The Open Shuhada Stree blog recently weighed in on the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC) hate speech finding against COSATU spokesperson Bongani Masuku: Shuhada blog - SAHRC finds COSATU spokesperson Bongani Masuku guilty of hate-speech
Although Shuhada agrees with the SAHRC findings, their article focuses on drafting a script in which Masuku is a helpless victim who made hateful remarks in response to deliberately antagonistic and racist remarks from various South African Jews. In particular they finger out the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, this blog, Anthony Posner, and Mike Berger for blame.
I write this response because this blog was fingered as part of the problematic gang, without any sufficient explanation. In my response, I’ll also consider the role played by Posner and Berger, although they are more than capable of defending themselves.
Although Shuhada include us as part of the problematic behaviour that precipitated the saga, they stop short of asking us to apologise to Masuku, which is what they suggest Posner and Berger should do.
The SAHRC finding was made in direct response to complaints from the SAJBD about statements made by Masuku at a Wits rally jointly hosted by the Young Communist League (YCL) and the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC). The ruling, however, also responds to complaints about statements made by Masuku in a comment posted on this blog, and within email correspondence between Masuku and Anthony Posner.
The Shuhada blog thesis seems to be that Masuku was victimised and fell for some clever traps designed to invoke an anti-Semitic response - although they fail to provide an excuse for the far more serious Masuku statements that took place at the Wits rally jointly hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and Young Communist League (YCL).
David Saks, associate director of the SAJBD summed up his contempt for the Shuhada accusations in a comment on their blog:
Can one seriously equate nakedly the issuing of threatening and abusive statements against an entire community from public platforms by a representative of a major political organisations to mere email correspondence in which no threats or racial slurs feature? In my view, given the palpable hatred and menace emanating from Masuku’s every response, the comments of his critics were actually rather restrained under the circumstances.
The writer would seem to believe that Posner should apologise for mocking Masuku, yet surely the latter’s grotesque language deserves, at the very least, to elicit a degree of such scorn? And surely Mike Berger is entitled to express an opinion that Masuku is intellectually challenged given the sheer crudeness and puerility of his views without being smeared with bogus charges of racism and intellectual elitism? What nonsense!
One might also add that any read through of exchanges on the net when something contentious is being debated will show, it often gets rough. One can’t put out highly provocative views and then play the victim when the responses are robust.
Shuhada claim that amongst others, the actions of the It’s Almost Supernatural bloggers (i.e. myself and Mike) were problematic. But they don't explain why.
Shuahada state that the correspondence started when Masuku queried a racist comment that was placed on my blog. This is false.
The correspondence began when Masuku responded to a racist comment placed on my blog, by replying with a racist comment of his own, even after he saw that the initial racist comment had been removed.
Masuku's comment on this blog precipitated an e-mail from Anthony Posner who asked Masuku if his language "encourages Jews and Israelis to digest [his] critique."
Things at this point seemed pretty civil. Masuku responded by thanking Posner for his "gesture of engagement" and then explained that his comment was in response to the racist comment that I had already removed
This is when I got involved, in a naive attempt to condemn the racist comment that was left on my blog, and to explain that I had removed it as soon as I had seen it.
Claiming that Masuku's first correspondence was to query the racist comment on my blog makes it seem that he first attempted to open a civil dialogue and only afterwards resorted to posting his own racist comment.
Irrespective of whether this was the intent of Shuhada, muddling with the order of the events distorts the understanding.
This was the extent of my involvement in this saga, besides for the public coverage I ran on my blog.
So then, why has Shuhada blamed this blog and its authors?
I can only presume it was because a racist comment was placed on my blog. Shuhada fails to distinguish between posts written by the authors of a blog, and a comment written by a reader. They also fail to distinguish between a comment placed by an anonymous idiot on a blog and a public representative of an important South African institution. In doing so, they use a simple comment - that had been removed as soon as I had seen it - as a pretext to justify Masuku's own bad behaviour.
The Posner Correspondence
Shuhada claim that Posner started "toying" with Masuku on February 13. It is significant that this was after Masuku's comments about subjecting us to “perpetual suffering” and about Jews being “arrogant”.
Posner really had very little to do with Masuku's initial statement that Jews who support the occupation should be encouraged to leave South Africa.
Masuku took his statement further, stating that Jews should be forced to leave South Africa after Posner brought it to his attention that it was the far-right wing of the Afrikaner Nationalist movement that last encouraged Jews to leave South Africa.
Mike Berger’s email
It is important to note that Berger was really not involved in any of this. In fact, Berger's comments were made only after the statements by Masuku. There is also no connection between them and Masuku's comments at the Wits rally.
Shuhada claim that Berger and Posner use their expensive educations to disguise their racism using subtle language.
Although they fail to provide evidence of Posner having done this, their smoking-gun with Berger is this statement he wrote in an e-mail to Masuku:
"South Africa is ill-served by having people like yourself in postitions of political influence. The Middle East conflict is complex and irrelevant to South Africa. Given our diverse population it should be left to those with the direct interest and knowledge to make a useful contribution. That does not include you. "
Shuhada respond saying: "Who did Berger mean by those with a “direct interest”? Jews? Muslims? Whites? Apparently not non-Jewish black Africans."
Readers can judge for themselves, I think it’s a poor accusation.
The role of the PSC
If we are to agree with Shuhada that Masuku just can’t help himself, then it’s peculiar not to look further and target other players who helped elicit these responses.
Surely one of the leaders of the PSC would share some of the blame. It was a Wits PSC leader who sent the initial racist comment from my blog to Bongani Masuku. This leader, with the benefit of his very own expensive education, should have known better. Whilst he was quite right to be offended, he distributed the racist comment on my blog without any context and failed to explain to Masuku that it was just one of thousands of hateful comments that sprawl the Internet.
Another email sent to Masuku, and I assume it was from the same person, alerted him about a comment made by Gary on this blog (and also later removed) suggesting that “Israel-loyal Jews refuse to employ COSATU members in retaliation for COSATU’s evil actions”. Masuku saw no reason why he should just ignore this comment and move on. Obviously the comment was sent to Masuku in order to deliberately evoke a response. In discussing this ridiculous comment, Masuku said:
“Surely, we cant blame Patrick for taking Gary’s email, which was sent to us as COSATU in its very raw form and we did not worry much which forum it came from, but we only knew it was written by a Zionist full of hatred and evil, thirsty for the blood of Palestinians and all who dare stand by the side of the oppressed.”
There was clearly no attempt to place the comment in its correct context – i.e. that it was made by one far-right supporter of Israel with no leadership influence in the community. Patrick Craven eventually responded by treating this threat as if it emanated from the official leadership of the Jewish community!
Let me be clear, I am not holding this PSC member accountable. He is free to email whatever he likes to Bongani Masuku, without any explanation. I am mentioning his role because blaming him is as ridiculous as blaming Posner, Berger and myself, but instead of adding the PSC to the melting-pot of blame (they jointly sponsored the event were Masuku really let fly) Shuhada choose to single them out for praise!
This whole episode has further diminished the opinion I have of what Shuhada are trying to achieve (one member in an email to Anthony Posner explained it as such “I am part of a broader secular struggle for Palestinian people and the restoration of the humanity of the Jewish people of Israel”).
Initially Posner indeed did hope to open a serious and engaging dialogue with Masuku, but it was Masuku that turned things nasty. Posner just followed suit, the way he does with everyone, black, white, Zionist or anti-Zionist.
Berger’s involvement was so incidental that I am convinced Shuhada made reference to it only as an opportunistic points-scoring attempt. There appears to be no basis to their accusation that his statements were racist, even if you disagree with Berger’s actual argument (I do).
Finally, blaming this blog for a comment that an unknown racist was able to make would pose a challenge to the very idea of an open forum, should anyone actually take the Shuhada claim seriously. We get hateful comments and threatening emails from both the far left and far right. Forums on the Internet often get rough, and if you want to play in them you need to grow a pair.