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The Jewish Report Editorial

Concerning the chasm among SA Jews

  • GeoffEditorial
Most South African Jews who read last Sunday’s biggest mass-circulation paper - which reaches hundreds of thousands of people and has an illustrious history as a crusading, gutsy paper in the SA media - were left with no doubts about how differently Israel and the SA Jewish community are perceived by many South Africans compared to how they perceive themselves.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Aug 20, 2014

Jewish cartoonist Zapiro’s drawing in the centre of the paper and several articles - including an op-ed by a Jewish writer - were scathing towards both of them and blasted the community’s “intolerance” and “closedmindedness”.

They were a sobering read guaranteed to raise the ire of many mainstream Jews.
The past few weeks’ events were fertile fodder for a cartoonist like Zapiro, who didn’t pull his punches in portraying King David Schools - and by implication the mainstream Jewish community - as a kind of fortress in which young learners encountered a “Goliath thought police” system which was there to bludgeon any kid who thought differently - such as Josh Broomberg and the other boy who has complained to the HRC for being bullied for his dissenting view - into a “Zionist or else” mindset. The cartoon’s tone also suggested that “Zionist” was not a multifaceted concept embracing adherents from left to right, but something inherently negative.

Zapiro is, to many Jews, like a red flag to a bull when his cartoons relate to Israel - although on other topics such as South African politics, he is widely admired. A 2002 cartoon during the Richard Goldstone saga showed Goldstone’s grandson going through his barmitzvah reading inside a synagogue, while outside - with his distressed face pressed against the window - stood grandfather Richard Goldstone, being punished with exclusion for criticising Israel.

And in 2001 during an argument between Ronnie Kasrils and the Jewish community, a cartoon showed Kasrils leading his supporters out of a Magen David-shaped fortress representing the Jewish establishment. The caption read: “Sound the alarm, dissidents are breaking out!”

Even taking into account the fact that a political cartoonist’s intrinsic role is to stir things up – to force the viewer to confront sometimes unpalatable issues and to enrage those he lampoons and delight those he praises - the view portrayed of Israel and the Jewish community cuts to the bone.

Zapiro is also joined by the 500 Jews - many of them eminent names - who recently signed a large ad in the Sunday Times.

The kneejerk reaction is: “He - and all those others - are wrong. They don’t understand the Middle East reality, Israel’s enemies’ barbaric nature and the huge attempts Israelis make to do the humane thing even in battle. And the need for Jews in the Diaspora to stand behind Israel.”

People accuse the Jewish “dissenters” who parade Palestinian flags or accuse Israel of inhumane bombing, of being totally out of touch with the circumstances in which Israelis live. It’s easy to sit safely in Johannesburg on the “moral high ground”, they say, without having to live in danger in Israel and pay the costs. The dissenters’ retort is that mainstream Jews simply can’t tolerate other views on Israel.

As unpleasant as the past few weeks have been for SA Jewry, the question is: Will it merely further consolidate the far left and far right in their polar-opposite positions? Or open enough questions on both sides for each to see the possibility of another viewpoint?

It is too soon to judge whether South African Jewry has benefited or been damaged by this dispute. Is it an opening of the laager or tighter drawing in of the wagons?

The notion of a Jewish community being one is inherently false: the fact is that we do not march in lockstep. It will take genuine leaders from both the right and the left to accept and understand different viewpoints.

It is said that newspapers are the first draft of history. Let’s encourage those leaders from the left and the right who have the guts and capability, to do the surprising thing, so the history of this time can be positive and not only negative.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Myron Robinson 20 Aug
    I have always thought of Zapiro as attacking all abuses of Human Rights. I have yet to see any cartoons by Zapiro on Hamas blatant Human Rights abuses . Sadly Zapiro all the good you can do & have done is gainsaid by your condemnation of anything Hamas does, which condemnation together with that of your 500 Jewish Supporters is deafening by your and their silence. Whilst you have every right to  criticize at least be consistent in your condemnation which is sadly lacking in your cartoons on the current Gaza conflict.

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