exploring issues related to the constitution, democracy & the south african jewish community
In this article Joshua Hovsha explores how our historical and political backgrounds determine our response to freedom of expression and our approach to hate speech.
The past is never dead. It’s not even past. – William Faulkner
“Penny Sparrow has written more legislation than I ever will.” A friend and prominent member of civil society jested the other week. We were working through the latest draft of the Hate Crimes Bill. A Bill which has taken ten years to reach parliament. A Bill which has become contentious after very broad hate speech provisions were added. Provisions only added after Penny Sparrow’s racist comments elicited unprecedented outrage in January 2016.
The public outcry following Sparrow’s racist remarks has become a turning point in our political discourse, along with university protests, calls for land expropriation, and daily debates over who can lay claim to the experience of racism and persecution.
"... two and a half decades into democratic rule South African Jews find themselves uncertain over how to approach a long history of persecution coupled with a recent history of privilege."
Frustration is often expressed in terms of perceived double standards over who is charged and who is not. Harsh sentences against some may allow for temporary satisfaction. These punishments will not in and of themselves redress the wrong committed against other victims, nor will they fix the societal ills of racism and discrimination.
Exploring issues related to Israel, Israeli society & global Jewry
In this article Prof. Ran Greenstein explores how Isaac Deutscher's concept of 'the non-Jewish Jew' can be used to help better understand the political orientation of Jewish South African & Israeli activists -- both historically & in the present.
"Liberal Zionists are Jews but not ‘non-Jewish’ as they proudly are part of the Jewish-Israeli mainstream. Anti-Zionists are ‘non-Jewish’ (in a political sense) but are not usually motivated by a specific Jewish sensibility."
In a speech delivered sixty years ago, writer and activist Isaac Deutscher coined the phrase ‘the non-Jewish Jew’. This term referred to a group of intellectuals of Jewish background – Baruch Spinoza, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, and Sigmund Freud – who, according to Deutscher, “found Jewry too narrow, too archaic, and too constricting. They all looked for ideals and fulfilment beyond it, and they represent the sum and substance of much that is greatest in modern thought.”
What was specifically Jewish about them? Deutscher argued that
… as Jews they dwelt on the borderlines of various civilizations, religions, and national cultures. They were born and brought up on the borderlines of various epochs ... They were each in society and yet not in it, of it and yet not of it. It was this that enabled them to rise in thought above their societies, above their nations, above their times and generations.
Israel & global jewry [trends & prospects]: exploring issues related to israel, israeli society & global jewry
In this article Rolene Marks explores how South Africa, in particular its attitudes and positions towards Israel, Zionism and the South African Jewish community, is represented in the Israeli (print) media.
"Whilst there has been much written on how Israel is covered in South African media there is very little on how relations between the two states is covered in the Israeli media"
WHEN Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, was asked his opinion about the United Nations’ propensity to castigate his country, he shrugged and answered, “Um, Shmum” (signifying dismissal or contempt). This term is an apt description of how Israelis currently feel about South Africa. Once a country that fascinated the Israeli media and public, South Africa is still widely covered in the Israeli media – but for the wrong reasons.
EXPLORING THE CONCERNS OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY
In this article David Saks argues that the current surge of anti-zionism in South Africa has antisemitic influences.
PERHAPS the most fiendishly difficult question that Jewish rights groups must grapple with today is where the boundary lies between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. A perception has been created by anti-Israel activists that the Jewish community rushes willy-nilly to label as antisemitism that which is in fact legitimate criticism of Israel. This is untrue. Instead there is an acute awareness of the need to make a clear distinction between the two, and so far as the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is concerned, the record shows that it has been scrupulously careful in this regard.
This being said, it is inevitable that attacks ostensibly only against Israel sometimes spill-over into hatred against Jews. No-one can reasonably accuse Jews of ‘crying antisemitism’ when they take action in such instances (although many do). And when anti-Israel sentiment takes on so extreme a form as to amount to inflammatory propaganda, it is understandable that the Jewish community should come to the defence of Israel. It is an attack on something that the great majority of Jews around the world passionately identify with.
"What purports simply to be anti-Zionism frequently turns out to be fuelled to a greater or lesser extent by residual anti-Jewish feeling".
exploring issues related to Israel, israeli society & global Jewry
In this article, Bev Goldman suggests that the current political and social climate in South Africa has left the Jewish community feeling vulnerable. She explores what a Ramaphosa presidency might mean for South Africa-Israel relations and the future of the South African Jewish community.
AS we enter a Ramaphosa-presidency, there is little doubt that “we live in interesting times.” Tumultuous and tempestuous, yes, but riveting too. What will the future bring? How imminent and dramatic will change be? And, considering the ANC’s stance on Israel, will these changes include a dramatic reconfiguration of relations between South Africa and Israel?
"Local businesses that continue to seek alliances with Israeli enterprises seemingly pay little, if any, attention – on the surface at least – to the political noises emanating from those who hold power."
Our Jewish community is an intriguing one. Our public utterances present an outward picture that we are a united community, that we strive for the same goals and aims, that we traverse the same beat. For the disinterested, the uninformed and those who still have hope, there is some sort of safety in trotting out the tried and tested axiom that South Africa and Israel, for all the media hype, are in reality still good friends away from the glare of the public spotlight. To think otherwise would suggest that the Jewish community’s relationship with the national government is soon to enter a turbulent period.
Constitutional matters [trends & prospects]: exploring issues related to the constitution, democracy & the South African Jewish community
In the third of our three inaugural articles, Adv. Anton Katz looks at some inherent tensions between certain Constitutional rights and the implications of these for the Jewish community.
IN 2007 the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Gemeente (NG Kerk) in Moreleta Park, Pretoria fired a Mr Strydom, the congregation’s music teacher. The reason for his dismissal was his sexual orientation and that he was in a same-sex relationship. According to the prescripts of the church, marriage can only exist between one man and one woman. For the church, persons of homosexual orientation must be celibate and cannot be involved in a homosexual relationship. This would amount to a cardinal sin in view of the church’s teachings.
Mr Strydom challenged the church’s decision to fire him in the Equality Court in Pretoria. His argument was that the decision infringed his constitutional right to equality and to not be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation. The church took the view that to have Mr Strydom work at the church was an affront to their right to freedom of religion.
" ... recent events in the Jewish community, highlight tensions in the Constitution ..."
Because Mr Strydom was not seen by the Court to be a religious or spiritual leader, but only a contractor who worked there on an occasional basis to teach music, the Court ultimately found in his favour. According to the Court’s judgment, the “impact on religious freedom of [keeping Mr Strydom there] is minimal”. In other words, the Court judged that in this particular case Mr Strydom’s right to equality and to not be discriminated against on the grounds of his sexual orientation outweighed the church’s claim that its religious freedom had been impinged upon.
Jewish communal leaders – and some members of the Jewish community – have been quick to label these moves as mortal threats to the relationship between the states, and to the local Jewish community. The evidence suggests otherwise.
exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
In the first of our three inaugural articles, Adina Roth explores the concept of Machloket l’shem shamayim and looks at what our textual tradition might suggest about the possibility of deepening debate and conversation in the South African Jewish community.
Every argument that is for the sake of heaven is destined to endure. And every argument that is not for the sake of heaven is not destined to endure. What is an example of argument for the sake of heaven? The arguments of Hillel and Shammai. And not for the sake of heaven? Korach and his congregation (Avot, 5:17).
Machloket l’shem shamayim, an argument for the sake of heaven, is an invisible yardstick put forth to distinguish between arguments considered worthy, and those seen as unworthy. What place could the concept of machloket l’shem shamayim or – argumentation for the sake of heaven – have in the South African Jewish community? Can this concept help establish the boundaries as well as the possibilities for acceptable discourse and debate in our community?
While the right to freedom of speech, as enshrined in the South African Constitution, ensures that anyone can raise an argument in our community, the way in which arguments are received, explored and discussed within the community is influenced by communal culture and norms, social pressures and consensus; a host of factors far more complicated than the right to freedom of speech. No one wants to be ostracised for exercising their inalienable right to free speech. That said, intuitively we might understand that some arguments are edifying and do much to advance the ethics of a community or culture while others can be destructive. The boundaries of what is and what is not a worthy – or edifying – argument, however, can become subjective. When it comes to communal engagement around issues of contention, we are in the realm of sociology as much as law; subjective narrative or poetics as much as absolutes. The question becomes, is it possible to share the value of macholket l’shem shamayim across the community so that a space of constructive, rigorous and more forthright dialogue can be opened up?