian citizens, the Ayatollah Khomeini refused permission for Iranians to produce or use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. This religious edict still holds and is confirmed by his successor Ayatollah Khamenei when he said:

“The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”

Shia theology would require a monumental shift to abrogate Khomeini’s fatwa.

Having established that Iran has the right to pursue its civilian nuclear programme, let us confront another question: if for argument sake Iran wants to transform its peaceful nuclear technology to nuclear weapons, why should it not be permitted to do so? What law or principles guides which state should be in the nuclear club and who should be excluded? Why should the USA have nuclear weapons but not South Africa; why should Pakistan have nuclear weapons and not Bangladesh; why should North Korea have nuclear weapons and not South Korea? Why should those in the nuclear club be its gatekeepers? Why should Iran not be permitted to have nuclear weapons when many of the countries surrounding it have? The rule of reciprocity should ensure that either no one country has a nuclear weapon or all countries have that right. Whether they decide to exercise that right is another matter altogether. Failing that we will have an unstable world where the powerful continue to dominate the weak. Opening the option of nuclear weapons for all nation states would result in a ‘balance or terror’ and consequently in a balance of power between such nations. All would be constrained by the fear of mutual annihilation in a nuclear war. This may just be the perfect antidote to those who refuse to act on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Without this ‘balance of terror’ imperial hegemony and hubris will continue to proliferate.

Then we confront another canard:  should Iran develop a nuclear weapon will it pose an existential threat to Israel? In a January New York Times article three leading Israeli security experts –  Mossad chiefs Tamir Pardo and Efraim Halevy, and a former military chief of staff Dan Halutz – all declared that a nuclear Iran would not pose an existential threat to Israel echoing Ehud Barak. The reasons for this is simple: the first is that since Israel has over 400 undeclared nuclear warheads it would most  certainly retaliate with excessive force as is historically evident, and second,  being a small country an attack on Israel would equally decimate the Palestinian population.

To reiterate – Iran has civilian nuclear ambitions which is within its rights and acknowledged by the international community; there is no evidence of any transformation of nuclear technology to military projects and finally even with nuclear military technology Iran would pose no threat to Israel.

So how do we view the op-ed piece by Eric Marx of the Israeli lobby group the SA Jewish Board of Deputies that is matched in its dishonesty only by its hypocrisy (Paper’s baffling stance on Iran, 27 April)? This explains why we have different moral categories for the fair minded that genuinely seek good, and those you use the ruse of objectivity to propagate evil. One would give some credence to Marx’s concerns if he was an independent observer rather than a lobbyist for an Israeli state that is a major nuclear power,  which refuses to open its facilities to IAEA inspection, nor sign the NPT – both of which Iran has agreed to. In addition Israel has a huge stockpile of non-conventional weapons including chemical and biological weapons. This state that Marx uncritically supports, unlike Iran, has aggressive invaded or attacked virtually every one of its neighbours and spread its terror beyond.  Israel aggressively invaded Egypt in 1956 and 1967, Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, Gaza innumerable times, Syria, Jordan, and has attacked Iraq – bombing its alleged nuclear plant. It continues to occupy and exert a repressive military rule over territory legally belonging to Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), Lebanon (Sheba Farms) and Syria (Golan Heights).  Most of Israel’s attacks were unprovoked and fit into its larger objective of a violent land grab for territorial expansion. It has engaged in terrorism worldwide, engaged in extrajudicial executions, and attacks on Palestinians on foreign soil. In its attack on the tiny Gaza strip – which is one of the most densely populated places on earth – Israel used more munition than the Western forces employed in the first week of the Iraq war, including chemical weapons. It is also one of the largest supplier of arms to conflict zones, including in many parts of Africa.

Marx’s paucity of argument is evident in that all he can resort to is fear mongering through obfuscation, innuendo and unsubstantiated Hasbara assertions. Of course he does not fail to include the discredited trope – that ex-President Ahmadinejad called for ‘Israel’s to be wiped off the map’. What Ahmedinejad has said has been deconstructed, debated and correctly translated:  what he said using Persian idiomatic expression was lost in translation and never meant that Iran is threatening to destroy Israel. But such niceties do not serve the purpose of Israel’s South African lobby.

The essential objective of the Israeli hysteria is a doctrine that simply means total Israeli military domination over its neighbours by formenting regional instability. With Iraq and Syria completely destroyed, and other dictatorships militarily of diplomatically emasculated, Iran stands as a beacon of opposition to Israeli and imperial interests in the region. Thankfully Obama has seen through Israel’s game and Netanyahu’s lies and seeks a peaceful resolution as he has done with Cuba. Of course the US President also sees a constructive role than Iran can play in curbing regional instabilities – including against ISIS and al Qaeda. Interminable conflict serves the interest only of Israel so that can continue to play victim and bolster its military. Hopefully Israel’s local lobby would one day see the bigger picture and seek world peace rather than continuing to support a war mongering state and become cheer-leaders for more war. Hopefully one day they will also support nuclear disarmament.

The Cape Times editorial should be applauded for its balance and its stated commitment to peaceful resolution of this issue rather another senseless war that Israel is seeking.

Shuaib Manjra

May 2015

Published in the Cape Times

ARTICLE 3: GLEN HENECK – Israel more a vexed homeland than belligerent power

SHUAIB Man­jra (Cape Times, May 4) is surely right when he calls the stan­dard me­dia de­pic­tion of Iran a car­i­ca­ture. Too bad then that he ap­pends the words “de­monic” and “fa­nat­i­cal” to his own de­scrip­tion, so mak­ing him­self guilty of the very charge of which he com­plains.

The rest of the piece fol­lows the same pat­tern, of mea­sured de­fence ac­com­pa­nied by bil­ious, hy­per­bolic at­tack – to the point where I won­dered, se­ri­ously, whether the whole thing was in­tended as a par­ody, whether Dr Man­jra’s real in­ten­tion was to sub­tly cau­tion his fel­low anti-Zion­ists and anti-Im­pe­ri­al­ists against the dan­gers of ex­ag­ger­a­tion and in­tem­per­ance.

The cu­ri­ous thing is that, like Dr Man­jra, I have lit­tle re­gard for Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, whose ea­ger­ness to ap­pease the re­li­gious right makes him a poor im­i­ta­tion of the kind of leader the coun­try re­ally needs right now. The prob­lem is, though, that in terms of the Man­jra par­a­digm, the only leader that would be coun­te­nanced is one who would com­mit to a deal akin to the one reached at Kemp­ton Park in 1993.

What he re­quires of the Is­raelis, in other words, is that they aban­don their ex­clu­sivist urges and sub­mit them­selves to the whims of a democ­racy; to a one per­son, one vote ar­range­ment in a uni­tary state.

That just isn’t ten­able though, ei­ther morally or prac­ti­cally. For the es­sen­tial truth is that the two sides can’t abide one an­other, hav­ing been fed lit­tle but re­cip­ro­cal ha­tred for the past 100 years and more. Any elec­tion would be a farce – a crude racial cen­sus – and the con­se­quences of de­feat would re­ally be “too ghastly to con­tem­plate”.

In the Is­rael-Pales­tine con­flict, as much as any on earth, we have proof pos­i­tive of Moses Hess’s propo­si­tion that “race is pri­mary, class is sec­ondary” and of JS Mill’s con­clu­sion that “free in­sti­tu­tions are next to im­pos­si­ble in a so­ci­ety made up of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties”.

No amount of wish­ful (or venge­ful) think­ing is go­ing to change that re­al­ity. In­stead the best that can be hoped for, by peo­ple of good­will and rea­son, is grudg­ing ac­cep­tance of a two-state so­lu­tion, com­plete with re­cip­ro­cal se­cu­rity guar­an­tees, some kind of cap­i­tal trans­fer (and a UN-run Jerusalem).

It’s here, though, that a man of Dr Man­jra’s es­teem and in­tel­lect could play a gen­uinely use­ful role. For he must surely re­alise that the sine qua non for the peace he so avidly es­pouses is not de­nun­ci­a­tion but di­a­logue, not mil­i­tancy but mea­sure, not hys­ter­i­cal flour­ishes but hum­ble com­pro­mises.

Dr Man­jra is painfully as­tute to the ex­ag­ger­a­tion and dis­tor­tion in the stan­dard con­ser­va­tive ren­der­ing of the cal­cu­la­tions of the regime in Te­heran. Surely, then, he is well placed to see a sim­i­lar process at work in the pro­gres­sive de­pic­tion of the go­ings-on in Tel Aviv? Or does the good doc­tor be­lieve that there is some­thing in­trin­si­cally malev­o­lent about the one set of pro­tag­o­nists? Does he re­ally be­lieve that the Is­raelis are ex­ult­ing in the pain the Pales­tini­ans are suf­fer­ing – or in­dif­fer­ent thereto – or is it not rather a case of a com­mu­nity feel­ing their very ex­is­tence un­der threat and con­duct­ing them­selves ac­cord­ingly?

Dr Man­jra is painfully as­tute to the ex­ag­ger­a­tion and dis­tor­tion in the stan­dard con­ser­va­tive ren­der­ing of the cal­cu­la­tions of the regime in Te­heran. Surely, then, he is well placed to see a sim­i­lar process at work in the pro­gres­sive de­pic­tion of the go­ings-on in Tel Aviv? Or does the good doc­tor be­lieve that there is some­thing in­trin­si­cally malev­o­lent about the one set of pro­tag­o­nists? Does he re­ally be­lieve that the Is­raelis are ex­ult­ing in the pain the Pales­tini­ans are suf­fer­ing – or in­dif­fer­ent thereto – or is it not rather a case of a com­mu­nity feel­ing their very ex­is­tence un­der threat and con­duct­ing them­selves ac­cord­ingly?

I have no ba­sis for ques­tion­ing the sin­cer­ity of Dr Man­jra’s be­lief in the virtue, and the vi­a­bil­ity, of a uni­tary state. Rather what per­plexes me is why he, and his fel­low far­away pro­gres­sives, find it so dif­fi­cult to give any cre­dence to those who adopt a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. Espe­cially in the light of the go­ings-on in Azer­bai­jan, Bu­rundi and Croa­tia; in Ar­me­nia, Bos­nia and Cyprus, and so on.

What the Is­raelis are ask­ing – all of them, not just Ne­tanyahu et al – is recog­ni­tion of their right to live in a state with a per­ma­nent Jewish ma­jor­ity. Per­haps I’m show­ing my prej­u­dice here, or my priv­i­lege, but I’m re­ally strug­gling to un­der­stand why any­one but a fun­da­men­tal­ist – Marx­ist or Is­lamist – would find such a prospect not just dis­agree­able but pos­i­tively ab­hor­rent. We’re talk­ing, af­ter all, about: An arid, oil-free sliver of land; A com­mu­nity with at least some his­tor­i­cal claim thereon;

What the Is­raelis are ask­ing – all of them, not just Ne­tanyahu et al – is recog­ni­tion of their right to live in a state with a per­ma­nent Jewish ma­jor­ity. Per­haps I’m show­ing my prej­u­dice here, or my priv­i­lege, but I’m re­ally strug­gling to un­der­stand why any­one but a fun­da­men­tal­ist – Marx­ist or Is­lamist – would find such a prospect not just dis­agree­able but pos­i­tively ab­hor­rent. We’re talk­ing, af­ter all, about: An arid, oil-free sliver of land; A com­mu­nity with at least some his­tor­i­cal claim thereon;

In a re­gion that is hardly a bea­con of democ­racy or good gov­er­nance.

I re­ally want to be­lieve that Dr Man­jra is be­ing ac­cu­rate where he por­trays the Ira­ni­ans as more con­cerned with build­ing a suc­cess­ful wel­fare state than with bring­ing on Ar­maged­don. In the same vein I urge him to reimag­ine Is­rael less as a bel­liger­ent hege­mon and more as a be­lea­guered tribal home­land.

He­neck holds a BA LLB from UCT and a Master’s de­gree in law from Cam­bridge Univer­sity. He is a city busi­ness­man and a mem­ber of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

Published in the Cape Times

ARTICLE 4: SHUAIB MANJRA – A response to Glen Heneck

CAPE TIMES REFUSED TO PUBLISH THIS RESPONSE

On reading Glen Heneck’s tortured riposte to my article (Cape Times, 12th May), in order to affirm my own sanity and being convinced of his assault on the proverbial strawman, I had to revert to my original copy. This exercise confirmed that the good lawyer seems to have entirely missed the point of my article and contrived a response to an imagined content. So here is a simplistic summary: my article was about Iran and its nuclear ambitions, challenging Eric Marx (also a member of the SAJBD), who seemed hell-bent on demonising Iran using all the pervasive propaganda and nasty adjectives that he could muster. I argued that Iran’s nuclear ambitions seem peaceful and even if it did want to upscale to weapons there is no legal impediment to doing so, except a self-imposed moral and religious one. Furthermore many nations already possess such repugnant weapons of mass destruction, including Israel – whose human rights violations and violent conduct is on historical record and which has refused to sign on to the NPT. Israel was simply used to demonstrate the irony and hypocrisy of Marx’s position in view of his obsession with defending that State in his article. In another context I could have used North Korea or Pakistan for that matter. Most important was my call for any conflict to be resolved through peaceful dialogue.

Heneck hitched his response solely on this comparison, and in his obsession with defending Israel attributes to me what is neither in my article, nor implied and levels accusations against me with intemperate hyperbole. I implore readers to return to my original article (Cape Times, 4th May) in order to judge Heneck’s dishonesty for themselves. Upon further investigation it is apparent that he had cut and pasted sections of his response to a previous Cape Times article of mine in August 2014 (http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/israel-and-the-rainbow-nation-1.1735606). Perhaps he was pursuing unfinished business.

That notwithstanding his missive deserves a response since it is so characteristic of those with a liberal bent who I believe have some moral compass, but which is blinded by tribal loyalty. When their deeply held idealistic belief is met with an uncomfortable and conflicting reality they invent fictions in order to reconcile this conflict. Some have labelled this cognitive dissonance. Let me provide a simple illustration: Heneck wants to morally claim Israel as a democracy, but at the same time is committed to an ethnic Jewish State or what he calls the right of Israeli’s to ‘live in a state with a permanent Jewish majority’. This is akin to playing a game, establishing the rules, but with the winner predetermined – effectively rendering the game a farce. Thus Heneck’s State is an ethnocracy, little different to Iran’s theocracy. So when Heneck accuses me of requiring Israeli’s to ‘abandon their exclusivist urges and submit themselves to the whims of a democracy’, although I don’t even get close to addressing this issue in my article, I plead guilty as charged. One does not have to be a ‘Marxist or Islamist fundamentalist’ for it to be apparent that in order for any State with a policy to establish and maintain an ethnic or religious majority means that it must discriminate against others. During its establishment Israel had to engage in ethnic cleansing in order to establish a majority Jewish population. In order to sustain this majority it has to engage in gerrymandering, ethnic cleansing, forcing reduced growth among Palestinians through different mechanisms, discriminatory immigration practices, forced emigration and other measures to control the population of those not Jewish – including African refugees. This is the reality in Israel as a consequence of wanting to acquire more land but without the indigenous Palestinian population in order to achieve Heneck’s state with a ‘permanent Jewish majority’.

In seeking a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian question it would be alluring to heed Heneck’s plea that we see a progressive direction in Tel Aviv and not an intrinsic malevolence. But with continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, xenophobia, racism, expansion of settlements, continued dispossession of Palestinians, and with the election of an extreme-right wing fundamentalist government one cannot but see a malevolent intent – one of establishing facts on the ground to make the establishment of a Palestinian state untenable. Netanyahu’s racist comment against Palestinians and his publicly stated view that there never will be a Palestinian state gives one little hope. Of course it is simply an open declaration of what most peace activists already suspected. With him appointing a Minister of Justice who has called for indiscriminate military targeting of Palestinians civilians makes the situation even more dire, with some declaring this a call for genocide.

Heneck could do worse than direct his organisation to seek a new starting point in this conversation:  support a moral and just vision rather than continue as an uncritical lobby for the Israeli regime. Hinging one’s identity on a State as a secular deity, or representative of a religious one, forces one to justify the worst excesses. Heneck’s plea to me to reimagine Israel as a ‘beleaguered tribal homeland’ falls short on numerous counts, in addition to being anti-democratic and anachronistic. Israel is neither beleaguered nor a tribal homeland (it may be a religious holy land).  Imagine the world being divided into tribal homelands rather than civil states of all its citizens. Imagine our reaction if there are calls for South Africa to be declared a tribal homeland? Israel is not exceptional and we should see it for what it really is: a colonial entity legitimised on the basis of religious myth and/or a manufactured tribal identity.

My plea to Heneck is for honest engagement in order to progress just solutions rather than attempting to score points or boxing strawmen.

Shuaib Manjra

ARTICLE 5: SHUAIB MANJRA COMPLAINT TO THE OMBUDSMAN AND HIS RESPONSE

The Office of the Press Ombudsman

Having sought the opinion of legal experts, I believe that the Cape Times legal counsel has not read entirely, or has failed to grasp the detail of the Ombudsman opinion on the Allistair Sparks case. Alternately she is being disingenuous.

I entirely agree that the “the topic at hand is a serious one however an op-ed letter is within the sole discretion of the editor regarding the question of whether to publish a letter or not”. On that score I have had previous articles and letters rejected for publication without complaint, simply because I respect the right of the editor to either publish or not – that notwithstanding the fact that the editor engages in self-censorship for various reasons, not least of which is partisan pressure.

I however beg to differ on the issue that the “ The right to refuse to publish a letter was confirmed by the Press Ombudsman in the finding titled Allister Sparks vs. Cape Times…” In the cited case the Ombudsman opined on the specific merits of that case rather than creating a general principle applicable to all contexts. If the right to publish was an absolute right in the hands of the editor, without due consideration for the facts and the truth, then I respectfully submit that the Ombudsman would have effectively ruled himself out of a job. So my case hinges on the accuracy and truthfulness of an article, and its remedy, not on the rights of the editor.

My issue specifically relates to a case where the editor has failed in his responsibility to the Press Code on many of its articles, but more specifically 4.7.1 and 4.7.2.

4.7.1 The facts reported are true or substantially true; or

4.7.2 The article amounts to fair comment based on facts that are adequately referred to and that are true or substantially true;

In my specific complaint the editor not only permitted errors of fact to be published in a critique of my article, and subsequently failing to correct, retract or explain that, but also denying me the right to respond, as required  in 2.6 of the Press Code. It thus failed the accuracy test:

2.6 A publication shall make amends for publishing information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by printing, promptly and with appropriate prominence, a retraction, correction or explanation.

In its actions the Cape Times violates the basic premise of the Press Code, contained in its preamble. The Cape Times failed society by permitting a willful misrepresentation of my article and thus not permitting its readership to make an informed judgment on the issue.

‘The press exists to serve society…. It enables citizens to make informed judgments on the issues of the day, a role whose centrality is recognised in the South African Constitution’.

Also different from the Sparks case, mine is not based on innuendo, back room intrigue, assumptions, presumptions and a disagreement on what constitutes the facts. In my case the facts are clearly stated in print for all to see – and is not based on opinion. These facts are verifiable, as required by the Press Code. Failure to do so also points to a dereliction of duty by the editor.

2.4 Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be stated in such report.

In permitting the critique of my article, the editor also does not control the use of intemperate language, and sophistry that I believe impugns my dignity and reputation.

4.7 The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation. The dignity or reputation of an individual should be overridden only by a legitimate public interest and in the following circumstances…

On all these counts the Cape Times has failed the Press Code.

By his own recognition and admission that ‘the topic at hand is a serious one …’, it thus behooves the editor to ensure greater accuracy, truthful expression and balance.

Following is the substance of my appeal in greater detail:

Following on an editorial in the paper on Iran and its nuclear programme, a representative of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Mr Eric Marx was provided an op-ed on the 27th April 2015 to refute the content of the editorial (Article 1); this after the publication of numerous letters of a similar view.

I responded to Mr Marx in an op-ed published on the 4th May supporting the stance of the paper and critical of Mr. Marx’s position (article 2).

Subsequent to that the Cape Times provided a further op-ed to another member of the  SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Mr Glen Heneck,  in order to criticize my article and which was published on May 12th 2015 (article 3).

Besides making disparaging comments against my piece, the correspondent, Mr Heneck was dishonest and disingenuous in that he raised issues and criticized them, which were not in my article in the first instance. Here is the main object of his criticism (in reference to my article):

‘What he re­quires of the Is­raelis, in other words, is that they aban­don their ex­clu­sivist urges and sub­mit them­selves to the whims of a democ­racy; to a one per­son, one vote ar­range­ment in a uni­tary state.’

He spent a considerable amount of time refuting this argument notwithstanding that I did not even make that argument in my article. Please refer to my article and you will see that not only do I not make that argument, I don’t even allude to it, nor do I make any reference to it. It was a classic case of attacking the proverbial strawman. I challenge the Ombudsman to verify this for himself.

In other parts of the article Mr Glen Heneck continues to takes liberties with the truth. Here is another example:

‘Too bad then that he ap­pends the words “de­monic” and “fa­nat­i­cal” to his own de­scrip­tion, so mak­ing him­self guilty of the very charge of which he com­plains’.

He fails to explain that these were descriptions that I had ascribed to Iran’s detractors and does not explain how in doing so I would be ‘guilty of the very charge of which (I) complain’. This is sophistry of the worse kind.

He continues this sophistry, in addition to impugning my dignity and reputation:

The rest of the piece fol­lows the same pat­tern, of mea­sured de­fence ac­com­pa­nied by bil­ious, hy­per­bolic at­tack – to the point where I won­dered, se­ri­ously, whether the whole thing was in­tended as a par­ody, whether Dr Man­jra’s real in­ten­tion was to sub­tly cau­tion his fel­low anti-Zion­ists and anti-Im­pe­ri­al­ists against the dan­gers of ex­ag­ger­a­tion and in­tem­per­ance’.

I believe that it was the duty of the Cape Times to ensure that any response, any article or any op-ed is accurate, truthful and fairly reflects the debate in order to do justice to the protagonists and so that the public has a fair and balanced view, as is the requirement of the Press Code. Failure to do so is dereliction of duty by the editor, which I believe occurred in this case. It is a case of cowboy journalism.

I responded to Mr Heneck but to date the Cape Times has refused to publish my piece and has to date refused to engage with me on the matter (article 4). This leaves this matter unresolved in the public eye and does not provide the necessary balance required in the media, and remedy the editor’s glaring error.

I don’t know Mr Heneck, have nothing personal against him but seek redress in getting a fair balance in the media on a controversial matter, which in this instance is not being provided despite numerous attempts to discuss this with the editor of the Cape Times.

After about 10 telephone calls to the Cape Times I only managed to speak to a journalist, a Mr  Aziz Hartley who told me that this issue was for the Editor (Mr Aneez Salie) to deal with. He was requested to pass on the message to editor, in addition to other messages left for him and an email that was sent to him.

The articles in reference are given below and attached to this correspondence. The unpublished article is attached to this correspondence. I am sure you will agree that there is no correlation between my published article and the response by Heneck.

Being a daily reader of the Cape Times I also do not believe that space is at issue since in the week since my article was submitted (14th May 2015) there were extensive sections of the paper dedicated to speeches by Government Ministers.

I seek and trust your adjudication in seeking remedy in this matter. The remedy is seek is either a publication of my article in full or alternatively a correction in the Cape Times pointing out Heneck’s disingenuousness in his response.

SHUAIB MANJRA

______________________________________________________________________________

RESPONSE OF THE PRESS OMBUDSMAN

Dr Shuaib Manjra vs. Cape Times

Ruling by the Press Ombudsman

17 June 2015

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Dr Shuaib Manjra and those of the Cape Times newspaper.

Complaint

 Manjra is complaining about a response by Mr Glen Heneck to his opinion piece (both were published in the Cape Times) and wants the newspaper to either give him a right of reply (he says the second article misrepresented him), or to correct that writer’s “disingenuousness in his response”.

The texts were about the troubled situation in the Middle East.

The complaint in more detail

Manjra says that, besides making disparaging comments against his piece, Heneck was dishonest and disingenuous in that he raised issues not included in his article and then criticized them.

He cites the following sentence in Heneck’s text as the main object of his criticism: “What he re­quires of the Is­raelis, in other words, is that they aban­don their ex­clu­sivist urges and sub­mit them­selves to the whims of a democ­racy; to a one per­son, one vote ar­range­ment in a uni­tary state.”

 Manjra counters, “He (Heneck) spent a considerable amount of time refuting this argument notwithstanding that I did not even make that argument in my article… It was a classic case of attacking the proverbial strawman. In fact he cut and pasted much from a previous correspondence of his where he criticized another article of mine…”

He says it is the duty of the Cape Times to ensure that any article and any response is an accurate and fair reflection of the debate so as to do justice to the protagonists and to present a fair and balanced view to the public. “Failure to do so is dereliction of duty by the editor, which I believe occurred in this case.”

He complains that the Cape Times refused to publish his response to Heneck’s article and also refused to engage with him on the matter. “This leaves this matter unresolved in the public eye and does not provide the necessary balance required in the media, and remedy the editor’s glaring error.”

Analysis

To date the editor has not published Manjra’s response or any “correction”.

Manjra’s response not published

This office has no mandate to interfere with editorial decisions and therefore will not direct the newspaper to publish another article by Manjra.

No ‘correction’ published

While it is true that opinions expressed in opinion pieces should be fairly and honestly formed, it is also true that freedom of speech in a real sense gives one the right to be wrong. I therefore need to consider the possibility that Manjra may have been misrepresented and weigh that against the right to freedom of speech.

As freedom of speech has its limitations, and Heneck’s article may have been fundamentally unfair, I read the articles by both Manjra and Heneck with interest.

The crux of Manjra’s dissatisfaction is the sentence reading, “What he (Manjra)  re­quires of the Is­raelis, in other words, is that they aban­don their ex­clu­sivist urges and sub­mit them­selves to the whims of a democ­racy; to a one per­son, one vote ar­range­ment in a uni­tary state.”

Heneck then builds most of his argument on this statement.

It is true, as Manjra says, that he did not make such a statement in his piece. But Heneck used the expression “in other words” – which points to his interpretation of Manjra’s article. Surely, he had the freedom to take the argument further on the basis of his interpretation of the original article.

It would be a sad day for the South African press in particular and our democracy in general if this office should decide a writer is not allowed to interpret what others have written.

I refer to the ruling of the Constitutional Court (McBride vs. The Citizen) where Judge Edwin Cameron stated: “Criticism is protected even if extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it expresses an honestly held opinion, without malice, on a matter of public interest on facts that are true.” (April 2011)

This is in line with the provisions of the Press Code.

I also take into account the sensitivity of the matter – people differ vehemently on this issue. The one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. Who is right and who is wrong? Is there a right or a wrong?

Lastly, my office cannot expect a newspaper to research all the statements in articles submitted for publication by outside contributors under their own names. That would create an untenable situation.

I therefore conclude that, even if Heneck’s article has misrepresented Manjra, such an assumedly mistaken opinion was not serious enough for me to even contemplate that it should outweigh the right to freedom of expression.

Heneck is entitled to his views, and Cape Times is justified in printing them. It is also the editor’s responsibility to decide what should be published and what not.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

Our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman

ARTICLE 6: APPEALING THE OMBUDSMAN’S RULING AND THE APPEAL FINDINGS

22 June 2015

The Honourable Judge Bernard Ngoepe

Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel

Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za

Dear Sir

APPEAL: DR SHUAIB MANJRA vs CAPE TIMES

I hereby wish to apply for leave to appeal the ruling by the Press Ombudsman in the case Dr Shuaib Manjra vs. Cape Times, which I attach herewith. Not being of legal bent, I beg your indulgence.

The grounds for my appeal are set forth hereunder, followed by a more detailed discussion of the points raised:

  1. I believe that the Press Ombudsman has erred in fact, in interpretation and in logic in determining this case.
  2. Consequently, I do not believe that the Press Ombudsman sufficiently applied his mind, or given sufficient weight to the merits of the case.
  3. Furthermore, I believe that the Press Ombudsman is generally biased towards the media rather than the public interest.

I begin with a personal commitment to the notion of freedom of the press, but with the limitations as contained in our Constitution. Press freedom is fundamental to any democracy and to critical dialogue. I concur with the Ombudsman in that:

While it is true that opinions expressed in opinion pieces should be fairly and honestly formed, it is also true that freedom of speech in a real sense gives one the right to be wrong.

The notions of right and wrong are entirely subjective and based on one’s personal worldview

However, in his ruling this is one point where the Ombudsman, I humbly submit has critically erred.

My complaint was not about fettering freedom of speech or the right to be wrong. My main complaint is about deliberate and willful misrepresentation and/or imputing into my article what is clearly not there, nor alluded to,  nor open to such interpretation. The Ombudsman himself admits this, when he states:

It is true, as Manjra says, that he did not make such a statement in his piece.

If by his own admission that I did not make such a statement in my piece, how then can this be honest or critical comment?  By some warped logic the Ombudsman deigns that this can be construed as interpretation, when he states:

But Heneck used the expression “in other words” – which points to his interpretation of Manjra’s article. Surely, he had the freedom to take the argument further on the basis of his interpretation of the original article.

If it was about interpretation then that interpretation must be a reasonable one. It must be an interpretation of a statement I made, a proposition I proferred, the context of my article or the broader narrative of my piece. Interpretation is not free floating, but is rather grounded in the text – particularly in an opinion piece of this nature. A literary piece can be subjected to post-modern devices.  I submit that there is absolutely nothing in my article that opens itself to such interpretation.  If the Ombudsman opines to the contrary, the onus rests on him provide the evidence – which he has failed to do in his ruling.

The only bizarre evidence that the Ombudsman provide for interpretation is Heneck’s use of ‘in other words’. To quote the ruling:

But Heneck used the expression “in other words” – which points to his interpretation of Manjra’s article.

The Ombudsman provides no other evidence except to argue that simply by using ‘in other words’ Heneck has the licence to impute or interpolate anything into my article regardless of whether I said that or not; whether I alluded to it or not; whether I made reference to it or not or whether it was within the broader narrative of the article. None of which apply and I submit that no reasonable person would arrive at a similar conclusion, except it seems the Ombudsman.  Rather, the use of ‘in other words’ is generally construed as paraphrasing, simplifying a position, expressing it differently or summarizing it – while remaining faithful to its meaning. None of this is evident in Heneck’s position regarding my article.

Furthermore, as I stated in my complaint my article was about Iran in the nuclear context, not about the Middle-East conflict which the Ombudsman assumes. The Middle-East conflict is generally taken to mean the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My article was about Iran and it nuclear ambitions wherein I merely used Israel as a comparison (since my response was to an article by Eric Marx whose sole interest was in defending Israel).

On this question, my contention is that I did not speak about a solution or about the conflict, accept to allude to Israel’s behavior in the region as a nuclear power. Even if someone wants to interpret my view on a solution, which I reiterate I did not offer or allude to, there could be range of solutions – a unitary state, a two-state solution, a federal state, etc. Yet Heneck imputes me offering a one-state solution without any evidence from my article – and then attacks this proverbial strawman in the rest of his article.

I submit that the Ombudsman is wrong in considering this interpolation as an interpretation –which Heneck further uses to disparage me. Thus the Ombudsman is wrong when he states:

It would be a sad day for the South African press in particular and our democracy in general if this office should decide a writer is not allowed to interpret what others have written.

While I agree with the general sentiment, it simply does not apply in this context. The science of interpretation is a complex one, but generally speaking interpretation is understood as the the action of explaining the meaning of something. There is a vast difference between interpretation and interpolation or imputation. My objection is not to interpretation but rather to imputation and interpolation.

I further submit that the Ombudsman interpretation of Judge Edwin Cameron’s ruling, quoted below from the Ombudsman’s ruling, is erroneous for various reasons:

I refer to the ruling of the Constitutional Court (McBride vs. The Citizen) where Judge Edwin Cameron stated: “Criticism is protected even if extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it expresses an honestly held opinion, without malice, on a matter of public interest on facts that are true.

It is my contention that the Ombudsman ignores the learned Judge’s opinion where the important consideration is “… on facts that are true.’  I submit that in this case neither are the facts true, nor is there any evidence that such an opinion is held without malice.

Finally, I respectfully submit that I regard the following statement by the Ombudsman  bizarre considering his role as custodian of the Press Code:

… my office cannot expect a newspaper to research all the statements in articles submitted for publication by outside contributors under their own names. That would create an untenable situation.

Without labouring the point and I contend that I am not stretching the meaning of what is intended, I submit that the Ombudsman disregards accuracy as paramount in any article. I submit that accuracy is one of the cornerstones of a free and responsible media. Reducing staff to increase profits cannot be used as an excuse to willy-nilly disregard accuracy. Furthermore this was not about researching facts; it simply required validation of a critique against the original article. It is a simple and expected requirement of the editor or sub-editor.

The Press Code demands accuracy and truth, in the following provisions:

4.7.1 The facts reported are true or substantially true; or

4.7.2 The article amounts to fair comment based on facts that are adequately referred to and that are true or substantially true;

2.4 Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be stated in such report.

Even if one accounts for the Ombudsman’s opinion that the editor cannot vouch for accuracy, as this would be ‘untenable’, then the publication has a responsibility to make amends for such accuracy come to light (as in this case), as stated in the following provisions of the Press Code:

2.6 A publication shall make amends for publishing information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by printing, promptly and with appropriate prominence, a retraction, correction or explanation.

We cannot have a situation of sacrificing accuracy without consequence. That would encourage reckless journalism. That may just require the Cape Times to print a disclaimer in its banner that it cannot vouch for the accuracy of its reports, if the Ombudsman opinion is to hold sway.

Furthermore, the Press Code states that:

‘The press exists to serve society…. It enables citizens to make informed judgments on the issues of the day, a role whose centrality is recognised in the South African Constitution’.

Permitting false reports does not permit our citizenry to make informed decisions and I would argue that this violates our constitutional right.

On these bases I hereby submit that the Ombudsman has erred on

  1. Matters of fact, in interpretation, and in logic in determining this case;
  2. Not sufficiently applying his mind, or given sufficient weight to the merits of the case;
  3. Being generally biased towards the media rather than the public interest.

I do not make the last point lightly – it simply came to light during my saga with the Cape Times when the paper deemed it fit, in a fit of triumphalism, to print its private correspondence with the Press Ombudsman. This case involved the Cape Times and the MEC for Education in the Western Cape, Debbie Schafer and demonstrates the cosy relationship that exists between the media and the Press Council. The Ombudsman in its private correspondence to the Cape Times stated that ‘the Department protesteth too much’. This was in a case that was to be possibly adjudicated by the Ombudsman. In a letter to the Cape Times the Press Council had to apologise for the blurring of lines.

I refer your honour to the relevant articles:

http://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/cape-times/20150609/281676843528729/TextView

http://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/cape-times/20150612/281814282488515/TextView

I finally want to state that I have had numerous opinion pieces and letter rejected for publication by the Cape Times with no complaint because of my respect for editorial independence. This case is substantively different, hence my complaint.

On these bases I seek the right to Appeal this case. The points of my appeal have been set out as above.

Sincerely

SHUAIB MANJRA

_________________________________________________

JUDGE NGOEPE’S FINDINGS – REFUSING MY RIGHT TO APPEAL

(I believe that he entirely missed the crux of my appeal, rather focusing on the civility of the interaction rather than the substance of my appeal):

DR SHUAIB MANJRA                                                                                APPLICANT

 AND

 CAPE TIMES                                                                                                RESPONDENT

 MATTER NO: 1148/05/2015

 DECISION ON APLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

 [1]     In its editorial of 13 April 2015, the Cape Times (“respondent”) expressed itself in support of the nuclear peace deal concluded between Iran and 5 major powers.  This attracted a response from Mr Eric Marx, Chair Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies.  In his article entitled “Papers baffling stance on Iran”, which was published on an op-ed, Mr Marx criticized the editorial; he felt that it had been partisan in its support of the deal, in favour of Iran.  He argued that the editorial wrongly portrayed Iran as a peace loving country; he mentioned several violent incidents which he says were supported by Iran, ranging from Norway to South America, East Africa and the Middle East.

[2]     In his article, published by the respondent also on an op-ed on 4 may 2015, Dr Shuaib Manjra (“applicant”), joined issue with Mr Marx, and defended the respondent’s editorial.  He portrayed both the good and bad side of Iran, but, in the process, criticized Israel and some of its policies such as towards the Palestinians. In the process, he criticised Mr Marx.

[3]     In its turn, applicant’s response to Mr Marx attracted a response by Mr Glen Heneck also on an op-ed, published on 12 May 2015. Needless to say, Mr Marx criticized the applicant in a number of respects (I return to this later).

[4]     The applicant wrote a response to Mr Heneck, but the respondent refused to publish it. After failed numerous attempts and much effort to persuade respondent, the applicant eventually lodged a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman.  He wanted “either the publication of his article in full or alternatively a correction in the Cape Times pointing Heck’s disingenuousness in his response.”

[5]     In its defence, respondent, through its journalist, responded as follows: “I have spoken to the Editor of the Cape Times Mr Aneez Salie who feels that the topic at hand is a serious one however an op-ed letter is within the sole discretion of the editor regarding the question of whether to publish a letter or not”.  The journalist then referred to a decision of the Ombudsman in a previous matter, namely, .Allister Sparks vs Cape Times, which the applicant says is distinguishable from the present case.

[6]     One of the complaints the applicant has against Heneck’s article is that he was misinterpreted and attacked; he wanted to set the record straight.  In his Ruling dated 17 June 2015, the Ombudsman dismissed applicant’s complaint.

[7]     The Ombudsman stated in his Ruling that he had to consider whether the applicant had been misrepresented by Heneck.  He held that even “if Heneck’s article has misinterpreted Manjra such a mistaken opinion was not serious enough”.  The Ombudsman said that he had no mandate to interfere with editorial decision; accordingly, he could not order the respondent to publish applicant’s letter. The complaint was therefore dismissed; hence this application.

[8]     I have read carefully Heneck’s response.  I do not think it mounts the kind of attack applicant says it does.  It might have been robust; but it was overall civil and restrained.  It did not even appear to be personal; it kept to the substance of the debate. Turning to the issue of editorial discretion: one respects it; however, in suitable cases such a decision may have to attract some consequences.  I do not believe that harm should be caused to individuals, and be allowed to stand, all in the name of editorial discretion. It is inconceivable that a paper can offer a platform for a scathing attack by A on B, but, in the name of editorial discretion, refuse to publish B’s response.  However, the present is not such a case. As I have already said, Heneck was restrained and civil and really kept to the point which was the subject of debate; the issue is not whether he was right or wrong. I therefore hold that the Ombudsman’s Ruling cannot be faulted.

[9]     For the reasons given above, the applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel; the application is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 14th day of August 2015

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel

ARTICLE 2: SHUAIB MANJRA – Israel, Iran and the Nuclear Question – A response to Eric Marx

It is imperative that we pursue a future where peace, justice and freedom reign as supreme values predicated on equal respect for all peoples, nations, national sovereignty and the rule of law – not least because we live in an interdependent world with common interests and a shared future. This demands that that any disagreement between nations must primarily be resolved within a peaceful framework. It is within this context that the issue of Iran, its nuclear ambitions and those who oppose it must be seen. But it is also within this context that we should seek to eradicate nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction and non-conventional weapons. Of course in the light of the enormous power of the arms industry attempting to eradicate all weapons would be a futile exercise.

Iran is a peaceful and remarkable nation with a history, culture and civilisation going back many millennia. Speak to anyone who has been to Iran and you face a reality which is far from the demonic, fanatical caricature painted by those who not only want to demonise it, but also destroy it – as they have done with vibrant,  dynamic and largely secular Iraqi and Syrian societies, in the guise of eradicating despotic rulers. Iran has a sizeable Jewish population, with civil and legal equality and an active religious life, with representation in Parliament in excess of its numbers. In fact it is easier to find a synagogue in Teheran than a Sunni Mosque. It is instructive that Iran has not launched a conventional war of aggression against another state in all of modern history. On the other hand it has been the recipient of numerous aggressive threats, wars and the overthrow of a democratically elected President, Mohammed Mossadeq by the CIA. But Iran is not a perfect state: it subscribes to an aberrant democracy characterised as a theocracy. A superior body vets candidates’ suitability for office based on their character, values and history, and also vets laws to ensure that they are in keeping with its Islamic ethos. It is also a repressive regime that commits human rights abuses against its critics and some minority communities. And from time to time it is blessed with idiotic leaders.

Yes, Iran is a patron of Hezbollah and occasionally Hamas and the Palestinians, and a shadow player in the civil wars of Lebanon and Syria. But both Hezbollah and Hamas are national liberation movements that seek to end Israeli occupation of Lebanese and the Palestinian Territories respectively. Similarly Iran has supported progressive movements around the worlds for many years and continues to foster relationships with left-wing governments in South America particularly.

Iran has made its nuclear ambitions clear – it wants to develop nuclear technology for peaceful civilian purposes. It is a right which each and every country possesses and one that should be respected. Even Obama avers, when he said at the UN, “we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy”.  Yet Iran is not permitted to pursue this technology simply because of invented suspicions, by its adversaries that it could produce nuclear weapons. Such adversaries have shown an aversion to this state since the overthrow of the Shah’s oppressive regime and its escape from the clutches of imperial power. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Iran is producing, on the brink of producing, or has intentions to produce nuclear weapons –  either from the IAEA, the USA or Israeli intelligence. Netanyahu’s own Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, Israel’s chief of staff Benny Gantz, and Mossad chiefs have admitted that Iran has not decided to initiate a nuclear weapons program or build a bomb. Claims come only from propagandists including Benjamin Netanyahu and his coterie of war-mongers and has a transparent agenda: the first is to maintain the façade that Israel is the pre-eminent victim in the world facing an existential threat; the second is to ensure a continued supply of the most up-to-date military hardware and intelligence from its supporters,  pre-eminently the USA; thirdly to use fear mongering as an electoral ruse, and fourthly to create a ruse to launch an attack on Iran.

 It is worth remembering that during Iran’s 8-year war with Iraq (supported by Western powers), where 20 000 Iranians were killed, over 100 000 injured and where Iraq extensively used chemical weapons against Iranian citizens, the Ayatollah Khomeini refused permission for Iranians to produce or use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. This religious edict still holds and is confirmed by his successor Ayatollah Khamenei when he said:

“The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”

Shia theology would require a monumental shift to abrogate Khomeini’s fatwa.

Having established that Iran has the right to pursue its civilian nuclear programme, let us confront another question: if for argument sake Iran wants to transform its peaceful nuclear technology to nuclear weapons, why should it not be permitted to do so? What law or principles guides which state should be in the nuclear club and who should be excluded? Why should the USA have nuclear weapons but not South Africa; why should Pakistan have nuclear weapons and not Bangladesh; why should North Korea have nuclear weapons and not South Korea? Why should those in the nuclear club be its gatekeepers? Why should Iran not be permitted to have nuclear weapons when many of the countries surrounding it have? The rule of reciprocity should ensure that either no one country has a nuclear weapon or all countries have that right. Whether they decide to exercise that right is another matter altogether. Failing that we will have an unstable world where the powerful continue to dominate the weak. Opening the option of nuclear weapons for all nation states would result in a ‘balance or terror’ and consequently in a balance of power between such nations. All would be constrained by the fear of mutual annihilation in a nuclear war. This may just be the perfect antidote to those who refuse to act on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Without this ‘balance of terror’ imperial hegemony and hubris will continue to proliferate.

Then we confront another canard:  should Iran develop a nuclear weapon will it pose an existential threat to Israel? In a January New York Times article three leading Israeli security experts –  Mossad chiefs Tamir Pardo and Efraim Halevy, and a former military chief of staff Dan Halutz – all declared that a nuclear Iran would not pose an existential threat to Israel echoing Ehud Barak. The reasons for this is simple: the first is that since Israel has over 400 undeclared nuclear warheads it would most  certainly retaliate with excessive force as is historically evident, and second,  being a small country an attack on Israel would equally decimate the Palestinian population.

To reiterate – Iran has civilian nuclear ambitions which is within its rights and acknowledged by the international community; there is no evidence of any transformation of nuclear technology to military projects and finally even with nuclear military technology Iran would pose no threat to Israel.

So how do we view the op-ed piece by Eric Marx of the Israeli lobby group the SA Jewish Board of Deputies that is matched in its dishonesty only by its hypocrisy (Paper’s baffling stance on Iran, 27 April)? This explains why we have different moral categories for the fair minded that genuinely seek good, and those you use the ruse of objectivity to propagate evil. One would give some credence to Marx’s concerns if he was an independent observer rather than a lobbyist for an Israeli state that is a major nuclear power,  which refuses to open its facilities to IAEA inspection, nor sign the NPT – both of which Iran has agreed to. In addition Israel has a huge stockpile of non-conventional weapons including chemical and biological weapons. This state that Marx uncritically supports, unlike Iran, has aggressive invaded or attacked virtually every one of its neighbours and spread its terror beyond.  Israel aggressively invaded Egypt in 1956 and 1967, Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, Gaza innumerable times, Syria, Jordan, and has attacked Iraq – bombing its alleged nuclear plant. It continues to occupy and exert a repressive military rule over territory legally belonging to Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), Lebanon (Sheba Farms) and Syria (Golan Heights).  Most of Israel’s attacks were unprovoked and fit into its larger objective of a violent land grab for territorial expansion. It has engaged in terrorism worldwide, engaged in extrajudicial executions, and attacks on Palestinians on foreign soil. In its attack on the tiny Gaza strip – which is one of the most densely populated places on earth – Israel used more munition than the Western forces employed in the first week of the Iraq war, including chemical weapons. It is also one of the largest supplier of arms to conflict zones, including in many parts of Africa.

Marx’s paucity of argument is evident in that all he can resort to is fear mongering through obfuscation, innuendo and unsubstantiated Hasbara assertions. Of course he does not fail to include the discredited trope – that ex-President Ahmadinejad called for ‘Israel’s to be wiped off the map’. What Ahmedinejad has said has been deconstructed, debated and correctly translated:  what he said using Persian idiomatic expression was lost in translation and never meant that Iran is threatening to destroy Israel. But such niceties do not serve the purpose of Israel’s South African lobby.

The essential objective of the Israeli hysteria is a doctrine that simply means total Israeli military domination over its neighbours by formenting regional instability. With Iraq and Syria completely destroyed, and other dictatorships militarily of diplomatically emasculated, Iran stands as a beacon of opposition to Israeli and imperial interests in the region. Thankfully Obama has seen through Israel’s game and Netanyahu’s lies and seeks a peaceful resolution as he has done with Cuba. Of course the US President also sees a constructive role than Iran can play in curbing regional instabilities – including against ISIS and al Qaeda. Interminable conflict serves the interest only of Israel so that can continue to play victim and bolster its military. Hopefully Israel’s local lobby would one day see the bigger picture and seek world peace rather than continuing to support a war mongering state and become cheer-leaders for more war. Hopefully one day they will also support nuclear disarmament.

The Cape Times editorial should be applauded for its balance and its stated commitment to peaceful resolution of this issue rather another senseless war that Israel is seeking.

Shuaib Manjra

May 2015

Published in the Cape Times

ARTICLE 4: SHUAIB MANJRA – A response to Glen Heneck

CAPE TIMES REFUSED TO PUBLISH THIS RESPONSE

On reading Glen Heneck’s tortured riposte to my article (Cape Times, 12th May), in order to affirm my own sanity and being convinced of his assault on the proverbial strawman, I had to revert to my original copy. This exercise confirmed that the good lawyer seems to have entirely missed the point of my article and contrived a response to an imagined content. So here is a simplistic summary: my article was about Iran and its nuclear ambitions, challenging Eric Marx (also a member of the SAJBD), who seemed hell-bent on demonising Iran using all the pervasive propaganda and nasty adjectives that he could muster. I argued that Iran’s nuclear ambitions seem peaceful and even if it did want to upscale to weapons there is no legal impediment to doing so, except a self-imposed moral and religious one. Furthermore many nations already possess such repugnant weapons of mass destruction, including Israel – whose human rights violations and violent conduct is on historical record and which has refused to sign on to the NPT. Israel was simply used to demonstrate the irony and hypocrisy of Marx’s position in view of his obsession with defending that State in his article. In another context I could have used North Korea or Pakistan for that matter. Most important was my call for any conflict to be resolved through peaceful dialogue.

Heneck hitched his response solely on this comparison, and in his obsession with defending Israel attributes to me what is neither in my article, nor implied and levels accusations against me with intemperate hyperbole. I implore readers to return to my original article (Cape Times, 4th May) in order to judge Heneck’s dishonesty for themselves. Upon further investigation it is apparent that he had cut and pasted sections of his response to a previous Cape Times article of mine in August 2014 (http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/israel-and-the-rainbow-nation-1.1735606). Perhaps he was pursuing unfinished business.

That notwithstanding his missive deserves a response since it is so characteristic of those with a liberal bent who I believe have some moral compass, but which is blinded by tribal loyalty. When their deeply held idealistic belief is met with an uncomfortable and conflicting reality they invent fictions in order to reconcile this conflict. Some have labelled this cognitive dissonance. Let me provide a simple illustration: Heneck wants to morally claim Israel as a democracy, but at the same time is committed to an ethnic Jewish State or what he calls the right of Israeli’s to ‘live in a state with a permanent Jewish majority’. This is akin to playing a game, establishing the rules, but with the winner predetermined – effectively rendering the game a farce. Thus Heneck’s State is an ethnocracy, little different to Iran’s theocracy. So when Heneck accuses me of requiring Israeli’s to ‘abandon their exclusivist urges and submit themselves to the whims of a democracy’, although I don’t even get close to addressing this issue in my article, I plead guilty as charged. One does not have to be a ‘Marxist or Islamist fundamentalist’ for it to be apparent that in order for any State with a policy to establish and maintain an ethnic or religious majority means that it must discriminate against others. During its establishment Israel had to engage in ethnic cleansing in order to establish a majority Jewish population. In order to sustain this majority it has to engage in gerrymandering, ethnic cleansing, forcing reduced growth among Palestinians through different mechanisms, discriminatory immigration practices, forced emigration and other measures to control the population of those not Jewish – including African refugees. This is the reality in Israel as a consequence of wanting to acquire more land but without the indigenous Palestinian population in order to achieve Heneck’s state with a ‘permanent Jewish majority’.

In seeking a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian question it would be alluring to heed Heneck’s plea that we see a progressive direction in Tel Aviv and not an intrinsic malevolence. But with continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, xenophobia, racism, expansion of settlements, continued dispossession of Palestinians, and with the election of an extreme-right wing fundamentalist government one cannot but see a malevolent intent – one of establishing facts on the ground to make the establishment of a Palestinian state untenable. Netanyahu’s racist comment against Palestinians and his publicly stated view that there never will be a Palestinian state gives one little hope. Of course it is simply an open declaration of what most peace activists already suspected. With him appointing a Minister of Justice who has called for indiscriminate military targeting of Palestinians civilians makes the situation even more dire, with some declaring this a call for genocide.

Heneck could do worse than direct his organisation to seek a new starting point in this conversation:  support a moral and just vision rather than continue as an uncritical lobby for the Israeli regime. Hinging one’s identity on a State as a secular deity, or representative of a religious one, forces one to justify the worst excesses. Heneck’s plea to me to reimagine Israel as a ‘beleaguered tribal homeland’ falls short on numerous counts, in addition to being anti-democratic and anachronistic. Israel is neither beleaguered nor a tribal homeland (it may be a religious holy land).  Imagine the world being divided into tribal homelands rather than civil states of all its citizens. Imagine our reaction if there are calls for South Africa to be declared a tribal homeland? Israel is not exceptional and we should see it for what it really is: a colonial entity legitimised on the basis of religious myth and/or a manufactured tribal identity.

My plea to Heneck is for honest engagement in order to progress just solutions rather than attempting to score points or boxing strawmen.

Shuaib Manjra

Cape Town