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Gupta Minyan quotes have me unglued

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I got a call earlier this week from a rabbi for whom I have huge respect asking me what it was like to be used by other journalists to promote anti-Semitism.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Aug 02, 2018

I knew exactly what he was talking about and, as you can imagine, it was something I have been mulling over a lot over the past week.

Last Thursday, amaBhungane, an independent investigative journalism team, put out its latest story on the Jewish businessmen who were associated with the Gupta-led corruption. They wrote it, and News24 and the Daily Maverick ran it.

Now, let me preface this with the fact that I have always had huge respect as a journalist for Sam Sole and Stefaans Brummer, who started this team many years back when they were at the Mail & Guardian. They have done exceptional exposés and, I believe, through the work they did on “Guptagate”, they played a big role in bringing down former President Jacob Zuma. Their work is – as far as I know – above reproach.

That being said, when they used an editorial I wrote in November last year as glue for their story about those men we dubbed “the Gupta Minyan”, I felt extremely uncomfortable.

The glue was the fact that they were Jewish, and that the community had allegedly “shunned” them because of what they were believed to have done.

The story – written by Sam Sole – was titled “The ‘Gupta Minyan’ and the R647-million Transnet scam”. It began: “We went after a trail left by Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa. What we found was a group of Jewish businessmen who complain of being shunned by their community because of their association with the Guptas.”

And upfront, they used my quotes.

I don’t have a problem with people quoting what I write. If it was meant to be secret, or if I didn’t stand by what I write, surely I shouldn’t be writing it. What I wrote, I totally stand by.

However, when I wrote about the Gupta Minyan it was for the audience of the SA Jewish Report, not the mainstream media. I have no problem in lumping a group of businessmen who were connected together. That makes sense.

It was, however, inappropriate to highlight the fact that they were Jews. That fact was totally irrelevant. They were not associated with each other because they were Jewish, they were associated with each other because they had business dealings. Having said this, many of the people in the long and winding amaBhungane story were not even Jewish.

I asked Sole the following question: if the businessmen concerned were all Christian, would he have written about them as Christian businessmen or just South African businessmen? You can guess his answer.

He said he saw the Gupta Minyan as such a clever label (that I admittedly didn’t create), and using my editorial was too good an opportunity to miss. He reminded me that I had linked them – without naming them – in an editorial speaking about how the community had reacted towards them. He also reminded me that I was the one who pointed out that they deserved their day in court before we judged them. So, they happily used quotes from my editorial as they needed this glue.

Do I think amaBhungane or the article are anti-Semitic? No, I don’t. In fact, the article was quite sympathetic to the community, saying that we hold ourselves to a higher moral standard than most, which is why the community was so angry.

They also said that the community was right to hold the Gupta Minyan to account, etcetera.

There was nothing ugly in what was said about the community. In terms of what they wrote about the businessmen themselves, I believe that if they have done wrong and the judicial system is not doing much about it, it is incumbent on the media to ferret out the truth.

However, lumping them together as Jews is the problem. I don’t believe it was anti-Semitic on their part, as such, because they clearly have no understanding of who we are, or the impact lumping these businessmen together as Jews has on us.

But I believe that by virtue of them uniting the businessmen who they claim to be crooked as Jews, they are sending a message with a subtext that Jews are crooked. This is the problem I have with amaBhungane’s use of the SA Jewish Report’s editorial in their article

We do not like the rest of society to have a reason to point fingers at us because we do set that bar so high for ourselves. Also, there is enough anti-Semitism out there without fuelling flames by throwing us under the bus like that. We hardly need to give those who already dislike us false ammunition.

It is true that not every single Jew is upstanding and honest, but then the same can be said for any other community. But we do hold ourselves up to a higher bar and, because of that, there are very few Jews in jails.

Are we too sensitive? I don’t know. Would I have preferred they didn’t use that editorial? Definitely! Is this particular story going to have a huge impact on us as a community, I hardly think so.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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