Thursday, September 4, 2008

Correspondence between Judge Davis and Mike Berger

----- Original Message -----

From: Debbie Katzeff

To: 'Debbie Katzeff'

Sent: Monday, August 18, 2008 10:24 AM


(Comment: this was distributed to various members of the Jewish community prior to my letter below)

Dear community member

On 31 August, the Board of Deputies together with the WPZC will be hosting a screening of a very unique documentary that describes itself as: “A Grassroots Vision of Non-Violence and Peace-Building”.

Encounter Point is an 85-minute feature documentary film that follows a former Israeli settler, a Palestinian ex-prisoner, a bereaved Israeli mother and a wounded Palestinian bereaved brother who risk their lives and public standing to promote a nonviolent end to the conflict. Their journeys lead them to the unlikeliest places to confront hatred within their communities. The film explores what drives them and thousands of other like-minded civilians to overcome anger and grief to work for grassroots solutions. It is a film about the everyday leaders in our midst. For 2 years, the Just Vision crew followed the stories of ordinary people who feel driven to work for an end to bloodshed and occupation in favor of peace. They traveled from Tel Mond to Tulkarem, from Hebron to Haifa documenting the courageous, painful and moving stories of regular people who refuse to sit back as the conflict escalates. These civic leaders navigate suicide bombings and checkpoints to confront militancy on both sides, the wounded and apathetic masses.

This documentary has been brought to South Africa together with two people whose lives are featured in the remarkable film. After the screening, a there will be a discussion with Robi Damelin and Ali Abo Awwad. Please send this to EVERYONE in your database and make every effort to attend.

Sent: 21 August 2008 09:50
To: Janine Blumberg
Subject: Bernard Steinberg Seminars

Distributed to Bernard Steinberg Group

Mike Berger (would be interested in your response to the correspondence below.




It is worth pointing out that while the film may be "good", it's implicit analysis (according to the blurb) - that the conflict can be solved by the exercise of grassroots goodwill - is precisely the sort of simplistic and emotional thinking being disseminated by the HRD. Along with this goes the implication that the chief stumbling block to peace is Israeli intransigence and brutality.

One therefore questions the wisdom of the BOD/ZC in publicising this event in the glowing terms contained in the e-mail below. What one is likely to see as a result of this policy is a further alienation of the Jewish youth and their seduction by a facile message of "empathy" and "solidarity".

Is this the new policy of engagement? If so, I prefer a more principled and intellectually coherent position of realism and reciprocity. Running with the hares and hunting with the hounds usually fails.

I would be interested in your responses.



----- Original Message -----

From: Davis Dennis

To: Janine Blumberg

Cc: de

Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2008 10:11 AM

Subject: RE: Bernard Steinberg Seminars

Dear Milton , I do not know whether to laugh or cry at this email ( mine of which I am copying to Prof Berger in that it is best to say things upfront and not behind peoples back !) . To the best of my knowledge Prof Berger has not engaged directly with any Palestinian in the occupied areas but somehow he purports to be an expert on their condition . now without seeing the DvD he is again giving us the benefit of his’ knowledge ‘ – how is this an academic or intellectual position ?

Prof Berger is entitled to his opinions which he articulates consistently in the press . I and many others find them hugely ignorant of the nuances of the Middle East and reflective of the kind of view that is far better presented by Likkud spokespeople – nothing wrong with that but they are hardly academic or intellectual positions .

As I have said consistently the establishment in the community is in big trouble when it cannot engage with the range of competing scholarship on offer in this area .

By contrast, the role of an intellectual is to take nothing for granted , to examine every shibboleth and engage with all coherent positions to advance the cause of understanding . Prof Berger does none of this and hence like other similar exponents like Joel Pollak I want nothing to do with them - .life is too short to deal with people whose pre conceived views cloud any intellectual endeavour . My own views ( nothing more than that either ) were sent to you earlier

Regards dennis

From: Mike Berger []
Sent: 21 August 2008 07:06
To: Davis Dennis; Janine Blumberg
Subject: Re: Bernard Steinberg Seminars

I will direct myself directly to Dennis without any of the palaver around titles and so forth. Too often "impeccable credentials" (a la Doron Isaacs) become a substitute for clarity and civility of expression. I trust I will be forgiven for this lapse in academic etiquette.

Perhaps a few factual matters and issues of basic logic should be dealt with first:

Firstly, I have never "purported to be an expert on their (the Palestinian) condition". My opinions do not require me to be an expert on their condition. Nor, for that matter, am I an expert on the Israeli condition. I presume that you do regard yourself as an expert on both their conditions, since you appear to imply that is a pre-condition to holding any sort of legitimate opinion. On the other hand I have lived in Israel for 6 months, have visited it many times, have engaged with Israelis of differing points of view and have read books with different perspectives on the issues we're discussing. I have also a fairly wide experience of life - which counts for something.

I have indeed "never engaged directly with any Palestinian in the occupied areas". I have also not engaged directly with Nazis but have opinions regarding the behaviour of German Nazis. I presume that you would regard these as equally deserving of contempt.

My opinions by and large to not depend on the "nuances of the Middle East" (whatever that may mean), but do take into account my understanding of the history and political realities of the region and my understanding of history and human psychology in general. I could supply you with a reading list - it would run to hundreds of citations.

Regarding my writings in the press, you state that "I (that's you) and many others find them hugely ignorant of the nuances of the Middle East and reflective of the kind of view that is far better presented by Likkud spokespeople – nothing wrong with that but they are hardly academic or intellectual positions ."

Firstly, my writings in the popular press would certainly not even attempt to reflect my "academic or intellectual" (again whatever that may mean) position. For somewhat more diverse opinions (none of which purport to be academic) you would need to visit my blog - Solar Plexus. I am sure (indeed hope) you're too busy to do that but it would be useful to avoid sweeping generalisations based on far less knowledge of my opinions than I have of the Middle East.

The South African press has become the repository for shallow, distorted and false and venomously anti-Israel propaganda which I attempt to counter. You would be surprised (as I am) how many intelligent, informed, and even expert people, find my writing commendable. I take some solace in that.

But this is tiresome. Contrary to your own preconceptions, I do not hold pre-conceived views. Indeed my views have changed considerably as my experience and reading have widened and deepened my horizons. I continue to challenge them; I wonder whether you can say the same regarding your own?

But ultimately your letter (and this from a High Court judge) consists of nothing but your own preconceptions, sweeping generalisations, lapses in logic and intolerance of opinions which differ from your own, all expressed in a rude and personal manner. It is far more of a disservice to your own academic and professional traditions than any of my writing in the popular press.

You can do better and then we may have something to talk about.


PS. I am not longer Prof, alas, merely Dr.


From: Solar Plexus

To: Milton Shain

Sent: Friday, August 22, 2008 12:37 AM

Subject: Fw: Reply to Doron Isaacs's open response following the SA Human Rights Delegation visit to Israel

This is lazy I know, but instead of me replying in depth to Dennis Davis and the rest of the HRD I forward Zausner's article which does the job admirably.

I would emphasize his concluding observations on the ethically untenable position of calling on the Jewish community to debate with members of the delegation, while other members of the same delegation are afforded acres of print in the press to disseminate their anti-Israeli (shorthand but adequate) opinions to the wider public: the same press/media which obstructs and minimises the expression of contrary views.

The fact that the Jewish communal organisations appear to buy into such a dubious relationship should trouble all of us. Likewise, that a person of the public stature of Judge Davis is able to implicitly condone these double standards is equally troubling.

The issues have nothing to do with "nuance" but rather with the ethical and intellectual poverty (indeed absurdity) of the basic assumptions of the HRD (notably the Jewish members) and the messianic hubris which underpins them. This is reflected in the quite extraordinary statement (made without any hint of irony) by Doron to the effect "The challenge now, to all of us, is to create the space for a rational, reflective discussion in which the entire (my emphasis) South African community can participate; a discussion which needn’t threaten our community, but rather allow us to make friends, and build the kind of cross-cultural partnerships that we were so privileged to see in Israel and Palestine." Like Zausner, I wonder what universe Doron occupies? Never mind the "entire population"; I would question whether it is really a fit subject for SA Jews to be debating.

A realistic stance does not require (indeed abjures) Islamophobia or any other form of xenophobia. It does not require any special claims for Israeli moral or intellectual superiority (besides the obvious) and does not preclude repugnance at specific actions of Israelis or sympathy for Palestinians (and Israelis) who have suffered greatly as a result of the conflict. I regard this as so obvious, that I abstain from repeating it on every possible occasion as a form of moral posturing.

I would simply add, if any of the Jewish (or other) members of the HRD feel that the actions of their fellows are unacceptable, then they should come out and say so. Otherwise we are justified in making no distinctions between them.

Mike Berger

----- Original Message -----

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Friday, August 22, 2008 3:26 PM

Subject: RE: Bernard Steinberg Seminars

I have nothing to talk to you about because nothing that you have ever written as ever passed any intellectual muster .It is so laughable for me to read you talk of intellectual coherence when your ‘writings’ reveal nothing of the kind . of course that you were never more than a truly pedestrian academic so I should not expect very much .

By the way to compare Palestinians to Nazis speaks more eloquently than any of your mutterings of preconceptions . please publish this line in public so that I can lay charge against you in the Equality Court .

From my end I simply want nothing to do with you or your ilk . as an example of what hate you and your supporters spawn , I will send you the kind of material that now appears on the internet . well done!

----- Original Message -----

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Friday, August 22, 2008 3:28 PM

Subject: the berger approach

Similar style to yours

>> >> >>>> Ze-ev Krein wrote
>> >> >>>> at 1:35am on August 15th, 2008
>> >> >>>> Dear doron, I want you know that when you go to sleep at
night you
>> >> >>>> will
>> >> >>>> see my face, when you wake up in the morning you will see my
>> >> >>>> and
>> >> >>>> if
>> >> >>>> you
>> >> >>>> ever try anything against my beautiful Peaople and Land again
>> >> >>>> will
>> >> >>>> see
>> >> >>>> my foot on your head.You piece of ronnie kasril crap.
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>> Marc Washkansky wrote
>> >> >>>> at 12:23pm on August 15th, 2008
>> >> >>>> doron, the bottem line is that your a disgrace, A ool, and a
>> >> >>>> danger
>> >> >>>> to
>> >> >>>> evereyone.
>> >> >>>> face the facts your a traiter u prefer to please the arabs ,
>> >> >>>> is
>> >> >>>> wrong
>> >> >>>> with you?
>> >> >>>> And if my bad spelling offends u tough luck.
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>> Robert Broll wrote
>> >> >>>> at 4:49pm on August 15th, 2008
>> >> >>>> Well done Ze-ev!!!! If Habo is a zionist youth movement then
>> >> >>>> cant
>> >> >>>> have
>> >> >>>> links with a surrender monkey like doron. What a true and
>> >> >>>> wanker.
>> >> >>>> Im
>> >> >>>> all for open debate but he has more than just crossed the
line. I
>> >> >>>> feel
>> >> >>>> pity
>> >> >>>> for his family, the shame.
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>> Marc Washkansky wrote
>> >> >>>> at 8:14pm on August 15th, 2008
>> >> >>>> Yoni bass your a joke, and lets see if your still laughing
>> >> >>>> the
>> >> >>>> jewish
>> >> >>>> community stops funding your habonim circus. It will be a
>> >> >>>> moment
>> >> >>>> when
>> >> >>>> the habonim offices are closed down, and the camp ground
sold. But
>> >> >>>> dont
>> >> >>>> worry im sure you could move your offices and camp grounds to
>> >> >>>> theyd
>> >> >>>> love to have you guys there, and u could throw stones at the
>> >> >>>> israeli
>> >> >>>> soldiers youd love it.
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>> Adam Philip Romoff wrote
>> >> >>>> at 12:25pm on August 16th, 2008
>> >> >>>> that isnt what they do... dont try make them do shit they
>> >> >>>> want
>> >> >>>> to.
>> >> >>>> they do good stuff in their own little way.
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>> they just shouldnt be confused with a jewish or a zionist
>> >> >>>> movement.
>> >> >>>> in all honesty i would love to see them remove the magen
>> >> >>>> from
>> >> >>>> their
>> >> >>>> flag. they dont want it and i dont think they have any reason
>> >> >>>> have
>> >> >>>> it?
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>> let them adopt a more appropriate flag/logo.
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>> Ze-ev Krein wrote
>> >> >>>> at 3:43am on August 17th, 2008
>> >> >>>> doron you're in good company. You should all spend some time
>> >> >>>> through
>> >> >>>> the names and the people on this list. See what they've done,
>> >> >>>> much
>> >> >>>> effort they've gone to, to hurt Israel. Lets see how many
>> >> >>>> people
>> >> >>>> will make this list. So far 3 past habonim members are on the
>> >> >>>> and
>> >> >>>> counting..
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>> I'm sure habonim's very proud of this past habonim member,
>> >> >>>> really
>> >> >>>> shown Israel's side of the story.
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>> Report
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>>>
>> >> >>
>> >> >>
>> >> >>
>> >> >>
>> >> >
>> >>
>> >>
>> >>
>> >> --
>> >> As of 31 August, I will no longer be working for the AIDS and
>> >> Alliance for Southern Africa. For all ARASA-related business after
>> >> that date, please contact Michaela Clayton at or
>> >> Paula Akugizibwe at I will still be available
>> >> this email address and can also be reached at
>> >> My new mobile number will be
>> >>
>> >> --
>> >>
>> >> Gregg Gonsalves
>> >> 100 York Street, University Towers
>> >> 10-D
>> >> New Haven, Connecticut 06511
>> >> Email: or
>> >> Mobile: 1-203-606-9149
>> >
>> >
>> --
>> As of 31 August, I will no longer be working for the AIDS and Rights
>> Alliance for Southern Africa. For all ARASA-related business after
>> that date, please contact Michaela Clayton at
>> Paula Akugizibwe at I will still be available at
>> this email address and can also be reached at
>> My new mobile number will be
>> --
>> Gregg Gonsalves
>> 100 York Street, University Towers
>> 10-D
>> New Haven, Connecticut 06511
>> Email: or
>> Mobile: 1-203-606-9149

As of 31 August, I will no longer be working for the AIDS and Rights
Alliance for Southern Africa. For all ARASA-related business after
that date, please contact Michaela Clayton at or
Paula Akugizibwe at I will still be available at
this email address and can also be reached at My new mobile number will be 1-203-606-9149.


Gregg Gonsalves
100 York Street, University Towers
New Haven, Connecticut 06511
Email: or
Mobile: 1-203-606-9149

NB: This email and its contents are subject to our email legal notice
which can be viewed at
If you are unable to access the Disclaimer, send an email request for the disclaimer to and we will send you a copy of the Disclaimer.

----- Original Message -----

From: Mike Berger

To: Davis Dennis

Sent: Friday, August 22, 2008 6:13 PM

Subject: Re: Bernard Steinberg Seminars

To imagine you sitting in judgement on other people is one of the most appalling visions I can conceive of. As far as hate is concerned you appear to be well up in that league...have I spawned you?

I will not open any further e-mails from you.


----- Original Message -----

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Saturday, August 23, 2008 10:43 AM

Subject: warning

Trust me , not communicating with you is one of life’s pleasures . But be warned - if you continue tin public to defame any of the group of which I was a part , I will sue you and take it all the way to through the courts. My advice- keep your counsel to yourself .

As for hate , it is not I whose personal attacks in public on individuals has spawned the hate mail on the internet nor is it I who equates all Palestinians to Nazis . I make a practice of trying to see the other side but that is impossible when thanks to people like you I and my children are threatened for what debating how to preserve the integrity and centrality of Israel to Jewish existence !

And as for your remarks about my being a judge - odd how those who appear in front of me always claim to have a fair hearing ; strange by contrast what MANY AT UCT THOUGHT OF YOU !

----- Original Message -----

From: Mike Berger

To: Davis Dennis

Sent: Sunday, August 24, 2008 8:43 AM

Subject: Re: warning

Dear Sir

In view of the tone and content (including baseless accusations) of your letters, I believe it is necessary to advise you that I shall continue to exercise my rights and freedoms as a citizen of the country; rights and freedoms which according to my limited understanding you are sworn to uphold.

Mike Berger

----- Original Message -----

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Sunday, August 24, 2008 10:42 AM

Subject: FW: Reply to Doron Isaacs's open response following the SA Human Rights Delegation visit to Israel

You are perfectly entitled to speak your mind - of that no one , least of all myself would deny you .in fact when people like you did absolutely nothing to struggle against apartheid , many of us were defending and promoting the kind of rights that you are now entitled to use in freedom and rightly so .

It is simply a pity that you seem unable to do anything more than impute bad motives to people like me .Obviously in your world which equates all Palestinians to Nazis( your words not mine ) people like me are self hating JEWS who would rejoice at its destruction . So go ahead and say so but when remember that when you do so , you cross the line between free speech and defamation and I will be waiting to defend my rights .

The pity that you will never understand that I treasure debate and argument - for example I disagree with some of the key conclusions reached by Zausmer in his reply to Isaacs but consider it to be most thought provoking piece that has made me think I am wrong in number of respects as well. Why oh why can’t you write in so informed and measured a way instead of resorting ,as I see as well on your blog , to imputation of bad faith , conspiracy theory and general denegration ( in public) of your opponents. It is writing like yours that focuses hatred upon people like me and gives rise to the kind of threats I now receive directed at me and my children .And in case you forget it is words that pave the way for hateful action .

Have you no shame sir

From: Mike Berger


Sent: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 3:58 PM

Subject: Final response

Dear Judge Davis

To say I was deeply shocked at the gratuitous personal slurs, baseless accusations, deliberate misconstruals and repeated threats contained in your letters to me is an understatement. This was more especially the case coming from a High Court judge with the expectations, power and responsibilities which go with that position.

Even in your last letter you sneer at my alleged attitude towards apartheid, associate me with unnamed others with allegedly similar attitudes and suggest that I should be grateful for the freedoms which you have brought the country. You go on to impute to me motives and speech which have no substance whatsoever in fact and once again issue a threat of legal action.

Not once in the entire course of this exchange did you attempt to engage with me as a fellow human being and, in some sense, a colleague. As made abundantly clear in your letters, you saw me as so beneath someone of your stature that ridicule and threats were appropriate tools to be used to browbeat and intimidate me into silence. Whether directly your intent or not, such behaviour coming from someone in your position has the clear effect of depriving me of my rights and freedoms under our Constitution.

As a lay person I strongly suspect that your statements are potentially actionable. But more importantly, it seems to me that your entire conduct throughout this deplorable exchange goes beyond the obvious direct injury and insult to my person. While the attitudes you display are not unknown in some high-achievers, they are surely not appropriate for someone holding high office within the judiciary of this country. I therefore cannot escape the conclusion that the only ethical position open to me is to lay this entire correspondence before the Judicial Services Commission for them to deal with as deemed fit.

I make these comments after carefully reading and rereading our correspondence. With respect I trust you will take similar care when reading this letter. My greatest desire is to be shot of this deeply unpleasant episode and to get on with the various projects I was attempting to pursue before this correspondence supervened. But I cannot simply walk away from the implications of this correspondence.

I have not yet come to a final decision on a matter which has serious implications. I will probably seek further advice from sage and experienced individuals whose judgement I respect.

But let it be quite clear: I shall continue to fully exercise all my rights as a citizen of this country. Should you in any way abuse me again or attempt to infringe on these rights I will take any legal means open to me to seek redress. I have nothing to hide in this correspondence (none of which was written in confidence), in any other of my writings in the press, in my blog or elsewhere. I would be happy to disclose it all to any appropriate authority under proper circumstances.

It is inconceivable that you are not fully aware of the nature of your actions, but for the record I will list them very briefly below. These certainly do not cover all the ground, only the most obvious and egregious instances.

Your statement "you were never more than a truly pedestrian academic". You can have no firsthand knowledge or understanding of my academic achievements or lack thereof and I strongly doubt that you applied your mind to this issue. It was simply gratuitous rudeness designed to invalidate in advance any argument I might put forward.

The statement "nothing you have ever written as (sic) passed any intellectual muster." This is patent rubbish and, once again, was used as a prelude for the malicious and gratuitous comment regarding my academic career and to excuse you from a real debate.

The assertion (and accompanying threat of legal action) to the effect that I was comparing Palestinians with Nazis, when it is quite obvious that I was making the intellectual point that one can have opinions without direct engagement. To emphasise that, I now enclose a comment I made to Milton Shain BEFORE you levelled this odious accusation (on more than one occasion) and the accompanying threat of legal action:

" A realistic stance does not require (indeed abjures) Islamophobia or any other form of xenophobia. It does not require any special claims for Israeli moral or intellectual superiority (besides the obvious) and does not preclude repugnance at specific actions of Israelis or sympathy for Palestinians (and Israelis) who have suffered greatly as a result of the conflict. I regard this as so obvious, that I abstain from repeating it on every possible occasion as a form of moral posturing."

In passing perhaps it should be noted that Israelis (notably Jewish Israelis) have been repeatedly compared with Nazis by South Africans. Correct me if I’m wrong but I cannot remember you ever taking such persons to the Equality Court.

All statements and innuendos to the effect that I am responsible for or write in a way similar to the repellent hate mail you or Doron (or indeed any other member of the Delegation) has received. I take this accusation extremely seriously indeed.

If the bizarre position you adopt was to be implemented, it would shut down all debate and dissent in this country. Your remarks were deeply injurious to my reputation and person and were certainly intended to intimidate me into silence. I am sure you realise that the Internet is infested with marginal and malevolent characters. There is little anyone can do about such figures except act against them when the legal means are available.

The statement in your last letter to the effect that I and "people like you (that is me) did absolutely nothing to struggle against apartheid." Once again you have no or little knowledge of what I did and it simply represents another gratuitous insult with the self-congratulatory implication that I should be grateful for the privileges I possess. I have never called you (or "people like you" - words I use with considerable care) "self-hating Jews". Such crude speech is foreign to the way I conduct debate.

I have not attempted here to deconstruct every false statement, distorted inference and baseless attribution you have made in your letters, nor your attempts to depict your behaviour in a more flattering light. That would take too long and can be competently done by yourself or others.

I have taken the liberty of attaching (in chronological order) all our correspondence - plus a letter I sent to Milton which he decided not to send to you, and two further letters received in response to my original with the names removed. It would conceivably be salutary for you to reread this material.


Mike Berger

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 4:49 PM

Subject: RE: Final response

May I remind you that the private email exchange between you and I was never made public by me - if you wish to publish it that is your doing not mine . If you wish to lay it before the JSC , that is your decision , although how this has anything to do with my judicial activities is something on which you may be advised to consult legal advice. I suppose that your real intent is to cause trouble for any Jew who takes a different view to you . Suffice to say , that ,I am prepared to back up my opinion of your academic career , if required and your vitriolic attacks on any criticism of critics of Israeli policy who have as much right as you to speak .

Let me make it clear – it is my democratic right to express my absolute rejection of your views ; indeed if you make public your views on Palestinians as Nazis I will consider laying a charge at the Equality Court( yes and there is now precedent the other way!) . On the other hand I have never denied you the right to speak your opinions so long as they are within the law. Pleas specify any threat to you that you cannot hold view with which I disagree ! Indeed I shall defend your right to speak freely – the very right that you deny me and my fellow delegates with your insinuations of anti israel conspiracy .

And if you defame me or my colleagues , it is equally my right to institute action against you .

Of course , you could pick up the telephone and discuss this with me as one human being to another but for along time now , I have had the view that you don’t regard me as anything other than a self hating jew . Its a pity because I have always sought to engage with an establishment with whom I generally disagree - you obviously have a different view – rubbish us on a blog or newspaper . to be honest if you wish to discuss our differences , I am happy to buy you tea - I am contactable at 021 4261117 or 0832526715 – if you want to put this behind you perhaps I need to listen to you as much as you need to listen to me as to how the kind of criticism you and others have launched does, I think lead to the threats within our community

----- Original Message -----

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Friday, August 29, 2008 12:06 PM

Subject: upon reflection

Dear Dr Berger, Like you I have also had cause to examine our bitter exchanges and reflect thereon . I note that the standard that you employ is that of the committed intellectual , I have a somewhat different standard for myself , for notwithstanding over 30 years in academic life , the standard of basic humanity seems far more important than that of intellectualism .

That being said, I judge myself very guilty on my own standard . It is unforgivable to play the person rather than the argument , however strongly one feels that the person’s idea is wrong , dangerous or even hateful. I have done that in my exchange with you and for this I am truly wrong . I offer an unreserved apology regarding the personal attacks that I launched unfairly on you , doubtless causing you shock and distress. On my standard I let myself down and treated you with great unfairness.

Needless to say that does not mean that I withdraw my profound differences with your views .So what I wish to know is how do you square the following with the standard that you seemingly apply to yourself:

1. How can you pass judgemernt on a dvd you have not seen –particularly when it is to discourage people from watching it ? after you have seen it criticise by all means.

2. How is it that you consider yourself a fair commentator on the Palestinian /Israel crisis when you equate palestinians to Nazis .Note I have given you at least 3 opportunities to withdraw or qualify that which I do regard as hateful speech ie to so write of a whole people

3.when have you or any of the establishment spokespeople spoken in public of the gross human rights abuses committed by a system of occupation .I accept that you write in an email of the ‘ obvious ‘ nature of the hurt caused to both sides but how can gross hurt ever be so ‘ obvious’ that it is not in need of criticism .

4 To the extent that you accuse him of legitimating those that you excoriate like Doron and Mondli , you should have consulted my article in Jewish report in which for the umpteenth time I condemn both sides ; something I have also done on a number of occasions in the muslim community . Why , jump on to the ‘conspiracy ‘ bandwagon ie that the group was a tool in the hands of scheming Palestinians , without even hearing the other side? For example , why did you not attend our meeting at Albow to hear what we said .

5. You take exception to my linking you with the hate mail attached to one of my emails .But you never condemn this hate speech once in our exchanges , and your own attack on Doron while more measured is both personal and designed to define him out ie “what world does doron occupy? On the same line , you never condemn the fact mentioned repeatedly by me that both myself and my family have been threatened . does that mean that you condone such behaviour. ? Likewise when I point out to you that you regard me as a self hating Jew – a point gleaned by your comment that a person ‘of my public stature” is giving succour to these self haters , you never deny it .

6. You ask me about my qualifications to opine on the conflict ; well I have taught the historical and legal basis of the conflict at Cambridge , UK , I have taught the international law implications thereof at NYU , I have given a paper at an important international conference at Columbia University , I have given countless lectures on the topic in SA and yes, I have been trained in international law and human rights law which covers the full gamut of the conflict .I appreciate that this does not make me an expert but at least I have a passing intellectual interest. MAY I ask about your training in the field and national/ international record

7. As for the apartheid record , I do apologise for my impolite and disrespectful comment to you but : the public record against apartheid is important given the widespread criticism of a group of whom I am proud to say that my colleagues on that group all have a proud record of brave defence of human rights in this country and elsewhere .Hence it seems to me that when they are called a ‘so called ‘human rights group , it does open the question -what are your( ie the critic) human rights credentials

Again I regret deeply causing you distress by means of my personal remarks I am very distressed by my own conduct . However, .I hope that my questions to you show the deep differences between us and my huge disappointment that , judged by intellectual standards , your positions adopted far so short . Shabbat shalom , dennis

----- Original Message -----

From: Mike Berger

To: Davis Dennis

Sent: Friday, August 29, 2008 1:53 PM

Subject: Re: upon reflection

Dear Judge Davis

For the very first time you have written in a manner which makes it remotely possible for me to engage with you as a colleague and a fellow human being. In our brief contact prior to this exchange you attacked me personally, largely by imputing to me broad views and opinions which I do not hold. It is a matter of deep concern when someone in your position (perhaps one which you in some ways underestimate, while overestimating it in other ways) is so prone to sweeping assertions based upon emotional preconceptions. This is what you continued to do (in a considerably amplified manner) in this exchange. You need to respect the intellect and character of those who may not share your perspectives if you truly wish to engage with them.

Nevertheless, despite this one previous disturbing experience I have always responded to you civilly though probably not especially cordially.

You go on in this letter to raise a series of specific points; some of which I read with a sense of total incredulity. I will take some of them seriatim and then add a few brief further comments some of which pertain to your letter of the 27 August. I will not respond to every point you make since to do so would simply be too exhausting. I will confine myself to the main issues.

This letter:

1. I did not pass judgement on the DVD. For all I know it was an excellent and truthful production. I have seen a number of films and read a number of books which depict the existential sufferings of Palestinians (and Jewish Israelis) extremely movingly. I am aware of efforts especially, but not solely, from the Israeli side to maintain human contact between communities caught up in intractable conflict and see these as testaments to human decency and potential.

You may not be aware but I was (and in some ways still am) an instinctive peacenik. This may have remained my central position if, around 2000, I had not become aware of what amounted to a campaign of demonisation and delegitimation of Israel. I am not the first to note that this kind of propaganda bears strong similarities to the kind of anti-semitism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries - and other forms of genocidal conditioning. It was clearly partly political in nature and partly reflective of the inherent anti-semitism of some.

Furthermore, around this time I began to do much more serious reading in social and evolutionary psychology, in cultural transmission, in politics and history - and in related fields. This forced me to reconsider my earlier kneejerk reactions and helped me understand the issues in a more intellectually coherent and realistic perspective. I have set some of this out in my writings to which I can refer you should you wish.

If the HRD had simply gone to Israel-Palestine to gain firsthand knowledge and to indicate support for groups attempting to bridge the divide, I would have had no real problem. If they had come back and asked to engage with the Jewish (and Muslim) communities in discreet workshops and seminars to explore the implications of their observations and to engage with those with different takes on the situation, much might have been gained. But they did not. At least 5 pieces found their way into the public media within a few weeks of their return. While some of them seriously acknowledged (in most cases for the first time) the Palestinian contribution to the current situation, the implicit and often very explicit message was Israel as a brutal occupying power. These were published in the same media which routinely obstructs me and others from expressing contrary views, which instigates the debates around Israel with articles which frame the issue in terms which automatically cast Israel into the role of villain, which reinforces such articles with news items and images.

In short, the HRD (wittingly or unwittingly) became part of a political narrative/movement which delegitimises Israel in the context of ongoing attempts, not simply of providing the Palestinians with a State of their own, but the elimination of Israel as Jewish entity from the Middle East.

That was the rough basis for my objection to the screening and the uncritical and naive terms in which it was promoted. Now you still may disagree with me, but we do have some basis for discussion.

2. You write "How is it that you consider yourself a fair commentator on the Palestinian /Israel crisis when you equate Palestinians to Nazis .Note I have given you at least 3 opportunities to withdraw or qualify that which I do regard as hateful speech ie to so write of a whole people."

I cannot even begin to tell how this comment infuriates me. Did you NOT read what I wrote in my letter of 27 August? If not here it is again

" The assertion (and accompanying threat of legal action) to the effect that I was comparing Palestinians with Nazis, when it is quite obvious that I was making the intellectual point that one can have opinions without direct engagement. To emphasise that, I now enclose a comment I made to Milton Shain BEFORE you levelled this odious accusation (on more than one occasion) and the accompanying threat of legal action:

" A realistic stance does not require (indeed abjures) Islamophobia or any other form of xenophobia. It does not require any special claims for Israeli moral or intellectual superiority (besides the obvious) and does not preclude repugnance at specific actions of Israelis or sympathy for Palestinians (and Israelis) who have suffered greatly as a result of the conflict. I regard this as so obvious, that I abstain from repeating it on every possible occasion as a form of moral posturing."

Do seriously mean to tell me you do not understand that as a repudiation of your accusation? I am deeply angered even by your original assertion, not only because it was patently contrived to distort the meanings of my words but because it reflected such a deep ignorance of who I am. Don't you know I am notorious for my sensitivity to racist stereotyping? If you had the slightest knowledge of me and my history you would begin to understand why I feel the way I do. I simply cannot talk to anyone who makes such an assertion about me.

3. Precisely the same applies to the utterly odious suggestion (explicitly made by you) that I indulge in "hate speech". These two accusations must be UNCONDITIONALLY withdrawn and apologised for. We have no basis for communication without that. Don't you understand that I do not respond to such accusations for the same reason I would not deny it if someone called me a serial paedophile? I would regard such a remark as indicative of mental derangement or of such serious malice that the only response would be to take legal action.

I don't think I can muster the energy to answer all the other points you make or made in the course of the exchange; we're looking after our grandchildren (both black by the way) while their parents take a break, and my energy levels are not at their peak. But where on earth do you get the idea I regard you as a "self-hating Jew"? Quite the opposite in fact. In any case such crude expressions and ideas are not part of my makeup.

I am partly aware of your intellectual contributions and your role in the anti-apartheid struggle, of which you can be justly proud. But it is a sad fact that many who participated in that struggle are now contributing to its decline into a zero-sum swamp of xenophobia, corruption, incompetence, greed and intolerance. You will need to define where you stand in this, especially considering your position, and it was in this context that I found this exchange so disturbing.

As far as we are concerned, you still have a job to complete regarding items 2 and 3 above. Without that, I cannot at this stage reciprocate the Shabbat Shalom. Then perhaps we could find a pleasant and mutually respectful way of way of sharing perspectives. I too am not perfect (that's a joke!) and for any speech which was unnecessarily hurtful or cutting, I do apologise. I can point to couple of instances myself.


----- Original Message -----

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Friday, August 29, 2008 3:23 PM

Subject: RE: upon reflection

Dear Dr Berger, Thank you for your considered response to me letter .I am delighted to read that you too can at least concede to making mistakes. Let me immediately say that while you may think you have responded to me cordially , I have always considered you as being very hostile to me .Indeed when Milton asked me to attend the Steinberg seminar , I refused as I have refused to attend for a number of years , precisely because ,as I told him then I am always happy to debate but not to be personally insulted as I considered would be the case. As those who know me , would not consider myself to be a shrinking violet , at the very least you will have to accept that is the perception I held .

To the extent that I accused you of hate speech I WITHDRAW the allegation However, I do find your explanation of the use of the nazi parallel rather unsatisfactory .Why use it in relation to Palestinians ? Does this not fit into a pattern of demonisation of Palestinians. .

Of course there is a rise of anti Semitism in the world and of demonisation of Israel by some ; it worries me greatly but then so does the occupation which is like a cancer in the soul of Israel.

I am not trying to be disrespectful but no I did not know you were a peacenik .If you are , then welcome to the club . Do you not think that the best defence of Israel is to attack the demonisation as well as articulate what many Israelis do , that the occupation must end , that suffering on both sides must cease and that to do so there are 2 stories to be told. . As some one who does have some professional experience of the media , LET ME ASK : to what audience do you talk save for a few Jews and Christian right when the rotweiler approach ala joel pollok et al is employed?

As for your defence of your attack on the encounter DVD , please read your own letter – you had jumped to conclusions without proper evidence .how else do your explain your attempt to discourage engagement . I truly hope that you will attend a viewing and debate with the parents who will be here. You still omitted to explain your absence from our meeting ?

While I understand your anger at being linked to a right wing fringe that attacks Doron , it would be helpful for me to know this: do you condemn this kind of ’speech ‘ and will you say so , even in public if necessary .

As for my present record of public comment , I have been on the record ,even as a judge of offering serious critique of present corruption , zenephobia et al .For example , see my summer school course 2008 , my lectures at Grahamstown Festival 2008 etc . My latest book will be published in nov which again will deal with the present. So one disclosure deserves another : what did you do during the apartheid period?

I realise from your letter that you bear me animus – fair enough , I was as I acknowledge terribly unfair to you .However , I bear you no ill will but I do have great sadness that we cannot at least agree that free speech is important , especially to minorities like us and that to impute mala fides to critics like my colleagues rather than debating the merits is truly counter productive.

Again I wish you Shabbat shalom , may the peace of Shabbat not be affected by ill will, dennis

----- Original Message -----

From: Mike Berger

To: Davis Dennis

Sent: Friday, August 29, 2008 5:33 PM

Subject: Re: upon reflection


I actually give up...I feel as though I'm swimming through molasses and I'm too old for that. I'm incredulous at how you still manage to misread and misinterpret me and it seriously disturbs me - and that is not rhetorical or a dig - it is the literal truth.

But I simply don't have the energy to keep going over old ground and to correct a new set of assumptions and pejorative labels which seem to crop up in every letter. I hope (for your sake as well as the rest of us) that you continue to really interrogate your own positions and that one day you can divest yourself of the distorting ideological mirror through which you appear to view the world.

So on the basis that nothing is to be gained from rejecting even the faintest glimmer of goodwill Shabbat Shalom to you too and let's leave it at that.


----- Original Message -----

From: Mike Berger

To: Dennis Davis

Sent: Friday, August 29, 2008 11:31 PM

Subject: retrospective

Here is an article of mine submitted to but unpublished by the M & G. May I humbly ask that you read it.


The darkling plain

I stand second to no-one in my admiration for Like Google and the Internet, Amazon is one of the great transforming enterprises of the late 20th century. There should be a Nobel Prize for such accomplishments but, I suppose, wealth is its own reward.

Despite my respect for the new, however, I love bookstores. Not so much the modern variety with their supermarket shelves of hopeful best sellers, but those reflecting a love and appreciation of books and just enough business acumen to keep the show on the road.

In such establishments there is always the chance of an unexpected encounter with a new author or an old, almost forgotten, friend or perhaps a name vaguely familiar. It was in just such a store I picked up “The Vocabulary of Peace: Life, Culture and Politics in the Middle East” by Shulamith Hareven.

On meeting a good, possibly outstanding, author for the first time, the impact is almost palpable. The freshness and originality of the ideas, the absence of familiar cant and jargon, the intimation of careful thought and attention to detail, the poetry and power in the words and phrasing catches one’s attention on even the most cursory glance.

So it was with “The Vocabulary of Peace”, a steal in soft cover priced at $7.50. Published by Mercury House in 1995, the collection of essays which comprise the book were written over a period of about 15 years. The world they reflect is now part of history, a history very much with us still clamouring for closure. That, unfortunately, may be as far off now as it was when the book was published and the author, who died in 2004 aged 73, will never see this particular stream of history play itself out.

The voice comes from the Israeli liberal left, an ardent supporter of the Peace Now movement, a sensibility acutely attuned to pain, to stupidity, to language, to the myths by which we make sense (or nonsense) of our world, to the nooks and eddies of history which profoundly affect the individuals involved but never make it into the grand narratives or the polemical treatises of the protagonists. The voice is strong and unflinching enough to make a supporter of Israel squirm at times. But it is also sufficiently credible to make one realise that a comfortable exit is not possible; that the plain fact of the matter is that many Arabs have indeed encountered brutality, insensitivity and racism at the hands of Jewish Israelis, and that their anger and bitterness is not exclusively conjured out of imagined grievance or Islamic intolerance. It brings home painfully the squalor and humiliation of existence in Gaza and the West Bank.

What makes Hareven’s voice different to the usual anti-Israel polemics which infests much of the Western media is that she is simultaneously a Zionist, a universalist and her own woman. She knows first-hand that the Jews did not arrive in the Middle East as mythical colonialists out of some fashionable, postmodern or leftwing diatribe against Western imperialism or from the concoctions of the Islamist stable. Hareven took part in the War of Independence serving as a combat medic. She writes in Hebrew, which she loves, and speaks powerfully of the importance of language in framing our world. Her narratives are grounded in recognisable people and real events and her writing is mercifully free of narcissistic self-congratulation or sanctimonious condemnation.

Respect and admiration does not absolve the reader, however, of the obligation to examine the author’s work with the same sober care that she expects of others. One may challenge her readiness to accept Palestinian accounts of Israeli brutality at face value compared with the more critical stance she adopts towards her own people. The outcome is to hold Israel morally responsible for her actions (actual or alleged) while absolving Israel's opponents of the same obligation.

The human cloth out of which Israel was created had been shredded by hundreds of years of marginalisation. The land to which they came to build a new life was harsh, meagre and dangerous. Israeli society is largely composed of the rejected minorities of many nations, each with their own histories, cultures and ethnic differences; the rupture with the past has been brutally abrupt and painful for a large proportion of the population. Hareven, herself, acknowledges this past but does not give sufficient weight to the reality that at no time in the last hundred years has Israel been unthreatened . The Holocaust is alive in Israeli consciousness and gives an acute edge to security concerns.

These factors and other historical influences have inevitably shaped the Israeli national character - a gross simplification given Israel's extraordinary diversity. Social interaction in Israel is often abrasive whether in supermarkets, at the workplace, in politics, on the road - or interacting with Arabs. Israelis are notoriously opinionated and their history makes them tough-minded. Their political life is volatile, further compounded by a proportional representation electoral system which gives undue weight to small interest groups and spoilers. These features of Israeli existence make resolution of political problems difficult, exacerbated by the conflicting agendas of outsiders with vested interests in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Criticism (if that is not too strong a word?) of Hareven’s book, could also include its failure to explicitly recognise Israel’s singular achievements. These do not only include democracy and the rule of law but accomplishments in the spheres of economics, scientific research, scholarship, literature and all forms of artistic endeavour which greatly exceed anything which may realistically have been expected.

But for those of us engaged in defending Israel from ill-informed and politically motivated defamation in the media, the most significant flaw in The Vocabulary of Peace is its failure to adequately recognise the relationship between the personal and political realms.

In one lovely chapter, Hareven claims a “Levantine” identity. In her own words: “Born in Europe, all my days there passed in obscure impatience, as if it were all a mistake, a confinement, like a wretched marriage – until I saw strong light on rocky hedges on a mountain, a stooping summer olive tree, a well carved in stone – and I knew that was it. I had arrived at some deep palpable ancientness…”.

Hareven’s perfect Levantine is a person devoid of an exclusive and assertive cultural identity. She is possessed of an amused tolerance for human foibles, at ease with the devious ways of the world and its diverse peoples and languages, a reconciler with charm and wisdom. Her depiction reminds one of Jan Morris’s paean to Trieste in her last travel book “The Meaning of Nowhere”.

This Platonic ideal and the empathic imagination of the writer, to my own immense regret, does not provide a foundation for comprehending the political sphere which has its own facts, laws and imperatives.This realm is populated by nations, groups and belief systems at deep and often violent odds with one another and, not infrequently, with themselves. A failure to seriously confront political realities is especially egregious when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ordinary human beings (on both sides) must get by as best they can. They (and we) are indeed on “a darkling plain/ Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night.”, as so poignantly expressed by Matthew Arnold. Hareven does not attempt to depict the "darkling plain" without which her personal observations remain ungrounded in a meaningful political and historical context.

Those of us who write about politics need Hareven’s empathy and honesty to keep us in touch with human realities and our best ideals. But her admirable book fails to ground her observations in an adequately conceived political marix. This failure has implications and consequences not intended by the author. It goes without saying that there is a larger lesson in this for all those who write about human affairs.

Mike Berger

----- Original Message -----

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Monday, September 01, 2008 10:47 AM

Subject: RE: upon reflection

Mike, since at least we are on first name terms ,has it ever occurred to you that , it takes two to converse and that the listener may have a very different perception of communication than that which is perceived by the speaker. I am equally amazed that any criticism levelled against you and you are on your ad hominem horse. The world out there is ideologically skewed save for mike berger who in some crude positivist epistemology is immune from nay values influencing his analysis. Small wonder the conspiracy theory lies at the heart of your argument that the world is out to get us. Come on – we all bring our ideological baggage to our arguments . its our ability to exercise a critically reflective attitude that may save us. How else do I read your letter of 21Aug ‘ one therefore questions the wisdom of the BOD/ZC…. ‘ On the basis of your own version you come to this conclusion on the reading of a blurb ? Is that your idea of non ideological , dispassionate analysis? And you want to say I have misunderstood you ?

For the record , I look forward to your defence of Doron Isaacs’ right to speak as freely as you should be allowed to speak . In the event that you are prevented unfairly by the media from expressing your position , I would be very happy to defend you and if necessary to assist in any formal complaint to the relevant media authority.

Secondly and for the record , until I read anything you have written which indicates that you recognize the damage that the occupation has caused to both sides , I shall continue to assume that you are not a peacenik to employ your term .Again nothing wrong with that but it reveals the ideological position from which you write. Such a pity that you did not come to limmud to hear gershon gorenberg whose book on the occupation is probably the best around. I trust however that you had the intellectual good grace to attend the showing of encounter , to teat whether the blurb based critique.

Perhaps it is difficult to converse because to do so is to take seriously positions other than ones own , .when you do that , may be we will have something to exchange - until then I must assume that yours is no intellectual engagement . regards dennis

----- Original Message -----

From: Mike Berger

To: Davis Dennis

Sent: Monday, September 01, 2008 6:00 PM

Subject: Re: upon reflection

This letter which I had not seen until I replied to your following letter sort of undoes all progress doesn't it!?

Dennis forget about communication - you're too angry a person for me to deal with. You must believe me when I say that I'm not interested in a personal squabble with you. I really do have better things to do.


----- Original Message ----- (I read and replied below to this letter BEFORE having read and responded to the previous one – hence my relatively friendly reply below)

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Monday, September 01, 2008 1:37 PM

Subject: further suggestion - one final throw of the dice

My good friend Robert Fine from warwick tells me his ex doctorate student David Hirsh will be in SA to address he BOD conference - Dr Hirsh runs a blog in it I found written on 25 Jan 2006 for haaaretz . I could not agree more with its contents – is this not the position we need take here? If so , will you join me in such an endeavour

----- Original Message -----

From: Mike Berger

To: Davis Dennis

Sent: Monday, September 01, 2008 5:55 PM

Subject: Re: further suggestion - one final throw of the dice

I know his site and have read his Haaretz article. Also downloaded but not yet read his 160 + page report on Cosmopolitanism. I like a lot of what he writes, but not all. I'm not good on lines nor on labels - which makes me poor material for any movement.

The best I can manage is a stance which strikes me as more fluid and tailored to a specific context. I wouldn't write a word on Israel was it not for what I perceive as a politically-inspired and venomous attack on her basic legitimacy in the public media. I have written on 2 or 3 occasions to the Israeli Embassy to complain about aspects of Israeli behaviour and to ask for further information - with scant success. So I'm under no illusions, but that issue is quite distinct from the other.

I've recently become infatuated with the blend of photography, words and music and wish to devote a reasonable amount of time to that. I'm quite sure that Israel should be an extremely low priority topic of debate for SA at large and only a moderate one even for Jews - and one to be debated with care given our distance from the reality and its pressures and consequences.

I feel as a SA citizen my more important obligation is to our own struggling democracy - a topic I've neglected of late.

So I don't think it would be a good idea for me to join you in this endeavour - I'm not sure I fully understand what you mean in any case. But possibly there is some other way we can get to grips with "the issues". If you have any ideas let me know but don't expect a rapid response - I'm deluged at present..


----- Original Message -----

From: Davis Dennis

To: Mike Berger

Sent: Monday, September 01, 2008 6:44 PM

Subject: RE: further suggestion - one final throw of the dice

Let me reply to both of your emails .I too have better things to do than argue with you, trust me . My point is truly simple : to defend Israel it is best to follow the kind of enlightened approach hirsh takes rather then to say - there is undefined conspiracy and thus defend at all costs - its just undermines a nuanced defence .

Yet again you play the person ( something for which I am angry - that I allowed myself to do and for which , at least I have unreservedly apologized to you ) - it is quite impossible to engage with you intellectually because all one gets in return is a sense of no one can meeting the berger standard of rigour and most certainly berger can never be wrong - in short, nowhere are you prepared to concede a scintilla of doubt or reflection that maybe , just ,maybe your position is not 100% correct .

Yes , like most I become frustrated and angry and my friends do say that I have grown intellectually intolerant of those who do not meet standards that they consider I should lower. May be they are correct but than life is too short to waste time .s o this is my last email to you - my advice is that you should consider your own anger and obvious frustrations but thankfully that is not of any further concern to me . There are more than enough people in the intellectual community around the world who may differ with me greatly but are only to delighted to engage . So as they say good luck and good night , dennis

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