South Africa

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Not in my name, Chief Rabbi

Not in my name, Chief Rabbi
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein. (Photo: YouTube)

Chief Rabbi Goldstein’s defence of Chief Justice Mogoeng saddens and frightens me. His recent article in Daily Maverick is underpinned by an unexamined, incorrect and dangerous assumption that those critical of the policies of the Israeli government are anti-Semitic.

I am saddened because many South African Jews are characterised and vilified as “self-haters” because they do not support the policies of the Israeli government. I am saddened because the chief rabbi’s logic leads him to insult unfairly my colleague and friend, Justice Edwin Cameron, who has dedicated his life to fighting against prejudice of every kind. I am frightened because the chief rabbi’s conflation plays into the hands of growing numbers of hate-mongers who refer to Jews as “Zionists” and violently attack them on this basis. 

Chief Rabbi Goldstein carelessly conflates those who criticise the policies of the Israeli government with anti-Semites. In the same vein, he assumes that all Jews support the government of Israel. The give-away comment is this: he admits that he is “biased” when he argues for the justice of the cause of the State of Israel, because he is a Jew and a rabbi. It is true that the vast majority of Jews have a special connection to Israel. It is also true that most Jews are Zionists inasmuch as they support the idea of a Jewish homeland.  But it is simply not true that this translates into an uncritical acceptance of the justice of the Israeli government of the day. On the contrary, there are many Jews who, like me, have deep spiritual and familial ties to Israel but, at the same time, deplore the policies of the Netanyahu government. 

It is because of his assumption that criticising Israel is tantamount to expressing hatred towards Jews, that the chief rabbi comes close to accusing Justice Cameron of anti-Semitism. He characterises Justice Cameron’s view that the Israeli government is guilty of human rights violations in terms of international law as “attacking Israel”. He distorts the 2008 fact-finding trip to Israel, of which Justice Cameron was part, as having “a clear purpose of vilifying Israel”. This insults not only Justice Cameron, but the prominent Jewish South Africans concerned about the Israeli government’s human rights violations who were part of the trip, as well as those who organised it. 

Anti-Zionism has become the new excuse for age-old anti-Semitism. Jewish leaders should be telling the world that not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews, and that hating the policies of the Israeli government should not translate into hating Jews. DM/MC

 Carol Steinberg is an advocate at the Johannesburg Bar

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