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.