Following a report in the SA Jewish Report that Judge Richard Goldstone has been barred from attending his grandson’s barmitzvah, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation have issued press releases claiming that the entire issue has been misinterpreted and misunderstood.
Whilst there may have been merits in protesting the Judge's appearance at the synagogue, the entire affairs seems to have been handled badly, with an absence of a consistent story to press, which only seems to have been considered as an after-thought.
This episode was always going to turn ugly, and without being in a position to comment about what actually transpired, I can only say that somewhere along the way it seems that a trio of our community leaders have managed to screw this thing up.
The community is being blamed for “barring” Goldstone from attending a bar mitzvah when in fact all that was planned was a protest outside the synagogue. Goldstone looks more and more like a victim of an intolerant Jewish community which has excommunicated him because of his political views. The media get a great story and our enemies get an abundance of ammunition to deflect attention away from their intolerance and onto ours.
I’m not saying that managing this episode was going to be easy. Still, I expect more. I expect better management of the finer details such as the handling of the press. The stories from the various representatives don’t seem entirely consistent and the response from the SAJBD – who weren’t even involved in all of this – was late, trying to limit the damage after it had been done.
Perhaps I have discounted the impact the protest would have had. It’s a decision that would not have been taken lightly and could have led to all sorts of precedents such as making protests outside of synagogues fair game. On the other hand, I can’t say that Goldstone doesn’t deserve this form of humiliation. After all, he delivered a report to a dictator-friendly organisation, that is bug-eyed nuts with Israel, which effectively rewarded Hamas for terrorism.
How will the handling of this situation impact the community? I think it results in a broadening of the groups that sit on both the extreme right and extreme left, and the squeezing out of the liberal Zionist centre which seems to be disappearing.
Internally the response has been supportive. In fact, around the synagogue-attending folk, there is a sentiment that the leadership should have done even more. But the view that you are not welcome at synagogue if you don’t support Israel, held by many who oppose our official leadership, has now been strengthened, albeit deceitfully since the reality of the situation is different from that which has been peddled in the media. Of course, these folk know exactly what makes Goldstone a unique case, but they won’t acknowledge it. And why should they when our official leadership fails to acknowledge the rising intolerance that is bubbling up in certain sections of our community?
On the other hand, must we constantly worry about how we are portrayed to broader South Africa? Only we can understand the real harm that Goldstone has done to Jews around the world, so only we can understand why it might makes sense to protest his appearance at the synagogue.
But is the sense of retribution worth the cost? These are the types of decisions I am glad I don’t have to make.
Herewith the letter distributed on Friday last week by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.
Dear Community Member
It has been widely reported in the media that Judge Richard Goldstone has been barred from attending his grandson's barmitzvah as a result of pressure from certain sectors of the Jewish leadership. While it has not been involved in this matter, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies was concerned that it would turn into a divisive issue within the Jewish community, and has therefore carefully investigated it to establish the correct facts.
What has emerged is that, contrary to what many media reports alleged, at no time was Judge Goldstone prohibited from, or even requested, not to attend the barmitzvah ceremony by any organisation or individual. Rather, this was a decision voluntarily taken by the Goldstone family and the other respective parties. Certain senior Jewish communal and religious leaders were certainly involved in the discussions around the topic, but in no way did they attempt to dictate to or otherwise pressurize the family into arriving at their decision.
Unfortunately, the matter is being widely misrepresented and misunderstood. To assist us in forestalling any further unpleasantness, we would appreciate it if you could circulate this communiqué to others who you think will be interested.
The SAJBD strongly believes that diversity of opinion in our community needs to be tolerated and respected, whether it emanates from the left, right or centre. At the same time, the right to freedom of expression needs at all times to be exercised with sensitivity, with due regard to the appropriateness of the forum and occasion. Taking into account, with due sensitivity and understanding, the feelings of others goes a long way towards preventing unnecessary conflict.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom.ZEV KRENGEL NATIONAL CHAIRMAN