Friday, December 12, 2008

Last Try on Settler Riots...


I have not had a reply to my response to Nathan Geffen's "open letter" addressed to me on 6 December. This raises the question of why he bothered to write in the first place. Here below is a second letter from me to Geffen raising just that point amongst others. Of course all this may just be a bizarre and absurd form of theatre of obscure motivation and even more obscure purpose...who knows.

I enclose a definitely tongue-in-cheek wish list of 12 items in my letter below, but on a more realistic note I wish everyone an enjoyable and safe holiday season and I hope that this has a far greater chance of realisation than my other 12.

I will end this Intro with a short list of recent articles which some of you may wish to read (Google them):


If this Isn't Terrorism, What Is? By TOM GROSS. From today's Wall Street Journal Europe December 2, 2008

Reflections of a Sometime Israel Lobbyist. By Leonard Fein in Dissent Magasine.

Human rights & wrongs. Dec. 10, 2008, THE JERUSALEM POST
Security First. U.S. Priorities in Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking. by J. D. Crouch • Montgomery C. Meigs • Walter B. Slocombe, Ben Fishman, Rapporteur • Michael Eisenstadt, Advisor


Dear Nathan

You first wrote (an "Open Letter") to me on 6 Dec challenging my position vis-a-vis the "settlers" and Israel, which you equated with the stance of "Official Jewry". I presumed at the time that an "open letter" has as its chief purpose the initiation of debate; otherwise it is difficult to see the point. A number of responses from, amongst others, Joel Pollak and Steve Magid were sent to you and I also replied on 8 December. In my letter I commended you for the polite tone of your original letter, but challenged you on a number of substantive issues.

Since then we've heard nothing, which is puzzling to say the least. If you do not respond, what was the point of the first letter? Do you feel aggrieved or despondent that we have not immediately reached some form of consensus? Do you feel that you have been misrepresented or maligned? Please explain.

I would also point out that although your letter was free of personal abuse you certainly made some comments to which I could legitimately take offence.

For example you say: "You, as well as the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation are a small part, but nevertheless a part, of this system. It is not only the settlers that have put the Zionist enterprise at risk; it is the unconditional support for Israel --irrespective of the crimes committed or sanctioned by the state-- by the dominant form of Zionism in the diaspora today. A crucial element of this system is its dehumanisation of Muslims and Arabs. That's what creates the environment for pogroms to take place. We learnt this from Jewish History."

Besides the substantive errors in this comment, you strongly imply that I am guilty of the "dehumanisation of Muslims and Arabs". I strongly deny this imputation. I have absolutely zero animosity towards either Muslims or Arabs and anyone who knows me would also know this. What I do recognise is that major elements within both categories, are strongly anti-Israel and often anti-semitic for a variety of reasons. As such they pose a very real threat to Israel. This is not dehumanisation; it is simply reconition of a basic reality. Failure to acknowledge this is not admirable - it is simply denialism.

You also said, "You also compared Palestinians to Nazis (without even realising it)." This is a pretty ugly accusation wholly unsupported by any evidence in your letter. Yet you have failed to respond to my request for the precise statement on which you base this assertion. Do you think that contributes to trust or to dialogue?

On rereading your letter I am struck by the unfocussed and sweeping generalisations which inform your position. They range from accusations regarding Reform Jewry, to alleged support for Greater Israel to unconditional support for all Israeli actions - as though silence or conditional condemnation equates to support. In addition, you conflate a host of different entities (the two Jewish organisations, myself and unnamed others) into a some rightwing conspiracy which tacitly seeks a greater Israel and dehumanises Arabs and Muslims.

In failing to focus you seriously undermine your central alleged concern, settler violence and the "occupation", and perpetuate the polarisation of debate around labels and straw men.

In my own response I attempted to set this straight. In so doing I too may have used labels which are not productive. I used the word "shrill" for example. While parts of your writing are indeed "shrill", others have been balanced and deserving of consideration. I have myself written of the difficult issue of personal morality in the arena of political conflict.

I also used the words "moral crusade" which you may see as offensive labelling. But again I do so because of your emphasis on selected and uncritically accepted accusations against Israel and Israelis in the absence of realistic contextualisation. I attempted to remedy what I saw as a major defect in your position. This is related to your rote condemnation of violence and anti-semitism, which is not integrated into the position you actually adopt - namely, is intensely critical of Israel.

The whole SAHRD project reflected the failure to adequate conceptualise these dilemmas and conflicting realities - more specifically the hostile media environment and anti-Israel agitprop in certain South African circles. This immediately played itself out on the return of the delegation with a slew of critical articles and public comments in which Israel was cast as the central villian. In particular, I pointed out this is the context in which I operate and which conditions (to a significant extent) the public position I adopt. It does not allow the luxury of moral righteousness unrelated to hard existential realities.

I could go on, but once again, if your original letter was a genuine desire to engage in debate, I invite you to respond. Otherwise people will draw their own conclusions.

In the meantime this is my wish list for a better world:

1. I wish that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai did not find it necessary to specifically include the minute Jewish population in its list of targets or fund it necessary to torture them before killing tham.
2. I wish that the dangerous and hateful Jihadist philosophy together with its foundational Islamist doctrine would rapidly pass into the dustbin of history never to re-emerge.
3. I wish that no-one would resort to brutaility and violence to achieve their personal or ideological ends and that the conditions which encourage such responses could be eliminated.
4. I wish that instead of hurling bombs or abuse at one another that humans everywhere could discuss their differences over a pleasant glass of wine after showing each other pictures of their families and friends.
5. I wish that the politics always came second to debate over the best soccer, rugby or cricket team.
6. I wish that all people were rational, tolerant and wise and were free of the sins of pride, stupidity, cowardice, cupidity, sadism, envy, conformity and ignorance at all times and everywhere.
7. I wish that Islamists would stop persecuting Christian Arabs and that Palestinians who sold their land to Jews could do so without fearing death.
8. I wish that belligerant Jewish clerics would cease spitting on people with whom they differ, would stop defacing their graves or other religious or national symbols and turn away from extremist rhetoric which spills over into violent action.
9. I wish that the problems of the Middle East would be solved through rational discussion in such a way that the reasonable hopes and aspirations of all the people living there could be accommodated.
10. I wish that those not living there would demonstrate greater restraint and modesty and refrain from imposing their own ideologies, biases, ignorance and psychological obsessions on an arena remote from their legitimate interests and experience.
11. I wish that commentators would read beyond the inflammatory literature supporting their own position to more serious studies dealing with the complex, multi-dimensional realities which influence the flow of events.
12. I wish that people had deeper insight into the vast scientific literature which deals with the way people construct perceptions and make decisions in the political arena, since such knowledge could translate into greater rationality and less emotion.

And I've only started...
Mike Berger

Responses to Settler Riots...

Dear Nathan (from Joel Pollak)

I received your recent letter on the violence in Hebron. There are some points I would agree with and others I would vigorously contest.

One point, however, strikes me as particularly objectionable.

You suggest that Jewish organisations around the world, and individuals such as Mike Berger who disagree with your particular criticisms of Israel, bear guilt for the actions (and inactions) of the Israeli state, as well as for the "dehumanisation" of Muslims and Arabs.

I find that quite extraordinary.

It is, superficially at least, exactly what is said by antisemitic jihadists to justify their attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions (the Chabad House in Mumbai being only the most recent example) as proxies for Israel.

Of course you would oppose such terrible violence--but according to your logic it would have been permissible, and even welcome, to protest peacefully outside the Chabad House in Mumbai as part of the "system", as marchers led by the Muslim Judicial Council tried to do at the Board of Deputies headquarters in Cape Town during an anti-Israel protest a few years ago.

Have I misunderstood you? I invite you to clarify or explain.

Dear Mike and Nathan, (from Steve Magid)

(1) I don't know why you (Mike) commended Nathan for writing a letter free of personal abuse. His letter included his correspondence with the SAJBD in which he labels you and David Saks "extremists". I think that is highly problematic.

Nathan writes "Saks and Berger cannot merely be written off as "the extremists in our community", although extremist they certainly are."

He also writes "You ignore the crux of the Haaretz piece, which is that the army stood by and let Jewish extremists terrorise Palestinians."

Am I to conclude that Nathan views you and David in the same light as the thugs who attack Palestinians and the IDF? I think this inflammatory language, perhaps made behind your back (unless you were included on the SAJBD correspondence) needs to be challenged.

And I know I am being flippant with the eqation of the two contexts with which the word can be used, still, I am amazed that he has labeled you an extremist!

(2) I don't know what exactly happened with Farid Esack, I hope the Board replies. But I do wonder whether Nathan or Faried have ever questioned the decision made by Salim Valley to use threats of violence and personal abuse to prevent Benjamin Pogrund and Walid Salem from visiting South Africa on a peace tour. Did the Board threaten to abuse and embarrass Faried like Salim Vally did with Walid Saliem? How does Nathan reconcile this treatment of Walid Saliem by official representatives of the Muslim community with the view that the failures of the Jewish community are for worse than the Muslim community, as he wrote in the Cape Times? What about the way the Muslim community treated Hussein Solomon after he agreed to participate in a debate with the Zionist Federation?

(3) Nathan, regarding support for a 2 state solution, it's something that upsets me as well. I think a large part of the religious sector of the community has failed to internalise the need for 2 states and the requirement that we relinquish territory. Still, I think its presumptious to say that official Jewry reject the notion. I am not sure if you have based your assertion on opinion polls. If not, I will divert to the sentiment that the Board plays to the community - support for 2 states. The Board saw it fit to advertise the fact that Zuma support a two state solution. They brought this to the community with a sense that it is a 'win', i.e. the community would be happy to hear the ANC supports 2 states. I don't believe they have misread the community so badly. Its also a silly label. Who is official Jewry?

Dear Nathan Geffen, (from Anthony Posner aka as the Blacklisted Dictator)

As you are aware Farid Esack (SAHRD) is a signatory to the attached letter.

Perhaps Farid Esack can bring a copy along to Habonim and hand out sweeties to the kids who sign?


We fought apartheid; we see no reason to celebrate it in Israel now!
17 May 2008

We, South Africans who faced the might of unjust and brutal apartheid machinery in South Africa and fought against it with all our strength, with the objective to live in a just, democratic society, refuse today to celebrate the existence of an Apartheid state in the Middle East. While Israel and its apologists around the world will, with pomp and ceremony, loudly proclaim the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel this month, we who have lived with and struggled against oppression and colonialism will, instead, remember 6 decades of catastrophe for the Palestinian people. 60 years ago, 750,000 Palestinians were brutally expelled from their homeland, suffering persecution, massacres, and torture. They and their descendants remain refugees. This is no reason to celebrate.

When we think of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, we also remember the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948.

When we think of South Africa’s Bantustan policy, we remember the bantustanisation of Palestine by the Israelis.

When we think of our heroes who languished on Robben Island and elsewhere, we remember the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.

When we think of the massive land theft perpetrated against the people of South Africa, we remember that the theft of Palestinian land continues with the building of illegal Israeli settlements and the Apartheid Wall.

When we think of the Group Areas Act and other such apartheid legislation, we remember that 93% of the land in Israel is reserved for Jewish use only.

When we think of Black people being systematically dispossessed in South Africa, we remember that Israel uses ethnic and racial dispossession to strike at the heart of Palestinian life.

When we think of how the SADF troops persecuted our people in the townships, we remember that attacks from tanks, fighter jets and helicopter gunships are the daily experience of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory.

When we think of the SADF attacks against our neighbouring states, we remember that Israel deliberately destabilises the Middle East region and threatens international peace and security, including with its 100s of nuclear warheads.

We who have fought against Apartheid and vowed not to allow it to happen again can not allow Israel to continue perpetrating apartheid, colonialism and occupation against the indigenous people of Palestine.

We dare not allow Israel to continue violating international law with impunity.

We will not stand by while Israel continues to starve and bomb the people of Gaza.

We who fought all our lives for South Africa to be a state for all its people demand that millions of Palestinian refugees must be accorded the right to return to the homes from where they were expelled.

Apartheid was a gross violation of human rights. It was so in South Africa and it is so with regard to Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians!

Sent to me by Gill K

Following the expulsion of families from Beit Hashalom in Hebron, during
a radio interview with the BBC, I was asked about our future plans. When
I responded that the community would continue to purchase property in
Hebron, the interviewer asked, "But won*t that just cause more
violence?" I answered, "If I bought a home in London and was told that a
Jew purchasing on *that side of the city* would cause a violent
reaction, how would that be viewed? Probably as anti-Semitism and
racism. Why then can*t a Jew buy property in Hebron, just as people
purchase homes all over the world?"
Another common question I*ve had to field from journalists is, "Don*t
you think this has all gotten out of control?" My response is quite
simple: "Of course it is totally out of control. That*s not the
question. The question is who is out of control?" Clearly, in my
opinion, those who have lost control are those democratic institutions
which are designed to protect citizens from despotic leadership.
FOLLOWING PURCHASE of Beit Hashalom for close to $1 million, the Hebron
community found itself under attack from numerous sources. Rapidly the
question of our legitimate presence in the building made its way to
court. The original court decision found enough evidence supporting our
claims to prevent immediate eviction. However, harsh restrictions were
imposed, including denial to install windows and to hook up to the
Hebron municipal electric grid. Only in the middle of a major snowstorm
did the defense minister allow installation of windows in the building
last winter.
Due to the political sensitivity of the case, we soon found ourselves
opposite a Supreme Court panel hearing the various issues involved. That
panel was composed of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and
Justices Edmond Levy and Uzi Fogelman. Levy is religious. Following a
break in the court hearings, Beinisch changed the panel, removing Levy
and Fogelman and replacing them with Justices Ayala Procaccia, who is
known to be one of the most left-wing justices on the court, and Salim
Joubran, the only Arab on the court. Beinisch, it must be noted, is not
known for her right-wing ideological opinions. Two leftist justices and
an Arab were left to decide the fate of the Jews living in Beit
Hashalom. If that*s not a stacked deck, nothing is. So wrote retired
District Court judge Uzi Struzman, calling the court*s final decision
blatantly political.
In that decision, the court ruled that it would not examine the evidence
presented, including proof of authentication of the legal sales
documents, a video of the seller receiving and counting the money
received for the building, and an audio recording of his description of
the sale and receipt of the money.
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, when presented with new evidence in the
case, specifically the audio cassette, refused to meet with community
attorneys or examine the proof of purchase. Defense Minister Ehud Barak
announced only two weeks ago his intention to legalize all the illegal
Beduin construction in the South. Yet he gave the go-ahead to violently
expel all residents of the building in the midst of advanced high-level
negotiations which would have allowed him to forgo the brutal
These are examples of nothing less than terror - administrative terror,
utilized by the highest echelons of the country*s democratic
institutions to further their own political beliefs against loyal
citizens of the state, in this case, residents of the Hebron Jewish
FOLLOWING VIOLENT reactions to the extremely harsh expulsion, which
included use of tear gas and stun grenades, I was asked about "red
lines" - and decisions to "cross those red lines." Unfortunately we are
presently facing situations where the government is crossing all the red
lines that previously existed. The transformation of the judicial
system, including the attorney-general and the Supreme Court, into an
extended arm of the political arena ends all notions of impartiality or
Hebron residents are often labeled extremists. However nothing could be
more extreme than the above-described actions of Mazuz and Beinisch. But
due to their positions and political ideologies, their extremism is
considered legitimate.
It should be clear. Hebron*s Jewish community opposes and rejects any
and all violence aimed at innocent people, be they Arabs, Jews or anyone
else. However it is unthinkable and intolerable that Israel*s top
leadership should change the rules in the middle of the game, expecting
the other side to play by the old ones, while they play by the new. Such
actions, as we have recently witnessed, quite literally push a large
segment of the population into a corner with no way out, creating a
dangerously volatile situation. Peace may breed peace but by the same
token, extremism breeds extremism.
The real danger to Israeli society is not a few dozen kids throwing
rocks while violently and illegitimately being thrown out of a home in
Hebron. The true threat to our country is the warping of the fundamental
institutions whose presence is supposed to protect the people rather
than terrorize them. The decisions made concerning Beit Hashalom were
not based upon justice, rather upon pure judicial terror. The writer is
spokesman of the Jewish community of Hebron. This article can also be
read at http://www.jpost. com
/servlet/Satellite? cid=122770246490 8&pagename= JPost%2FJPArticl e%2FShowFull
[ Back to the Article ]
Copyright 1995- 2008 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost. com/
The Jewish Community of Hebron
POB 105 , Kiryat Arba-Hebron 90100

Dear Mike (from Gideon Shimoni)
In my view this is excellent. I fully agree with it.

from David Saks

Doron's descent into personal abuse was disappointing, especially given his own issues about being victimised for his opinions. It is indicative of more than thin-skinnedness on his part, I believe, but of a more fundamental lack of tolerance for opposing views, certainly when those are strongly argued. I was rather shocked in this connection to read how, on Supernatural, he concluded that support John McCain precluded one from speaking with any authority on human rights issues. Apart from the sweeping dismissal of the moral credentials of nearly half the American electorate, it is further evidence of how some automatically assume that real commitment to human rights is exclusively a left-wing preserve.

That being said, Doron argued his case clearly and on the whole civilly in his exchange with Joel. It was a valuable exercise, and I was reassured that unlike Kasrils, he does have a genuine commitment to Israel's well-being. This is despite his being clearly shaky on a number of crucial points. He signally failed to answer, for example, Joel's question as to why equal rights for Jewish West Bank residents in a Palestinian state is not an option. This ties in with his unwillingness to acknowledge the extent of anti-Jewish racism amongst the Palestinians as an obstacle to peace. It leads in turn to his conclusion that Jewish 'settlers' are the real obstacle and that therefore, a peace deal necessitates their state-enforced mass removal. This seems to me to be an expedient caving in to Palestinian racism at the expense of hundreds of thousands of Jews who will lose their homes - homes that are in the heartland of ancient Israel.

Joel, as ever, was impressively cogent, moderate and well informed. Kol Hakavod to him.

Settler Riots are "Pogroms": an exhange of correspondence

I strongly recommend you read the attached correspondence and that you contribute. If you send me your comments I will publish a selected group to my distribution lists.

Dear Nathan

I'm really at something of a loss on how to respond to you (see Nathan's letter below). On the one hand I could launch into a detailed, and inevitably long-winded, explanation on where I actually come from as opposed to your speculations and assumptions. I could also point out that the settler issue serves for Israel's enemies the convenient instrumental purpose of invalidating the Zionist enterprise in addition to any genuine concern they have for the settler's themselves.

And so on and on. Since your letter was public so mine will be and I hope others will comment - some already have.

On the other hand I want to get beyond the kind of sniping and point scoring which masquerades as debate. I must also publicly congratulate you on writing a letter free of the personal abuse, with which others in your broad camp adorn their comments to me.

So in the hope that my partial answer will serve some useful purpose here goes. First let's deal with the contents of your letter:

1. You (and others in your camp) talk of a "particular system" leading to this "pogrom" and many other "atrocities". These are inflammatory words and accusations designed to promote a particular agenda. There is indeed reprehensible and sometimes criminal behaviour by a small segment of Israeli society in the context of longstanding interethnic conflict which for a host of reasons is extremely difficult to resolve.

I believe they do the Zionist enterprise harm in a number of ways, one of which is that they provide enemies of Israel with another stick to beat Israel with and to impugn the "Zionist" project. The entire field is extremely controversial and is the weak underbelly of Israel at which a great deal of attention is directed. Some of this is based (appropriately or inappropriately) on genuine concerns for human rights and the ethical foundation of Israel itself; much of it arises from a priori hostility to the Jewish State and is part of a campaign of invalidation and demonisation. It is this contamination of motives and agendas which renders the entire topic such a hot potato.

The settler question is tied up with peace negotiations, being used by different groups to advance their interests. Israel, in my view, must exert effective lawful control over its own citizens but faces significant political costs in a climate in which it feels threatened and isolated. This is a key point to which I return later. You are using real incidents and inflated claims to justify the actions of the SAHRD and your ambiguous position vis-a-vis Israel. I won't be part of that campaign but feel free to express personal disgust with bullying, fanatical and criminal behaviour. I believe Israel would benefit from clamping down on such behaviour but that it won't stop her enemies from pressing her on other issues.

2. I do not "unconditionally" support Israel as you assert; I strongly, very strongly, support her - a meaningful difference. My support is not unconditional in two respects:

One is that certain actions would lead me to withdraw support. While I may disagree with specific Israel’s positions or be saddened/disgusted/infuriated by the actions of certain Israeli individuals or groups, none of this has remotely been of such a nature as to deserve a withdrawal of my support. That you suggest otherwise reveals your priorities or a limited historical perspective or both; it says nothing about the reality of the situation.

Secondly, the stance I adopt vis-à-vis Israel is also conditioned by my understanding of the context and my own situation in it. If, for example, I were living in Israel and was more intimately and existentially familiar with the situation there and was also directly involved in the consequences of my choices, my own behaviour may well be somewhat different – and conceivably – more openly critical of certain policies and practices. This would find practical political expression within the context of a practicing democracy.

But I don’t live there and neither do you. We live far from the scene in a media environment which is often venomously anti-Israel (an assertion which can backed up by reams of evidence). This is partly the product of ignorance and disinformation (aka propaganda), partly simply a mutant form of anti-semitism and, significantly, the conscious and deliberate deployment of demonisation and delegitimizing as a component of a global strategy against the “Zionist entity”. The recent advertisements in the M & G and The Citizen are simply part of a larger pattern.

You may not wish it but you contribute to this propaganda project in your public utterances and positions. It has nothing to with the "self-hating Jew" accusation which simply serves to cloud the issues. I won't contribute to that strategy and do my best to thwart it.

3. You somehow claim to know my "version" of the Zionist enterprise which you link to my purported association with the major Jewish communal organisations. I strongly doubt that you have any clue as to my "version" of Zionism or my personal history and you are seriously mistaken in your belief that I work hand in glove with the Jewish leadership. On the contrary, Dennis Davis and for all I know, Doron Isaacs, have a much closer association with them than I have or ever did. Secondly, I suspect that there is quite a substantial degree of diversity of opinion within the Jewish leadership despite, possibly, some commonality on fundamentals.

But briefly regarding my purported role vis-a-vis the BofD and ZF: I had an 8 month association (interim chairman of the Media Committee) with the communal Jewish organisations which came to an end in December 2007 (more-or-less). Other than a small regular column in the Cape Jewish Chronicle (also now come to an end), I have no formal and almost no informal contact with them whatsoever. I suppose there is some commonality of perspective (though sometimes I wonder) and I retain a reasonably amiable (though remote) relationship with some members. So, do you think this myth can now be dispensed with?

4. To paraphrase, you claim that I have "compared Palestinians to Nazis", with the fascinating rider that I do so without realising it. At the same time you coyly desist from revealing to me and your readers exactly what I said and in what context. Please do so immediately or otherwise withdraw this silly and vile accusation.

I am not going to reply on behalf of the Board or the ZF since they can do that for themselves and I have no authority whatsoever to speak for them.

5. Myth 2: Official Jewry supports a two state solution. On the contrary, I strongly suspect that "official Jewry" - if that term has any real content - does indeed support on the whole a two-state solution for pragmatic and moral reasons, but they do not support your moral crusade and don't conveniently discount the serious practical obstacles in the way of that outcome - including the real existential threat to Israel posed by demography, geography/topography, fanaticism (religious and otherwise), anti-semitism and simple pragmatic self-interest and political dynamics.

For a moral crusader such matters seem merely an excuse. But you are seriously mistaken which is why you contribute to the problem rather than to the solution. I discuss this more fully at the end. But once again, I speak for myself not for official Jewry who can formulate their own reply.

6. Your paragraph which starts with "None of this is to forget for a moment the unjustified violent attacks...". I have called this elsewhere the "caveats of expediency". They are easy calls and they lack content and consequence. You do not adequately recognise or act on the implications of the words you use here since you are really pre-occupied mainly with your moral crusade.

So let me end by dealing briefly with certain more general issues as briefly and succinctly as possible.

In general I don't set myself up as a serious participant in the Israeli political process. To do so would require a degree of chutzpah which I don't posses, but apparently you and your "allies" do. I see myself as a defender of the "Zionist Project" in the broadest sense, in the media arena of propaganda warfare outside Israel. Contrary to your implicit depiction of a powerful Jewish Diaspora “unconditionally” supporting Israel, we have been a tiny voice struggling to find expression in a media which is ignorantly, and sometimes maliciously, anti-Israel and which has used every device to stigmatise it as a uniquely evil state. They have turned the Holocaust and Nazism around to use as tools to blacken its name when they aren’t using Apartheid and colonialism for the same purpose.

Where I (and other supporters of Israel) are indeed seriously concerned over certain matters (eg. the settlers) then there exist ways to convey that concern effectively WITHOUT giving aid and comfort to her enemies or undermining commitment within the diasporean Jewish community. The SAHRD failed that test badly and its subsequent explanations and clarifications have not altered that perception. If the reaction to the SAHRD has induced a more critical self-reflection in some members, it would be a good outcome. Is there any evidence for that?

For what its worth my own position, grossly simplified, is as follows:

Israel has real security concerns which justify the security barrier (though not its abuse) and its refusal to return to 1967 borders. I believe in a "two state solution", or variants thereof, but recognise that this is blocked as much by anti-Israel entities regionally and globally as well as by maximalists within Israel and sometimes outside. Israel is a democratic state and shifts in policy necessitate the support of the population. Poll after poll show that a majority for peace and compromise can be built in Israel but that requires considerable (and perfectly understandable) reassurance on the security front.

It is in the perceived interests of the anti-Israel brigade to ensure that this does not occur and that Israel remains trapped in endless conflict, in the hope that via attrition her resolve can be undermined or that a global alliance can be created to bring her down or that her major ally, the USA, can be deterred and so forth. The Palestinians, as well as the Israeli population, are in a sense victims of this strategy. It is the same dynamic which contributes to Israeli failure to deal effectively with rogue elements within the settler population and their supporters.

Given this reality, the tactic (your tactic) of pressurising Israel is singularly misguided. It simply strengthens the maximalists on all sides. The most effective strategy is to forego the dubious pleasures of moral righteousness and deal with the hard and complex political issues on the ground. This means a change of tone and framework of analysis. It means a demonstrable commitment to Israel and a full, not expedient, recognition of the forces with which she needs to contend.

It is only in this way that you can establish credibility within the broader Jewish population at present. While effective in other situations, the "activist" approach to complex issues like the Middle East, especially by outsiders, is misapplied and destructive. Moral crusades are not a universal panacea for all the ills of mankind. The SAHRD junket and the shotgun accusations, broad generalisations and shrill tone of your subsequent writing all suggest a pre-occupation with a narrow moralism rather than a serious engagement with the issues. They don't advance a solution.

Mike Berger

---- Original Message -----

From: Nathan Geffen
To: Solar Plexus
Sent: Saturday, December 06, 2008 4:10 PM
Subject: Re: Hebron settler riots can only be called 'pogrom'

Dear Mike

(This is an open letter which I am distributing widely.)

I read your email below, which you copied me on, in reference to the Haaretz article about the pogrom by settlers in Hebron.

Your response is not strong enough either. You are correct that the perpetrators of the Hebron pogrom should be prosecuted. You are also correct that the settlers' behaviour puts the entire Zionist enterprise at risk. You ignore the crux of the Haaretz piece, which is that the army stood by and let Jewish extremists terrorise Palestinians.

But what you really fail to see is the role of the particular system that has created the conditions that have led to this pogrom and the many other less newsworthy atrocities that take place daily in the occupied territories. The settlers live under the protection of the army, receive housing subsidies, have water, electricity, postal, and road connections provided by the state, and, as has been shown in a comprehensive report by the Israeli NGO Yesh Din, are almost never prosecuted when they attack Palestinians. Much systematic work goes into insulating Israel from criticism of its settlement project. Crucial to perpetuating this project has been the systematic support of an organized part of the Jewish communities around the world. You, as well as the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation are a small part, but nevertheless a part, of this system. It is not only the settlers that have put the Zionist enterprise at risk; it is the unconditional support for Israel --irrespective of the crimes committed or sanctioned by the state-- by the dominant form of Zionism in the diaspora today. A crucial element of this system is its dehumanisation of Muslims and Arabs. That's what creates the environment for pogroms to take place. We learnt this from Jewish History.

Your particular version of the Zionist enterprise, the dominant version currently, depends on myths for its credibility. These myths are becoming increasingly unsustainable. I shall give a few examples from South Africa, but I am sure similar examples exist in the UK, US, Australia, Canada and elsewhere.

Myth 1: The Board of Deputies seeks better relationships with the South African Muslim community.
Yet, this same Board allows Avrom Krengel of the SA Zionist Federation to bully Habonim into disinviting Farid Esack from speaking at their camp. How can the Board be serious about improving relations if this is the way we treat a Muslim leader who argues vehemently in his own community against antisemitism and engages in good faith with our community?

And the same Board, which rightly criticises people who misuse the Nazi analogy, has defended --in correspondence with me-- its employee, David Saks, for his Islamaphobic remarks and comparison of Palestinians to Nazis (see page 10 of the link). You also compared Palestinians to Nazis (without even realising it). But the Board simply denied to me that you were associated with them. Yet the chairperson of the Cape Board, Owen Futuran, thanked you at the Board's conference for your media work.
What credibility can an institution which tolerates racism have when it comes to combating antisemitism?

Myth 2: Official Jewry supports a two-state solution.
Only lip-service is paid to this view. Doron Isaacs and I are expected to declare our support for the two-state solution – which Doron has publicly supported for years – to have credibility in front of the Board, but this is not expected from those in our community who believe in a greater Israel, donate money to promoting the settler ideology and send their children on pro-settlement tours. Ironically because of this equivocation throughout the diaspora, the two-state solution looks increasingly unattainable, at least not without great suffering.

Myth 3: The "self-hating" Jews who speak critically of Israel are a threat to Israel.
This is essentially the response to the Jews who participated in the HRD, as well as other outspoken Jews. But as you have acknowledged in your email, it is the settlers who have put the Zionist project at risk. My plea to you is to realise that it is not only the settlers, but the current politics of the Board and Zionist Federation too --and their equivalents throughout the world-- that is a much greater danger to Israel than any "Self-Hating Israel Threatening" Jew. Without the support of the Israeli state, and its staunch defenders like you, the settlers would have little power.

In all of this the Board and the Zionist Fed have pandered to the interests, or more accurately the prejudices, of a minority in our community at the expense of the wider community. It is this same pandering that emboldens the prejudice against reform Jews, an example being the restrictions on Netzer's involvement at King David School.

to which Israel has been subjected, nor the real antisemitism that exists today, or the denial of Israel's existence by some. But supporting a policy of settlement in the West Bank does not help us deal with any of these things.

I hope, that if there is anything you and others in the Board and Zionist Fed can learn from the dreadful events in Hebron, it is how misguided the political choices of official Jewry have become.

Nathan Geffen

On Fri, Dec 5, 2008 at 5:09 PM, Solar Plexus wrote:

Dear Anthony

I think a stronger response is called for. Such behaviour is disgusting and puts the entire Zionist enterprise at risk. It has nothing to do with legitimate concerns over is simply fanaticism and the abuse of power.

I would like to see them thrown in jail. Of course, one must always keep somewhere in the back of one's mind there may be more to the story than this, but until that comes out my reaction stands.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

In a Nutshell

The confrontational and needlessly abrasive correspondence between myself and Doron Isaacs should not detract from the central issue – finding a way to bring about a sustainable peace between Israel and her neighbours in such a way as to preserve the existence of a viable Jewish State.

It is mistakenly believed that those of us who steadfastly support Israel, in a climate characterised by the stupid extremism of the anti-Israel petitions which appeared in the Mail and Guardian and The Citizen, wish to preserve the status quo there. It is ignorantly thought by our self-appointed moral guardians that we’re blind to the dangers of the status quo or that we have no regard for the rights or suffering of any other than Jews or Israelis.

Such embedded ignorance is difficult to dislodge, but it should not distract us from clarifying the issues involved and acting to promote the kind of resolution which so far as humanly possible is sustainable and just.

I use the word “just” with some caution, since one of the less attractive features of human behaviour is moral grandstanding on the basis of a conveniently selective morality. I do not support Israel because of some grand law of universal justice. I support her mainly because I’m Jewish and, in the context of recent world history, that requires me to support the creation of the Jewish State.

I do not believe that Israel has some absolute right to her present borders, to larger borders or for that matter to any land at all in the Middle East, or indeed elsewhere. Nor do I believe that the Palestinians or any peoples or nations have such abstract rights.

I believe that a consideration of history and human psychology, especially in its collective form, indicates that those collections of people who see themselves as a definable collective almost always seek out land on which they can pursue their collective interests and social-political life. This inevitably brought peoples into conflict with others seeking also to maximise their claim to land and the resources contained on it.

At the risk of stating the obvious, much of history is the story of the conflicts engendered by this process and the various regulatory instruments and norms developed to render the process less destructive, more in keeping with the interests of the ordinary folk most at risk and in maintaining a stable global system.

Putting it this way, takes some of the ideological and moral fervour out of the equation and allows us to seek pragmatic solutions to human needs. There is no simple formula to this. It will inevitably require a rather subtle blend of power, feasibility and basic principles of equity.

In the context of the Middle East, it is generally agreed that the most pragmatic solution (in the sense spelt out above) would be the creation of two states, one Jewish and the other Palestinian, living side-by-side in a state of peace and preferably active cooperation. So what’s stopping it?

One could point to many factors indeed and I have alluded to some of these in previous articles and am reluctant to go over all this ground here. I am not an expert in any event.

Most of them come down to this: it is politically possible to create within Israel a strong majority opinion in favour of just such a settlement provided that genuine peace and security can reasonably be assured.

For good reasons of history and context, “reasonably” in this case means a very high level of assurance. Without that, it is unlikely that a strong peace movement can be sustained within Israel. But with that, as indicated in poll after poll, such a movement undoubtedly could be created and could prevail.

It is this fundamental fact, which is continually missed by the so-called “left”. They believe they can bully or shame Israel into doing the “right” thing as defined by them. They vilify and demonise those who oppose their view and some seek to do the same to Israel as shown in the repugnant adverts taken out in our local newspapers.

The most important actions they could undertake, if indeed the fate of the Palestinians were as an important concern as they claim, would be to drum this fact into the heads of those who currently seek to bully, threaten or destroy Israel. It would be to assure Israel of their loyalty and commitment. It would be to publically defend Israel and to attack those who seek to delegitimise (subtly or blatantly) or undermine her through boycotts, the promotion of single state solutions and a selective and dishonest media focus on Israel’s shortcomings and the “suffering” of her neighbours.

Only when Israel is no longer scared (legitimately scared) that relinquishing strategic resources as part of a peace process will not be met by further hostility, strengthened both psychologically and tangibly by various kinds of strategic gain, can the prospects of a sustainable and reasonably just settlement become a reality. Only then will she be able to realistically confront the maximalists in her ranks playing the high-risk game of a zero-sum outcome.

Why does this argument not apply equally to the other side? For a host of reasons:

• Israel does not threaten its opponents with extinction.
• Israel has an unruly and potentially dangerous settler movement; it does not have tens of thousands of well-armed militants ready to invade or bomb it’s neighbours and undermine its own government.
• Its demographic and geographic position (and other factors) puts it at a serious strategic disadvantage vis-à-vis its neighbours – only offset by a strong military backed up by a strong economy and a committed population and diaspora.
• Its recent and long-term history makes security and top priority.

Thus it is Israeli security which is the chief issue. When that is understood and implemented, then it will be possible to bring the political process forward. We are not there yet. Though there have been some useful moves forward, with Iran and other extremist entities still very much alive and kicking it is premature to start “pressurising” Israel, the preferred tactic of the left.

Creative ways need to be, and are being, sought to advance the security of the region and with it, Israel. This cannot be achieved overnight, but also should not be put on the back-burner. It requires realistic political nous and the right blend of economic, diplomatic and military incentives – not public posturing.

This, put as simply as possible, is the absolutely central issue. Anything else is simply a call for Israeli surrender with all the enormous risks that would entail. Most of us will never become part of that campaign directly or indirectly. There are ways of conveying real concerns to Israel which do not involve some form of betrayal. If necessary these should be used.

Mike Berger

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Correspondence with Doron Isaacs of the SAHRD

This is the first time I've written to you directly...

You know of course I strongly oppose not only your position and the HRD notwithstanding subsequent clarifications and, in my view, spin. I have spelt out the basis for my position in the CJC and on my occasional blog, Solar Plexus. You have never responded to any of this; you were under no obligation to do so.

While I'm not immune, I suppose, to gossip around people's motivations, agendas and associations I always retain a measure of scepticism preferring to believe in sincerity (even if seriously mistaken sincerity) rather than hidden agendas and motivations - unless established otherwise. Not that "sincerity" is some universal whitewash. It is a word which requires considerable qualification.

However I have read your "debate" with Joel Pollak and some of your other writing. To be honest I find much of it egregious sophistry. Examples abound. You raise issues around the number of hospital beds in Israel to suggest it is not interested in "human rights" - a phrase you seem to regard as a kind of universal moral solvent. One could of course quote longevity and childhood mortality stats to show that Israel's population, both Arab and especially Jewish, have health statistics comparable to the rest of the developed world. But why indeed do you find it necessary to minutely and selectively scrutinise Israel's social and moral shortcomings except to provide a backdrop to your condemnation of her occupation. Who has ever argued that Israel is a perfect society? Surely if you want to cure its real and alleged shortcomings, go and live there as an Israeli citizen and participate in the democratic process available.

You make a point of insisting that Israel does not face existential threats by focussing on selective military shortterm assessments; others would claim otherwise. But, in any case, what does this have to do with the longterm reality of continued anti-Israel and anti-semitic propaganda and activity which of course are existential threats - that is their declared purpose.

You tend to poo poo Israel's security concerns to suggest she is not sincere about ending the occupation. Israel is of course a heterogeneous society and there are elements (not only settlers) who strongly believe that Israel has a right to the West Bank. Have you seriously considered their arguments, not only the more extereme religious ones? For the record I do NOT believe that Israel has a RIGHT to this territory; nor do I believe that the "Palestinians" have an automatic right. I believe that it is mainly a political question to be resolved pragmatically and that Israel's very real security concerns play an enormous role in determining Israeli attitudes towards this issue.

But there are really 3 questions I have of you:

If you truly support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state (as you claim to do), then do you not admit that she has significant enemies who wish for precisely the opposite outcome and who use every means possible (military broadly speaking, economic, diplomatic, propaganda and psychological warfare - depending on circumstances) to advance their aims? If this is true, are the alleged "sins" of Israel in context really of such a magnitude that Jews should provide aid and comfort to Israel's enemies because of their (understandable) concern with aspects of Israel's (or individual Israeli's) behaviour? My answer to that is unequivocally no. What is yours?

Secondly, will you concede that your public stance and the stance of many of those you have associated yourself with, is predominantly critical of Israel specifically. In this context I am well aware that you and others of the Human Rights Delegation (HRD) have also condemned suicide bombings and the like and the "strategy" of Palestinian "resistance" etc. But it seems to me that these are caveats of expediency - like condemning serial rape they're easy calls? The thrust of your public utterances and actions has been directed at Israel. You have never attacked Palestinians to my knowledge on antisemitism, like the glorification of violence and martyrdom, like their utter failure to create a viable political-social structure or to grasp productively real opportunities to advance their alleged aim of 2 peaceful states side-by-side with Israel rather than the extinction of Israel. You have never seriously referred to the fact that Israel faces existential issues arising not only from Palestinian "resistance" but other state and non-state entities regionally and even globally. Even your reading of history downgrades the significance of the Zionist movement, the extent and impact of Arab hostility, Israeli moves towards establishing peaceful relationships and Israeli achievements relative to the prominence you accord to real and alleged transgressions against the Palestinians. In view of all of this, are not your critics entirely correct in their view of you as fundamentally hostile to Israel and thus in their view of you as part of a 5th column?

Finally, is my (and, of course, many others as well) perception correct or incorrect that you are actively engaged in spreading your vision of the ME situation (to use a clumsy shorthand) to the Jewish community, especially its youth, in this country and that you may well be linked to others (like Kasrils) whose clearly venomously anti-Israeli views are well known? Calling this activity "debate" simply serves as a very flimsy camouflage of an essentially political agenda and so I would reject that explanation. This should be a straightforward question to answer. I ask it since many believe that is precisely what you are engaged in under the blanket of a concern for "human rights" which applies mainly to Palestinians and not to Israelis - unless to illustrate Israels' disregard for human rights.

So these are my 3 questions. I would be interested in your answers. Please understand that I'm NOT writing to you in confidence and your reply will also not be regarded as such.

I would only add in passing that your comment that Makhanya's and Madlala-Routledge's statements "do not contain an ounce of prejudice" is frankly unbelievable. Prejudice means making up one's mind without sufficient information or on the basis of dubious information or on the basis of pre-conceptions or being resistent to any argument and information which runs counter to or would mitigate the views one holds. Do you seriously wish us to believe that no prejudice is at work in these utterances?

Mike Berger

Dear Mike Berger,

You are mistaken if you think that you can write to me, impugn my integrity, suggest that I may secretly support suicide bombing, inform me that I tolerate antisemitism, imply that my approach to the world is defined by some anti-Jewish animus, insist that I have hidden agenda, and then expect me to take you seriously.

Your style is more insidious, objectionable, tasteless (and less witty) than your obsessive colleague's.

There are two things I find really fascinating.

The first is that it really doesn't matter what I write, your eyes will fail to see it. It will be there on the page, on almost every page, as clear, distinct and purposefully written as anything else, but you'll miss it. When you do see it you regard it as a propaganda trick, because you've managed to convince yourself that these people who find fault with Israel are actually lying when they say they don't want their Jewish relatives and friends in Israel to die or have their human rights compromised in any way. You need to have magic eyes that see only certain things, and have a special mind that can find hatred where it doesn't exist, because realising that these are just normal people saying though-out things would push over the house of cards on which your miniscule intellectual universe is built.

Here is a challenge. Can you (a) manage to not actually read the next paragraph or (b) find a way to interpret it as one big lie designed to hide a malicious agenda?

I have specifically condemned all the things you mention:
- Antisemitism: "Hamas must be challenged on their antisemitism"
- The glorification of violence and martyrdom: "The reality in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is an indictment on ... the Palestinian leadership for choosing violence to achieve political ends" - Press Conference to announce the Human Rights Delegation. And also "You speak about the problem of martyrdom. We saw this with our own eyes and found it disturbing." -
- Palestinian utter failure to create a viable political-social structure: "I think we should all be critical of them, particularly those who returned with Arafat from exile, for their poor leadership, their corruption, their toleration of and involvement in violence, and their reluctance to champion a truly progressive politics." - and "they must learn. If they want to be supported as the victims of oppression, then they cannot preach oppression" -forthcoming on Supernatural blog.

I could really cite scores of examples.

The second thing I find amazing is how close to classic antisemitism your logic comes. You think that I am part of some secret clique working in the shadows, pulling the strings, with massive influence in the media, a network of power and evil-intent not visible in the public domain. Zionism was meant to free us Jews of such mindsets of permanent persecution, but in your case this is sadly still the pathology. I have met Ronnie Kasrils exactly once in my life, seven years ago, in December 2001, when I chaired a debate he had with Hagai Segal and Joel Pollak.

I am not closing the door to you. When you're ready to take me seriously and acknowledge that I, like you, do what I do because I believe in it, and among other reasons belief it to be in the best interests of Israel and Jews, and when you're read to engage me seriously on the issues - vigorously, robustly, as trenchantly as you like - then I will respond to you in kind, as I have done with everyone else who has e-mailed me in that way. Until then, please take good care of yourself.

Doron Isaacs

Dear Doron

My comments were robust and trenchant as you put it. Yours are simply insulting and dishonest - and puerile even to point of referring to my "miniscule intellectual universe", the staple insult of the pea-brains who infest internet talkbacks.

I think you impugn your own integrity: I never implied that you support (secretly or otherwise) suicide bombing or that you tolerate (whatever that may actually mean) antisemitism or that you have an anti-Jewish animus. I did open the question of a "hidden agenda" and gave you the opportunity to put that issue to rest.

In fact you never simply and directly answered ANY of the questions I put to you. Perhaps that is because you have convinced yourself "that it really doesn't matter what I (that's you) write, your eyes will fail to see it." Or because it is a lawyer's trick or whatever. It doesn't really matter, but it's wrong. I do in fact read, carefully, what you and others with whom I may disagree have say and I may be convinced otherwise or I may be confirmed in my previous assessment.

The only paragraph of yours worth serious comment is this one

"I have specifically condemned all the things you mention:
- Antisemitism: "Hamas must be challenged on their antisemitism"
- The glorification of violence and martyrdom: "The reality in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is an indictment on ... the Palestinian leadership for choosing violence to achieve political ends" - Press Conference to announce the Human Rights Delegation. And also "You speak about the problem of martyrdom. We saw this with our own eyes and found it disturbing." -
- Palestinian utter failure to create a viable political-social structure: "I think we should all be critical of them, particularly those who returned with Arafat from exile, for their poor leadership, their corruption, their toleration of and involvement in violence, and their reluctance to champion a truly progressive politics." - and "they must learn. If they want to be supported as the victims of oppression, then they cannot preach oppression" -forthcoming on Supernatural blog.

I could really cite scores of examples."

As I pointed out in my challenge, certain calls are what I called "caveats of expediency" and don't carry too much weight. Amongst these I included such obvious no-nos like suicide bombing as part of the glorification of violence and martyrdom and the violent "strategy" of Palestinian resistance. You repeat them above and add condemnation of Hamas anti-semitism and Palestinian failure to create a viable social-political structure.

Well and good, it is a small step in the right direction. But why only Hamas's anti-semitism? What about the widespread anti-semitism in the region and, in fact, permeating a significant portion of Islam globally? Why not point out the general failure of the Arab states to achieve the basic democratic norms which you so "trenchantly" endorse? And which Israel, by and large, has achieved. It is these failures which point to the heart of the problem which I and many others have with your position - and will come back to shortly.

But first a VERY brief response to your paragraph starting with "The second thing I find amazing is how close to classic antisemitism your logic comes...." BULLSHIT!
But I am glad you have nothing to do with Ronnie K.

However, most of the above is skirting the central issue which you do quite a lot of. The fundamental question is this: where does your heart lie as revealed in the totality of your public writings and actions? You can bluster to your heart's content but there is no room for ambiguity in the context of Israel. Nothing you have said in your letter or in your public position suggests other than that you reveal enormous ambivalence or actual hostility towards the Zionist project with all its warts and imperfections.

Just in case you don't grasp what I'm saying here let me paint a reasonable analogy. In WW2 Great Britain, in particular, was bombing (on somewhat dubious strategic grounds) the hell out of German cities. The sheer death, destruction and suffering to the civilian population this campaign caused outweighed by many orders of magnitude anything Israel has inflicted on her enemies. Let me repeat: enemies. But had a delegation of Englishman left for Germany to report back on English brutality in the midst of this conflict, together with a bunch of people outspokenly - sometimes virulently - sympathetic to Germany and critical of England, it would have been called treason. And it would have been just that.

So until you address (within your own mind and heart as well as publically) my central questions adequately, you will not have laid to rest the suspicions and anger many members of the Jewish community feel towards you and your delegation.

And one more thing. If you ever write to me again in the same bullying and insulting way, you will not only not get a reply, I will never read or trust or reproduce anything you have to say.

Mike Berger

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I've copied below an article by Matthias Kunzel to provide context for what I have to say. I suggest you read the Kunzel piece before reading mine to provide context for my arguments.

Tuesday evening I attended the launch of Joel Pollak's book entitled "The Kasril's Affair" attended by a decorous audience of Jews mainly. By all accounts so far, the book is informative and interesting.

This post is not about the book, which I have not yet read, but is rather an attempt to remedy my own rather limp-wristed contribution to the debate initiated by the roundtable of 3 panelists.

In essence, I suggested that what was omitted from the scrupulously fairminded and decorous(there's that word again) discussion was context.

My comment was provoked by a number of what we can call the Not in Our Name/Human Rights brigade speaking, in infinitely self-righteous and self-pitying tones, of the intolerance and closed-mindedness of the Jewish community in response to their views. They bemoaned their alleged rejection and marginalisation by the Jewish collective which, they implied, bespoke of the failure of their fellow Jews to appreciate their high-minded and progressive stance.

In short, their failure (partial as it turns out) to make significant inroads into popular Jewish opinion stemmed, according to their own estimation, not from the erroneous and perverse nature of their political stance, but from the intellectual and moral shortcomings of their fellow Jews.

Tsk tsk! Let us up front first repudiate the silly threats and idiotic slurs made by some of the immature/fanatical members of our community. These are to be condemned mainly for their gross stupidity, but also for the danger such rantings holds for meaningful discourse. They serve only as red herrings and the opportunity for anti-Zionists to pose as martyrs to themselves and others.

Having disposed of this irrelevancy, let's cut to the chase. The vehement rejection of the Not in Our Name/Human Rights brigate by their fellow Jews was not based solely on the intellectual and moral poverty of their arguments. If so the community reaction would have been far less angry and sustained.

No, it was based on the clear understanding that noisy PUBLIC attacks in the media on Israel by Jewish and other members of the HR delegation, as well as on so-called "Zionists" in general, are not simply abstruse academic squabbles over historical fact, interpretation and analysis. It is well understood by ordinary Jews with an ounce of commonsense that these were POLITICAL acts in the service of political and personal agendas performed in the CONTEXT of a sustained hostile media campaign to depict Israel in the blackest of colours.

To get to the nub and to use the proper words, these actions were correctly percieved as acts of betrayal. This is a painful word but it must be said.

What else can the public behaviour and words of these fellow Jews possibly be called in the light of the Kunzel article below - or in the light of the consistently hostile and venomous depiction of Israel in our public media over the past decade? What other word can one realistically use when Israel's right to exist is openly denied by significant state and non-state actors both in the Middle East and elsewhere? What other term is appropriate when Israel has been engaged in hot and cold conflict with is neighbours, both near and more distant, for over half a century? How else should one describe the reductionist, selective and decontextualised condemnation of Israel by fellow Jews despite the racist demonisation of Israel in organisations like the United Nations by states whose major distinguishing features are their own fanatical and tyrannical political cultures?

The ordinary Jew understands quite well the distinction between genuine (whether justified or not) ethical misgivings over aspects of Israeli policies and practice and siding with outright enemies of Israel.

Some may claim that my depiction of Israel's situation in such existential terms is alarmist and false. That, in fact, Israel with her effective miilitary backed by nuclear weapons, her strong economy and powerful allies like the USA, is under little if any threat - especially if considered in the context of her backward and divided neighbours. If this is true, public criticism of Israel, even if unbalanced and distorted, should not be regarded as betrayal but as healthy debate.

Even the most meagre scrutiny disproves such simplistic analysis. It is true to the extent that without these advantages, Israel would have long disappeared. But the enormous demographic and geographic strategic disadvantages remain. So does the discrepency in access to natural resources as does the persistence of a militant and totalitarian Jihadist culture which provides endless human ammunition against Israel (and the West in general). Furthermore, what also remains is a Western media/academic discourse which sytemetically delegitimises Israel and Zionism in such a way as to open the door to the openly Nazi doctrines of Ahmadinejad and many others in the Middle East and, regrettably, in the wider Islamic world.

It may also be argued that the Human Rights Delegation brought some nuance to the hitherto totally one-sided views of a number of the Human Rights delegation. This is also true to a point. But it is far from good enough and it is clear that all things considered, the overwhelming tone was selectively and misleadingly anti-Israel.

The position of the diasporean Jew vis-a-vis Israel and Israeli actions is a legitimate topic for open debate wihin the Jewish community. This is a complex and subtle issue. To promote such debate is not equivalent to condoning or actually participating in the malicious sport of Israel-baiting, and Jews generally can tell the difference.

If not done so already, it also needs to be appreciated by the communal leadership, that the Not in our Name/Human Rights members are seasoned and accomplished activists. They understand well the arts of persuasion. Their focus is on the Jewish youth and they have learnt their lesson from the collective response to the Human Rights Delegation to Israel.

They will conduct future operations under the public radar so to speak and will couch their appeal in terms of Jewish fairmindedness and openness to conflicting ideas. If not confronted this will pave the way to a serious questioning of the very basis of the Jewish state and to undermining the emotional attachment to the idea of a Jewish homeland.

Well and good, such is the price of free speech which we are obligated to uphold. But this does not place the Jewish collective under any obligation to take the Not in My Name/Human Rights brigade at their own inflated self-estimation or to allow them to conduct propaganda unhindered under one or another disguise. Let us call them out and take them on without undue subservience to the dictates of political correctness. Unless their tacit denial of a fundamental Jewish solidarity and collective history is effectively combatted, the loyalty of our youth and the future relationship of the diaspora with Israel will be put in jeopardy.

This is what I should have said at the meeting. As mentioned by Joel Pollak the members of the Humn Rights delegation seem strangely reluctant to enter into debate. This blog is open to their responses. Their silence will not be misunderstood by the Jewish community.

Mike Berger

Defining Jew-Hatred Down
The curious response to Ahmadinejad at the U.N.
by Matthias Küntzel
The Weekly Standard 11/17/2008, Volume 014, Issue 09

It is a topsy-turvy world: At the United Nations--an organization born out of the struggle against Nazi Germany and intended to embody the lessons of the Holocaust--a head of state openly spouts anti-Semitic propaganda in an address before the General Assembly. Granted, he takes the trouble to denounce "Zionists" and avoid the word "Jew," but this dodge is transparent to any student of the Nazis. His speech is greeted with acclaim, and neither the U.N. secretary general nor any Western head of
government bothers to object. The media are mostly silent.

It happened on September 23, and the speaker was Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A familiar figure at the U.N., Ahmadinejad has a history of using his turn at the rostrum to sermonize about his yearning for the return of the Shia messiah. This time, he went further, drawing inspiration also from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The Zionists, he told the assembly, are the eternal enemy of "the dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people" (this is the English translation of his remarks on the U.N. website). Although they are few in number, the Zionists "have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the United States in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner." Indeed, so influential are the Zionists around the world that even "some presidential or premier nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support." In particular, even "the great people of America and various nations of Europe" are caught in the clutches of Jewish power: They "need to obey the demands and wishes of a small number of acquisitive and invasive people. These nations are
spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and occupations and the threats of the Zionist network against their will."

Yet liberation is near. "Today," according to Ahmadinejad, "the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse. There is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters." For Ahmadinejad, of course, such talk is nothing new. Addressing the international Holocaust deniers' conference in Tehran in December 2006, he declared (in a speech translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI) that "the Zionist regime will be wiped out, and humanity will be liberated"--freed, that is, from the "acquisitive and invasive" minority he "outed" in New York as the real power behind Western governments.

The sentiment is not so far from that expressed in a Nazi directive of 1943: "This war will end with anti-Semitic world revolution and with the extermination of Jewry throughout the world, both of which are the
precondition for an enduring peace." Just as Hitler's utopia, his "German peace," required the extermination of the Jews, so the Iranian leadership's "Islamic peace" is conditioned on the elimination of Israel. Ahmadinejad's performance elicited applause from his audience and a warm embrace from the president of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, a 75-year-old Catholic priest and holder of the Lenin Prize of the former Soviet Union. D'Escoto is a close friend of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, in whose government he served as foreign minister from 1979 to 1990. This is the same Ortega who, four weeks after the Tehran Holocaust deniers' conference, joined President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela in welcoming Ahmadinejad to Latin America as a "a president willing to join with the Nicaraguan people in the great battle against poverty."

Equally noteworthy was the lack of reaction to Ahmadinejad's U.N. performance in Western capitals--with three exceptions. The German and French foreign ministers criticized Ahmadinejad's "blatant anti-Semitism," and Barack Obama expressed disappointment that the Iranian president had been given "a platform to air his hateful and anti-Semitic views." Otherwise Ahmadinejad's misuse of the U.N. to spread anti-Semitic propaganda didn't even register as a provocation.

On September 23, the very day of his speech, Ahmadinejad was Larry King's guest on CNN. King offered the Iranian president an hour-long opportunity to hold forth as he pleased. The next day, in an article for Salon, the Iran specialist Juan Cole of the University of Michigan took Obama to task for his comments on Ahmadinejad. Cole quoted a single sentence from the U.N. speech--one in which Ahmadinejad criticized the United States—while ignoring the anti-Semitic passages. "Larry King got at the true Ahmadinejad," Cole insisted, whereas Obama "fell into the trap of declining to make a distinction between anti-Zionist views and anti-Semitic ones."

Then on September 25, Ahmadinejad visited the New York Times. In the interview published the next day, he rehearsed his anti-Semitic notions without protest from interviewer Neil MacFarquhar. "Zionism," Ahmadinejad explained, "is the root cause of insecurity and wars. . . . What commitment forces the U.S. government to victimize itself in support of a regime that is basically a criminal one?"

This was in striking contrast to the Times's outrage in 2003 when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia delivered an anti-Semitic speech. Back then the Times wrote: It is hard to know what is more alarming--a toxic statement of hatred of Jews by the Malaysian prime minister at an Islamic summit meeting this week or the unanimous applause it engendered from the kings, presidents and emirs in
the audience.

Not only that, but the Times concluded its editorial with a sharp rebuke to the European Union: The European Union was asked to include a condemnation of Mr. Mahathir's speech in its statement yesterday ending its own summit meeting. It chose not to, adding a worry that anti-Semitism displays are being met with inexcusable nonchalance. The Times is doing now what it so recently held to be "inexcusable."

Sixty-three years after Auschwitz, then, has anti-Semitism entered "acceptable" discourse? Or is the New York Times actually fooled by a rhetorical trick? Where Mahathir was crude enough to denounce the machinations of "the Jews," Ahmadinejad attacks only "the Zionists." He says, "Two thousand Zionists want to rule the world." He says "the Zionists" have for 60 years blackmailed "all Western
governments." He says, "The Zionists have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors." Perhaps this is why he is hailed as an anti-imperialist star.

But the Iranian president uses the term "Zionist" in precisely the way Hitler used the term "Jew": as the embodiment of evil. Even if the Iranian regime tolerates the presence of a Jewish community in Tehran, whoever holds Jews responsible for all the ills of the world--whether calling them "Judases" or Zionists"--is propagating a potentially genocidal creed.

In fact, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have gone hand in hand for over 80 years, not only in the annals of Nazism but also in the intellectual foundations of the Iranian revolution. In 1921, the future Nazi ideology chief Alfred Rosenberg published a book entitled Zionism, Enemy of the State. In 1925, Hitler
likewise attacked Zionism in Mein Kampf, warning that "a Jewish state in Palestine" would only serve as an "organization centre for their international world-swindling, . . . a place of refuge for convicted scoundrels and a university for up-and-coming swindlers." Or does this reading of Hitler fall into Juan Cole's "trap of declining to make a distinction between anti-Zionist views and anti-Semitic ones"?

As a scholar who can read the writings of the Ayatollah Khomeini in the original, Cole is surely familiar with Khomeini's anti-Semitism. And yet he passes over this anti-Semitism in silence, just as he passed over the offensive passages of Ahmadinejad's speech. Up until the revolution of 1979, Khomeini was entirely open in his choice of words. "The Jews wish to establish Jewish domination throughout the world," he wrote in 1970 in his major work, Islamic Government. "Since they are a cunning and resourceful group of people, I fear that they may one day achieve their goal." In September 1977, Khomeini declared: "The Jews have grasped the world with both hands and are devouring it with an insatiable appetite, they are devouring America and have now turned their attention to Iran and still they are not satisfied." The quotation comes from an official compilation of Khomeini's works published in Tehran in 1995.

Starting in 1979, however, Khomeini substituted the word "Zionist" for "Jew," while leaving the fundamental anti-Semitism unchanged. The mullahs' regime disseminated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion throughout the world. In 2005, an English edition of the Protocols was displayed by Iranian booksellers at the Frankfurt Book Fair--the very year Khomeini's fervent admirer Ahmadinejad was elected president.

Today, the anti-Semitism of the Nazis is espoused in Tehran with all the zeal that fuels religious war. As Ayatollah Nouri-Hamedani, one of the regime's leading religious authorities, declared in a statement published in 2005 by the official Iranian news agency, Fars (but quickly pulled from the Fars website, according to MEMRI): "One should fight the Jews and vanquish them so that the conditions for the advent of the Hidden Imam are met."

What makes the Iranian nuclear program so dangerous is not the technology, but the religious and anti-Semitic mission that the regime would use it to pursue. "Tehran . . . is pregnant with tragedies," Israeli president Shimon Peres told the U.N. General Assembly the day after Ahmadinejad's appearance. "The General Assembly and the Security Council bear responsibility to prevent agonies before they take place." And not only the General Assembly and the Security Council--but Larry King, the New York Times, and the rest of us as well.

Matthias Küntzel, a Hamburg-based political scientist, is the author most recently of Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Human Rights Delegation: open letter from Stephen Paul


In the beginning you announced that one of the aims of your mission was to engage local Jewish and Muslim communities on the human rights issues bedevilling the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, for the purpose of sensitizing local Jewry to the situation of Palestinians and the harm this is causing to Israel’s own interests, for the benefit of local Jewish/Muslim community relationships. By implication this refers to human rights abuses from one side only caused by what you would call Occupation and what others recognize as Jewish Israelis living in Judea and Samaria / West Bank. This is a discussion for another time. Suffice to say that neither the settler policy of successive Israeli governments, nor the notorious “Khartoum 3 no’s type” rejectionist policy of Arab and Palestinian leadership, has worked, and a two state solution is being agonizingly negotiated with the exhausted mandate of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians.

So with the above in mind last night I attended your public meeting at the Jewish Community campus where you showed the video made of your trip. It is very difficult to understand how you thought it would facilitate engagement or to move forward constructive debate as you put it. On the contrary it seemed to be extremely polarizing and counter-productive. Lofty expressions of Jewish idealism notwithstanding, if your target market is to change the hearts and minds of the local community by shaking people out of their complacency, you also need to engage with their own narrative. To produce a desired result requires the methodology to go with it. This is not rocket science. There was absolutely no acknowledgement of Jewish rights or Palestinian obligations. Only the reverse. No context to the conflict whatsoever. A striking example was sympathetically interviewing an Arab householder in Hebron in which she answered - why should she leave as this was the land of her ancestors. In contrast Hebron Jewish residents were portrayed as thuggish and that they should get out of their 3000 year old ancestral land. A comment of Zackie Achmat was that the delegation was perceived as being anti-Israeli but we were not seeing the young Israelis with them on the mission working for peace and against the brutalising effects on the Israeli psyche. This is a subliminal way of saying that they are the “good” guys, and I fail to see how much room that leaves for “engagement”. In reply to a direct question from the floor the delegation could not produce a vision of how the audience in the room could have any influence on the political process already taking place in Israel. What then is the point of the exercise?

So let me tell you where I am coming from.

I have great compassion for the Palestinian whose family has lost a home and loved ones in the conflict and/or is subjected to humiliating security measures such as the defensive barrier necessitated by their leadership choices of suicide homicidal bombers and other terrorist acts. I would also ask him/her if their hatred of Israelis includes anger at their own leaders for choosing violent warfare and terrorism for 60 years instead of acceptance of the others right to exist and negotiated settlement; and if they have ever tried to stop or influence this policy in any way. Does their remorse extend to acknowledging the pain and narrative of the other and saying sorry?

I have great compassion for the Israeli who has been subjected to constant barrage of wars, terror and existential threat for 60 years, who has lost 30 000 loved ones and tens of thousands more maimed in the conflict, and what this does to his/her psyche. I would also ask them if their hatred for Palestinians extends to anger and remorse at their own unthinking arrogance for ignoring the pain and dispossession caused to the other for whatever reason. Can they acknowledge the other narrative and say sorry?

I have great compassion for the Palestinian homeowner in Hebron who only wants to be rid of the settlers. And great compassion for the Hebron settlers whose rights to their national Torah heritage are being trampled upon.

Great compassion for human rights activists who are prepared to stand their ground in front of hostile Zionist audiences. And great compassion for audiences that are asked to examine lifelong passions and prejudices.

One thing I do know. One narrative without acknowledging the other does not work. The SA Zionist Federation and Muslim Judicial Council are expected by their constituents to represent their own constitutional mandates but also need to show leadership even in the face of opposition. My contribution to the debate sought by the Human Rights Delegation is that you show your bona fides to both representative bodies so that you can facilitate dialogue without fear or favour to either narrative. So far you do not cut it.

Stephen Paul

Monday, October 13, 2008

On this and that

I signed off on Solar Plexus a couple of months ago, in order to take something of a break from the Israel-Palestine issue and to get more involved in a new personal interest.

In the interim all sorts of important things were taking place on the home front as well as globally. None of this has made us feel more comfortable, though an optimistic interpretation of current local political events is that they have opened up the political space for more a realistic and hopeful politics and vision. But we should not get ahead of ourselves.

Mugabe, predictably, has thrown a spanner into the Zimbabwe powersharing deal and that country slides ever closer to total meltdown. The human cost in premature death, hunger and blighted hopes for a better future is sickening.

Locally we still have our ideologues, extremists and political entrepreneurs milking the fears and the prejudices of the South African population. They are not going to disappear off the map.

We have Manto writing her illiterate nonsense on The ANC Today - luckily a sideshow following the appointment of Barbara Hogan as Minister of Health. We have the usual mischievous political meddling in sport, with irrelevant and provocative attacks on the Springbok emblem and the re-intrusion of quotas into national teams. It is almost certain that for the average black South African, neither of these carry much resonance.

What they and most decent South Africans want is simple fairness, real grassroots transformation and opportunity, and, above all, success. They do not want or need the humiliation of “tokenism”. Unfortunately, Luke Watson used the occasion to make an ill-judged and immature speech to the Ubumbo Rugby Festival. Besides the harm it has done to his own career and to our rugby, it has also brought white racists out of the closet as judged by the comments on

Given that Motlanthe emphasized inclusivity in his address to South Africa, it is time that the ANC put these fine words into practice by reining in the provocateurs in his party’s ranks. That is the minimum required; we also need to see inclusivity stretch beyond the appointment of Barbara Hogan, to become part of the ANC policy platform and practice. But that would be following the DA lead wouldn’t it?

Then there is Lekota and the New Party Threat! All that is in such an early stage and so much is going on behind the scenes, that it is impossible to make a serious comment. What one would like to see is the emergence of strong, two relatively balanced centrist forces in South African politics and the creation of a genuinely inclusive South African identity. At present that is wishful thinking, but with energy and imagination we may yet see the forces of left and right reaction put to flight.

At the same time, South Africa is sharing in the global pain of economic uncertainty and potential recession. According to Trevor M, this is likely to persist (or get worse) for a couple of years at least. Eina!

What impact this will have on the South African economy, social projects, infrastructure spending and employment remains to be seen, but is unlikely to be positive.

Some good may still come out of this if it induces a generally more realistic stance vis-à-vis the role of the state in economic development. Along with crime and corruption, education, social policies and sustainability this remains part of the challenges South Africa faces for the foreseeable future.

Locally the South African “Human Rights Delegation” (HRD) to Israel caused bitter dissention with reactions ranging from unseemly threats to denialism. It is the latter that I want to take issue with, but let’s start by getting some things out of the way.

Nobody is denying the HRD their right to free speech. That does not mean, however, that they should be immune to robust critiques of the content of their message, the political agenda which it serves or their motivations.

Let us be quite clear that their project and its motivation is political. They wish to convert as many Jews and non-Jews in South Africa to their political perspective. For instance the Book Lounge, an innovative addition to the independent bookstore scene in Cape Town, is hosting at talk by “two leading Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists, Mikhael Menkin and Hani Abu-Heikel, who work together...”. “They will discuss the difficulties involved in the important challenge of engaging in joint Israeli-Palestinian non-violent opposition to the Occupation. They will also give a vivid and accurate understanding of the current political situation and the reality on the ground, particularly in Hebron”. It seems highly likely that this is at the instigation or with the participation of the individuals from within the HRD project.

It is quite clear from the phrasing of invitation what the underlying assumptions are. In case it needs to be spelt out they are:

• The prime responsibility for solving the current conflict is Israel as the “occupying” power. No mention is made of how Israel came to be in the position it is and the role of Palestinian and other extremist entities in the region in maintaining the status quo. Thus, it is Israeli ambitions, intransigence and brutality which stands in the way of a peaceful outcome.
• This stance leads to the activist project of mounting a “non-violent opposition to the occupation”. No mention is made here of the role of Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria and their proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah in the maintenance of the impasse. These are outside the realm of discourse.
• At the root of both of these assumptions, is the fundamentalist “leftwing” paradigm that imperialist Zionist and Western (mainly USA) ambitions are the root cause of this conflict amongst many others. Thus while paying lip service to a two-state solution, the narrative opens the door to the more radical claim that the existence of Israel as a Jewish entity is a Zionist, hence racist and imperialist, project which has no moral legitimacy. Of course, this claim is made openly and repeatedly by the enemies of Israel, for which the apparently more moderate discourse of the HRD and its affiliates prepares the ground. Jews indulging in such forms of activism cannot disown the instrumental uses to which their stance is put.

The other point to be made, is that this invitation is being made to the wider South African public, not simply the Jewish community. This is the same public which over the past decade and more has been subjected to a barrage of anti-Israel reportage and analysis using the same selective bias, half-truths, decontextualisations and outright falsehoods which characterised the more explicit European and Nazi antisemitism of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

It is hardly surprising that the recent Pew Global Survey of Social Attitudes shows South Africa to have amongst the highest levels of antisemitism of countries without an outright Muslim majority. Given that Jews constitute about 0.2% of the population one must ask whether such attitudes do not derive from the calculated media partisanship regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supported by a small, aggressively moralistic clique within the South African Jewish community.

Since this complex conflict is far distant from South Africa’s strategic interests and obvious socio-political challenges, one must ask whence derives the drive amongst Jewish activists to ensure that the debate remains in the public domain. In some measure it is the result of the media programming to which all of us have been subjected. Partly it flows from the consensus leftwing paradigm concerning the moral failures and responsibilities of the West, specifically embodied in Israel and the USA.

Thus the HRD position must be rejected on at least two levels: the simplistic and misleading nature of their core analysis and the instrumental purposes to which their activism is put by declared enemies of Israel.

It would be a shame if the imaginative and admirable Book Lounge becomes the venue for a partisan political agenda. I trust it will not.

A list of some of the more informative articles and analyses I have come across in the past couple of weeks follows. I’m sure this is incomplete but others may wish to supplement the list.

"Talk Isn't Cheap With Iran" ( Michael Oren and Seth Robinson examine some of the issues involved in initating dialogue with Iran. An address by Tzipi Livni to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Policy and Strategy Conference in October setting out the broad principles of her vision. BICOM Analysis: Violent fringes challenge Israel’s emerging territorial consensus. Claims that a broad emerging consensus in Israel regarding the key elements of the peace process has provoked right and left wing elements into extremist activties and even violence. Some of this, minus the violence, is spilling over into far-off South Africa. Gabrial Simoni of the Jaffee Institute for Security Studies says that Israels response to “provocation” will be disproportionate in future to elevate the costs to the enemy of the strategy of attrition. An excellent guide to all aspects of the Israeli media scene as a pdf file.

That’s it for this posting. Shalom!

Mike Berger

Sunday, September 7, 2008


This is an opportune time to tell everyone I will be away up North for almost 2 weeks and will be thinking inter alia of my next post, tentatively entitled, "Hawks and Doves in the Centre Lane".

It is also a good time to remind readers and contributors that the blog, SOLAR PLEXUS, is in the public space. It is a political blog and hence all political comment or comment related to its content or to my political writings or positions, can be posted there for public scrutiny at my discretion.

I receive a lot of mail which is not intended, and is not appropriate, for publication. Often this is just a message of support or agreement or minor comment. It is much appreciated but it need not be posted.

However the blog is intended to be interactive so I welcome substantive comment, positive or negative, and will be happy to post it for public scrutiny and debate. It is meant to be a blog (probably excessively serious and earnest at times) about ideas and not about personalities. This cannot be an absolute rule; sometimes the personality attached to an idea or approach is significant as it clearly was in my debate with Judge Davis.

Generally, abusive, racist or just plain silly material will not be posted but simply thrown into the rubbish bin. But if I feel it is of such a nature that public exposure is desirable, then it will appear on SOLAR PLEXUS. So be warned: there is no confidentiality clause covering political and related comment coming to me personally or through the blog, unless this is agreed upon in writing. I don't go in for gossip and slander and refrain from posting material which clearly belongs in the private domain, unless there is an overriding need to do otherwise.

I believe in the importance of robust, public debate within the boundaries of decency. So let's have your views, whatever they are, within these fairly generous limits.

Mike Berger