/ 19 April 2013

You can be Jewish and anti-Zionist

You Can Be Jewish And Anti Zionist

In an open letter published in the Jerusalem Post of March 21, the chief rabbi of South Africa, ­Warren Goldstein, calls on United States President Barack Obama to take action against Iran. In its context, there can be no doubt what Goldstein believes the US should do, for Israel's Prime ­Minister ­Benjamin Netanyahu regularly makes threats of – and demands for – war against Iran to stop it developing nuclear weapons.

Goldstein writes: "We all hope and pray that sanctions will work, but there is not much time left. If and when the crunch comes, God forbid, will the Jewish people once again stand alone?

"Mr President, world leaders must ask themselves this: Would you wager the life of your own children on the mercy and reasonableness of the Iranian government? And the question may not be hypothetical. Hitler came after the Jews first and then he attacked the world."

Let us not forget that, as recently as March 5, Dr Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, repeated that there was no evidence that Iran had nuclear weapons or intended to acquire them and that Iran had not violated its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it has signed. Let us not forget, either, that Israel has refused to sign the treaty and actually has nuclear weapons.

The Goldstein letter quotes credulously from material (of very dubious origin) that appears to be a radical Islamic call for the nuclear destruction of Israel, couched in strong anti-Zionist rhetoric, with Koranic justification. It describes Iranian rocket weaponry and what can be done with it in such detail, that one wonders what Iranian military secrets remain. It purports to be a warning of the consequences of Iranian ­retaliation to an Israeli attack on Iran.

Goldstein's reference to "the Jewish people" is part of the ideology that conflates being Jewish with being Zionist.

Ethnic national state
Joseph Levine, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, recently tackled this issue in the New York Times: "Well," he wrote, "if they are [a people] and if with the status of a people comes the right to self-determination, why wouldn't they have a right to live under a Jewish state in their homeland? The simple answer is because many non-Jews (rightfully) live there too."

The right to self-determination of the "Jewish people", in the said ­territory, violates the rights of its non-Jewish inhabitants to self-determination, just as apartheid South Africa denied certain population groups their rights on the basis of race.

If, writes Levine, "an ethnic national state is established in a territory that contains a significant number of non-members of that ethnic group, it will inevitably face resistance from the land's other inhabitants. This will force the ethnic nation controlling the state to resort to further undemocratic means to maintain its hegemony."

He concludes: "There is an unavoidable conflict between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. I want to emphasise that there is nothing anti-Semitic in pointing this out and it is time the question was discussed openly on its merits, without the charge of anti-Semitism hovering in the background."

The insistence that criticism of Zionism and of Israel is anti-Semitic is itself racist. Those who believe that being Jewish is not a matter of choice but birth, whether their motives are benign or sinister, leave individuals with no choice about the matter. One would have thought that Zionism, in all its many ideological flavours, is similar to a political party or movement, with which one is free to identify or not as one chooses.

But no. One South African Zionist headlines a posting on his personal blog with the words: "You cannot fight it: a Jew is a Zionist. By birth, not by choice." He writes: "I believe that to be a Jew, one must have an automatic sense of Zionistic spirit. Anything other is half-baked and the person [is] simply Jewish by birth not choice."

Struggle against Zionism
Israel claims to stand for democratic values, but in free societies, people can decide for themselves on their political loyalties and beliefs.

In South Africa, this right is protected in the Bill of Rights. Conflating Zionism with being Jewish is not different in kind from demanding that all white South Africans had to support apartheid and were traitors if they did not do so.

Just as the struggle against apartheid was not a struggle against white South Africans, but against apartheid, the struggle against Zionism is not a struggle against Jews, but against Zionism.

The essence of racism is a vicious irrationality that leads to hatred, war and the worst atrocities that humans can inflict on each other. Equating Zionism with being Jewish, or ­criticism of Zionism with ­anti-Semitism, involves precisely the racism that took people who had no choice about being what they were to the gas chambers.

Goldstein's invocation of the European Holocaust desecrates the memories of those who had to die whether they were Zionists or not, as well as others who had no choice because they were Romany or gay or mentally handicapped or were some other kind of "inferior" being.

If there is anything to be drawn from the horror of the European Holocaust and the holocausts before and after it, it is to toughen the human spirit in our collective resolve that the words spoken by Nelson Mandela at his inauguration:  "Never again!" should cover all humanity and not just some of us.

Mervyn Bennun is a retired legal academic and a long-standing ­member of the ANC