Sunday, February 1, 2009

Betrayal by any other name

There has been a vigorous campaign within the Jewish community, initiated by members of the South African Human Rights Delegation (SAHRD), to dissociate itself from the carefully worded and moderate statement by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation and the Chief Rabbi supporting Israel in its military response to years of rocket and mortar attacks from Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza on civilian communities in Israel.

After considerable effort, this group has managed to gather 300 signatories, out of a community of around 80 000, to a petition condemning Israel’s response to these attacks as inhumane and disproportionate. It is safe to say that the sentiments expressed by the signatories run contrary to the opinion of most South African Jews. Furthermore, at least some of those who signed are Jews in name rather than in substance or identity.

At the same time, many of the petitioners have a well-deserved high profile in South African public life and a few are known to me personally as decent, intelligent people for whom I have a high regard.

Nevertheless, I believe the action they have taken is morally and intellectually insupportable. In brief, the moral content of any action is ultimately determined by the context in which it takes place. To illustrate this in the simplest and crudest of terms let us take the murder of another human.

The sanctity of human life is rightly regarded by modern civilised people as a basic intrinsic virtue. Yet we would equally recognise that the morality of shooting a man in the back would be significantly different were he a defenceless neighbour going about his own business or the same neighbour engaged in raping your wife.

Loyalty, is equally regarded as a basic human virtue. Yet there are circumstances in which loyalty is recognised as wrong and inappropriate. For instance, in the years leading up to World War 2, when Nazi doctrines of Aryan superiority and Jewish evil were being actively promulgated by an increasingly totalitarian state bent on achieving world domination and the elimination of Jews and other “inferior” peoples, open opposition by fellow Germans can only be applauded.

The common factor in both these examples is that extreme conditions are required to justify actions like murder and betrayal which go against a deep moral consensus. This is recognised by ordinary people, by moral philosophers and, I dare say, in law.

The creation of Israel is a Jewish project (otherwise what would be the point of advertising one’s opposition as Jews?) supported by the majority of Jews worldwide. The act of publically condemning Israel for its self-defense nowhere remotely meets the standards required to justify an act of betrayal, which in context this petition undoubtedly represents.

On the contrary, the petition is being widely disseminated in the context of a situation which has been deliberately engineered by Hamas and its allies as part of a long-term strategy for reversing the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East. This strategy includes a global campaign of demonisation and condemnation based on manipulated, selective and often downright false information. The result is a global outpouring of hatred and anti-Zionist rhetoric - and antisemitic sentiment last seen in the 1930s.

The petition lends ammunition to those whose deepest desire is to see Israel destroyed and even to those who have bought into the notion of Jewish evil, a necessary prelude to genocide the world over.

The signatories should think again and take the necessary corrective action.

Mike Berger

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