/ 22 April 2010

Sachs breaks silence on Goldstone fracas

The barring of United Nations Human Rights Council Judge Richard Goldstone from his grandson’s bar mitzvah was profoundly sad, former Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs said on Thursday.

However, the case’s one redeeming feature was that it had led many people, including himself, to publicly debate the issues at hand for the first time.

“The defeat of tolerance in one particular case has led to an outpouring of support for the principle of tolerance everywhere,” he said.

Sachs told the Cape Town Press Club that for months he had declined to comment publicly on the Goldstone Report.

“I had not read it [the report] and was deliberately refraining from taking a position on its merits because I wished to preserve the possibility of one day contributing to mediation of a peaceful and dignified settlement of the conflict,” he said.

He had first heard about the latest outbursts of anger against Goldstone from a fellow customer in a well-known Sea Point deli, Sachs said.

The customer had walked up to him and “aggressively” asked if he was for or against Goldstone.

Sachs guardedly answered that Goldstone was his friend.

The customer was not happy with his answer and preceded to tell Sachs how Goldstone had been barred from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah.

Sickened by political anger
He added that a man named Krengel had threatened to have a posse of 20 Jewish stormtroopers outside the shul to keep Goldstone away, Sachs said.

“I felt sick. I could not believe that political anger against him, which people had every right to express, had evolved into an uncontrolled and unconscionable rage that sought to violate the spirit of one of the most sacred aspects of formal Jewish tradition,” he said.

Sachs said that he was pleased that Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein had spoken of the human pain of the situation, stating that it was simply a question of decency and compassion to the bar mitzvah boy not to ruin his day.

The Rabbi conveyed this to the shul committee and they had agreed with his approach to keep the shul open to the entire bar mitzvah family.

Yet while there was no official exclusion of Goldstone from the occasion, they underlined the fact that the family had decided he should not attend, Sachs said.

“If it had been his own event, Richard could of braved the threatened demonstration,” he said.

“But it would be his grandchild’s day, and the only way to secure appropriate privacy and intimacy for the occasion was for him to sacrifice his wish to be there.”

And so once more, unthought-through emotional rage succeeded because it could rely on the natural decorum and decency of those it sought to target, said Sachs.

What it means to be Jewish
Sachs was addressing members of the Press Club on what it meant in the world today to be a Jew and touched on significant parts of his life.

It was reported last week that the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) threatened protest action if Goldstone attended the bar mitzvah at the Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunals for the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was selected to head the fact-finding mission into the Gaza War in 2009.

The Goldstone Report on the Israel Defence Force’s offensive into Gaza in 2008/09 accused both the Israeli Defence Force and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

It recommended that the sides openly investigate their own conduct and should they fail to do so, that the allegations be brought to the International Criminal Court.

The Israeli government rejected the report as prejudiced and full of errors.

The report was met with widespread hostility by some in the South African Jewish Community. – Sapa