Abridged version published in the Cape Times, 18 April 2016.
In a piece published in Counterpunch, Marek Sullivan sagaciously argued that atheist and neuroscientist Mark Harris must live in a “quantum universe” because he habitually makes contradictory statements that he believes are simultaneously valid – not unlike Schrödinger’s cat experiment. Harris believes that “it is obscene, irrational, and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion” followed by the claim that “the justification for such a state is rather easy to find…[and] if there were going to be a state organized around protecting members of a single religion, it certainly should be a Jewish state.”
Glen Heneck (Cape Times, April 8) lives in a similar universe where Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive! Of course Heneck is forced to make exceptions to the moral rules he follows in the service of a preconceived worldview grounded in the shrill dogma of Zionist ideology, in order to sound reasonable. But behind this claimed reasonableness is a toxic outcome – supporting the idea of an ethnic/religious state in Israel, with an ethnic majority achieved through violent ethnic cleansing, and that discriminates against the indigenous minority that remains. But he goes further and regards ‘peaceful coexistence’ a higher virtue than ‘social justice’. This is an obscene view both in Palestine and South Africa where we grapple with centuries of colonialism and apartheid. The subtext of course is that the poor, marginalised, occupied and oppressed must respectfully submit to their status in this world and submit to unbridled power. For these bigoted views he considers himself a ‘decently-educated, quiet-spoken, semi-intellectual’, which I take as code for ‘civilised’.
On the other hand Heneck characterises me as one who peddles “hate-riddled caricature” – in other words angry and irrational. Besides his characteristic failure to substantively engage even a single point that I raise in my article, this moniker is ascribed to me for a perfectly rational view: support for inclusive societies based on social justice that treat every individual equally, without regard to or discrimination based on race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religion; and my support for states that belongs to all of its citizens equally. These universal values define democracies. Such a state of Israel would have my support.
However this perversion of reality is characteristic of the narrative presented on the Palestinian question: those who seek universal freedoms are demonised and those engaged in colonialism, occupation, discrimination and violent repression are celebrated as paragons of democracy and civilised values. Admittedly Heneck may be uncomfortable with my characterisation of Israel because of his cognitive inability to accept that the idealistic utopian Zionism ingrained in his identity in reality has become its ‘hate-riddled caricature’. This unfortunately is the only logical outcome of exclusive states and societies.
While Heneck claims to attempt a fresh approach to the Middle-East conundrum, in his tortuous articles he says nothing new. He, in fact reconfigures the tired hasbara tropes in ways which seek to further obfuscate the fundamental issues. All the boxes on my card were ticked in my invented game of Bullshit Bingo – which triggers every time one of these tropes is trotted out. These tropes and red-herrings have been frequently debunked by those much wiser than me – but space limits me repeating them. They include:
- Creating a great complexity to the problem
- Fear mongering by claiming Israel’s existential threat
- Proclaiming an ancient Jewish claim on the land
- Using ‘whataboutery’ which serves to deflect the fundamental issues by using obscure, inaccurate and ahistorical examples
- Invoking ‘the grand delinquency of other governments in the region’
- Mention the spurned peace offerings by Palestinians (without providing the details of these offerings)
- Highlight that Israel’s objective is peace (despite all the evidence to the contrary).
- Claim that this conflict was started by Palestinians
- Describe Palestinians as uncompromising (although they are negotiating for less than 20% of their historical homeland).
- If all fails invoke the Hamas Charter.
One also begins to questions Heneck’s legal credentials when he categorically states: ‘any lawyer will tell you that most claims of right are resolved not by way of restitution but rather by way of damages: so why should that modality not be applied in this case?’ Heneck may be right on most civil claims, but any good lawyer with a semblance of knowledge of human rights and restorative justice will tell you otherwise. Restitution is the default mode unless circumstances make it improbable and damages are awarded in lieu – as in land claims in South Africa. This lawyer will also tell you that the choice rests with the victim and not the aggressor. Interestingly Israel’s own actions make restitution perfectly possible, evidenced by the expansion of Jewish settlements and the ‘right of return’. But more tellingly, why does Heneck fear restitution? Is it because he fears the loss of a Jewish majority? If the answer to question is in the affirmative he leaves no doubt regarding his support for ethnic cleansing in the achievement of this.
Also intriguing is why Heneck fails to disclose his leadership at the SA Jewish Board of Deputies – which is a cheerleader for Israel’s occupation and brutality.
If Heneck is sincere in seeking solutions he has to move beyond tribal affiliations, hasbara tropes and platitudes and examine a concreate reality against universal values. Otherwise he remains Israel’s apologist. I am also sorry that he takes offence at my robust tone; but I make no apology as I rely on JK Galbraith’s wisdom that ‘in all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong’.