Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sinister Symposium

This post is largely concerned with an upcoming HSRC Symposium on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is important to read through this post carefully since every South African Jew (and citizen) should be aware of the activities of anti-Zionist activists in South Africa. By the shrill and extremist nature of the South African dialogue we find ourselves in serious opposition to the pragmatic and conciliatory tone adopted by Obama.

I also respond briefly at the end to some comments by David Zinn - whoever he may be. I don't usually respond to stupid negativity (in the course of a comment on It's Almost Supernatural he called me a liar and/or a gullible fool) but there are a couple of assertions in his post which require some response. In passing, it is quite amazing how often self-styled moralists on the left resort to vicious ad hominim insults. Jung had it right when he talked about the "shadow". Give me an honest sinner any time.

For those who don’t know, the HSRC (or Human Sciences Research Council) is a statutory body (that is, a Government sponsored and funded organisation) whose core function is, in its own words, “…is to conduct large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific projects for public-sector users, non-governmental organisations and international development agencies.”

It is worth expanding on this briefly (again drawn from its website at - : “…Our commitment to cutting-edge research which supports development nationally, in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and in Africa…”. “As the national social science council of South Africa, the HSRC wishes to serve as a knowledge hub to bridge the gap between research, policy and action; thus increasing the impact of research. This is achieved through collaboration with key constituencies, including government, other research organisations, multinational agencies, universities, non-government organisations, and donor and development organisations.
“Its four multi-disciplinary research programmes, two cross-cutting research units and three research centres are focused on user needs. The following units make up the HSRC.
Research programmes:
Child, Youth, Family and Social Development
Democracy and Governance
Education, Science and Skills Development
Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS and Health (including the Africa-wide research network, SAHARA)
Cross-cutting units:
Policy Analysis and Capacity Enhancement Unit
Knowledge Systems
Centre for Education Quality Improvement
Centre for Poverty, Employment and Growth
Centre for Service Delivery”

It is clear from this self-description, that the HSRC is a research organisation supposedly devoted to issues pertaining to the social and political development of a newly emergent democracy with vast inequalities in the realms of wealth and social development, a contentious and divisive history and numerous challenges in the form of education and skills development, health, crime and corruption, substance abuse and the abuse of women and children and in strengthening and consolidating democracy in a volatile and underdeveloped region.
None of this would seem to have anything to do with the complex and historically rooted issues in the Middle East, but if we go to its webpage dealing with Democracy and Govenance ( we find advertised two new items, namely:
• Conference: Re-Envisioning Israel-Palestine, 12-14 June 2009 , Cape Town
• Report on Israeli Practices released: Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid.
Once again, we search the rest of the page in vain for any indication which suggests that the HSRC has a legitimate concern with such issues. Indeed it explicitly states the following: “...The Democracy and Governance (D&G) programme examines issues that contribute to and constrain democratisation in South Africa and around the African continent.
In short the mandate of the HSRC contains nothing to suggest it has a legitimate interest in Middle Easten issues. But the clue and the (fake) justification comes in the wording of the second item listed above “Report on Israeli Practices released: Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid”. I strongly recommend readers to visit the site for themselves.
Somehow its mandate to research and encourage democracy and good governance in South Africa, specifically, and Africa generally (a region in clear and desperate need of such attention), has now mutated into a obviously partisan polemic against Israel.
This conclusion is further buttressed by the following introduction to the report, “The project was suggested originally by the January 2007 report by eminent South African jurist John Dugard, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council, when he indicated that Israel practices had assumed characteristics of colonialism and apartheid.”
In short, it is clear not only that this entire exercise has nothing whatsoever to do with the core function of the HSRC but contary to its alleged status of a serious research institutions, has allowed itself to be hijacked to serve the objectives of known ideologues and activists with strongly held and openly voiced anti-Zionist positions – like Dugard himself.
In case one has any doubts the following statement from the same webpage in all its unctuous dishonesty clarifies the position: “... The Middle East Project of the HSRC is an independent two-year project to conduct analysis of Middle East politics relevant to South African foreign policy, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Government of South Africa. The analysis in this report is entirely independent of the views or foreign policy of the Government of South Africa and does not represent an official position of the HSRC. It is intended purely as a scholarly (my emphasis) resource for the South African government and civil society and the concerned international community.
In summary
• The project is funded by South African taxpayers,
• It is not scholarly as reflected in its clearly biased original terms of reference, its original motivation (by John Dugard), its selective and partisan sponsors (scholars and international lawyers based at the HSRC, the School for Oriental and African Studies (London), the British Institute for International and Comparative Law, the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (Durban), the Adalah/Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and al-Haq/West Bank Affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists.) and the equally selective and partisan composition of the research team, headed by Virginia Tilley, a well-known (more appropriately, notorious) shrill and adamant anti-Zionist activist. Her position was sponsored by Stephen Friedman and later by Ronnie Kasrils, both of whom are openly and vehemently hostile towards Israel.
• In no way does the report provide pragmatic and useful guidelines for a foreign policy stance by the South African, but is a pseudo-judicial, one-sided demonisation of Israel using terms deliberately designed to promote ostracism and punitive action by the international community. It has nothing whatsoever to do with impartial research and scholarly activity.
In the Symposium there are 4 theme chairmen/keynote speakers:
1. John Dugard whose anti-Israeli stance is well kn and needs no further explication here.
2. Prof Nadim Rouhana His views in a recent article ( are “For the Palestinian citizens of Israel, life is becoming a collective Kafkaesque experience. For years, their state has been determined to buttress its Jewish identity by legal, constitutional, cultural, and political means, in spite of the fact that one in five of its residents is an Arab. This latest series of bills is just another part of that effort.”
3. Dr Leila Farsakh “I just say that the struggle of our people for achieving an independent state is over. We must start again by resisting the occupation and colonialism, while formulating a new strategy relying upon the concept of citizenship not being fastened any longer to the idea of historical Palestine’s partition. Do forty years of struggle ¬since the occupation of the Territories in 1967 ¬deserve perhaps a State which would be nothing but a set of Bantustans in Israeli territory without any territorial continuity?”
4. Dr Gerhard Mare He is Director, Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity, University of KwaZulu Natal (Durban, South Africa). As far as I know he has not expressed any views on the Middle East based on my superficial research.
But there is no need – the terms, the sponsors and the other particpants will ensure that Symposium will promote the theme of the Report on which it is based.
This brief review only scratches the surface. We need to ask the following information:
Who (or what group) motivated and promoted this project within the HSRC despite its irrelevance to the core mandate of that body?
Who selected the researchers? What are their credentials in this field and what are their prior positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Was any serious effort made to select researchers with views which ran contary to the apriori terms of reference of the Report?
If the project was an exercise to provide useful information to the South African Department of Foreign Affairs, why is it necessary to hold an open Conference (at considerable expense no doubt) to publicise its finding in an already biased South African media environment? While the Symposium is supposedly designed to promote fresh thinking, the Report is to provide the foundation on which it is structured and will thus frame the entire debate
Where in the report is there a serious attempt to provide the South African government with impartial, scholarly and pragmatically useful information concerning the history of the conflict, the positions of the protagonists and outside powers in the region to help guide the relevant ministry in its dealings with both Israel and the Palestinians?
This entire exercise by a supposedly scholarly, statutory body of the South African Government is nothing but a thinly disguised, pseudo-academic witchhunt, supported by taxpayers, designed to promote the agendas of known anti-Zionist activists. It deserves the widest possible exposure and unequivocal condemnation irrespective of one’s position on the issues in the Middle East.
Mike Berger (SOLAR PLEXUS)

The ink has hardly dried on my previous post but I feel it necessary to follow up with further brief comment. Firstly I would like to thank David Abel for drawing this entire sinister enterprise to my attention in the first place.

Secondly, it should not only be called "sinister" for its modus operandi and objectives, but also SMART. Let us be quite clear: this symposium is NOT some spontaneous cry of moral outrage but a carefully planned, costly, meticulously implemented strategy of demonsisation of Israel in pursuit of a clear political agenda. In case anyone should be in doubt what that is let me spell it out briefly. It is to set the stage for global ostracism and punitive action against Israel with the intention of bringing Ahmadinejad's threat to reality, namely, the elimination of Israel as we know it. This is to be accomplished not through nuclear weapons (Israel can respond effectively to such dangers) but by the cummulative impact of isolation, sanctions, boycotts and moral opprobrium.

It avoids the crudities of Durban I with its anti-semitic street theatre or the Ahmadinejads and Hugo Chavezs of this world. By enlisting the support of sympathetic academics, both individuals and organisations, and using the jargon and trappings of genuine scholarly discourse, it provides a thin but superficially effective cover for its sinster political agenda. It is, in a sense, the Cape Town I answer to the emasculation of Durban II under pressure from Western countries. There will be no Ahmadinejad to open the conference and thus give the game away (at least in Western eyes), but there will be a sympathetic Western press in the form of the Independent group, the M & G and others to ensure that its findings and conclusions receive a wide hearing.

This requires wide exposure and concentrated attention. While clever, the motivation and deceptive modus operandi is obvious to careful scrutiny. Equally, the content, despite their academic and quasi-judicial tone, is clearly partisan, selective and falls far short of genuine scholarly standards in order to find in favour of a predetermined verdict.

I trust that the influential academics and commentators amongst the recipients of this newspetter will ensure that this nasty and dishonest anti-semitic and anti-Zionist project is exposed and nullified.

Mike Berger

PS Firstly, my thanks to Steve Magid of It's Almost Supernatural for his own trenchant comments and for reproducing my Newsletter in its entirety.

Now to Zinn.

Zinn comment numero uno: “That Israel is a colonialist, deeply racist and apartheid-style state is plainly obvious to anyone who knows anything about the country and isn't a rabid right wing pro-Israel apologist.” Goodness gracious why on earth do we need a Conference with so much intellectual firepower and at such expense, when our Zinn absolutely knows the truth without any shadow of a doubt? Please write to the HSRC and instruct them to call the whole thing off.

Zinn comment number two: Ahmadienjad doesn’t really wish to eliminate Israel as “we know it” – that is, as a Jewish State. His comments have been misrepresented. Yes folk, you read that right: that’s what the man said. Ahmadinejad supports Hamas, Hizbollah, and other anti-Israel terror groups. He runs a conference (strictly scholarly of course) questioning the Holocaust. He is developing a nuclear weapon as fast as he can. But no, he does not want to eliminate Israel as a Jewish State. But please go and read Zinn’s comment on “Supernatural” and watch how he misrepresents what I said in order to contradict me. And he calls me a liar. But it is too boring to to waste more energy on such rubbish.

Zinn again “I find it interesting that people like John Dugard are described as "ideologues" because they take "anti-Zionist positions", which suggests that to be pro-Zionist one would be free of ideology. This really tells me all I need to know about the sort of mindset that underpins this website.” John Dugard (like Zinn, Virginia Tilley et al) is an ideologue. That’s OK. I don’t really like ideologues with their fixed, selective and shrill opinions, whether of the left or the right. But my gripe is that the HSRC Conference and the Report on which it is based has been motivated for, framed and shaped by ideologues of a particular stripe designed to promote the agendas of those who, like Zinn, hate Israel That is not what the HSRC was designed to do, it is not good use of taxpayer’s money and it is grossly dishonest to represent it as scholarly, impartial exercise.

Zinn weer: “Just because Sudan has a horrendous human rights record does that magically exculpate Israel from any and all abuses against the Palestinians? Ditto for the question of "xenophobic hatred" in South Africa, and on and on.” No Zinny, no-one said it did. But is is a far more suitable subject for our HSRC than the Middle East. Oh, and by the way, Zinny, what about Chechnia, Tibet and Sri Lanka to name just a few spots which could do with a “scholarly conference” - not to mention mass marches, boycotts and threats of “to the gas”.? I do hope you write to the HSRC suggesting it expand its horizons further since Africa does not provide the scope it needs for its wide-ranging moral concerns.

Last word from Zinn: “Instead of fixating on who wrote and funded the HSRC report, why not actually review the report and tackle it on the basis of facts, and not mere ad hominem attacks. Or is this just standard operating procedure for pro-Israel zealots who cannot address factual information and must constantly go on the offensive with smear campaigns against those who disagree with their perspective of Israel as a paragon of purity?” If it were a genuine scholarly project and not one motivated by the same negative obsessions which so captivate Zinn, I would agree. But it is the “fruit of a poisoned tree” (I think that is the legal phrase) and as such does not deserve the attention of genuinely impartial and informed scholars. It is a bit like David Irving – he pushed his deeply anti-semitic treatment of Holocaust history to the point of a legal confrontation against genuine scholars – and came seriously unstuck. But, of course, that did not stop the Holocaust deniers, just as it will not stop the Zinns of this world. So I suppose it will be necessary for busy and intelligent, informed people to waste their time responding to the content, but it will have at most minimal impact. For the whole matter has little to do with external reality but with internal reality – that is, psychological obsessions on which facts have little influence.

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