Academic peddles prejudice in M&G
“Zionists have no moral claim to Palestine – certainly no more than the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] has to India, Afrikaner nationalists had to apartheid South Africa, Nazis had to the Third Reich, or the AfD [Alternative for Germany] has to a white supremacist Germany,” wrote Professor Adam Haupt in an opinion piece published on the Mail & Guardian (M&G) website on 1 February 2024.
Haupt, a professor of media studies and the director of the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT), provided a distorted view of history in his piece titled Everybody Wants White Privilege, saying that Zionism was created because “Zionists wanted to partake in systems that created racial hierarchies and white privilege. They, too, wanted to be settler-colonisers.”
Haupt’s comments come amidst a climate of rising antisemitism locally and internationally, and local media allowing untruths about Zionism and Judaism to flourish.
Haupt quoted an opinion piece on Mondoweiss by Muhannad Ayyash which says that Zionism took its lead from Nazism. “The problem with the answer of Zionism, is that instead of challenging the spurious and violent racialisation of Europeans into ‘Semites’ and ‘Aryans’, Zionism proposed an answer whereby they would join the project of colonial modernity.”
Mondoweiss is the same website that published an OpEd stating, “Stories of atrocity on October 7 have been used to justify the ongoing assault on Gaza. But several of these high-profile claims have been found to be based on unreliable witnesses or even fabricated entirely.” The article then goes on to blame the Israeli military widely for the deaths of Israelis that day.
“Intra-Jewish racism became a feature of life in Israel,” continues Haupt in his M&G OpEd. “It’s no wonder that the settler state of Israel found a friend in the apartheid state during the era of National Party rule in South Africa. Both states employed religious texts to create ethno-nationalist founding myths to justify their systems of racialised oppression and dispossession.”
He then tied this to Jews in South Africa, saying, “We had Jewish South Africans both oppose and support the system of apartheid as the National Party tightened its grip in South Africa. Some saw apartheid for the unjust racist system that it was and opposed it, while those with Zionist sympathies saw the opportunity of supporting and benefitting from systemic racism. They saw a way to access white privilege and, therefore, supported the apartheid state.”
He said he was referring to Steven Friedman’s book Good Jew, Bad Jew: Racism, Anti-Semitism and the assault on meaning for this assessment.
He tied Zionism to “ethno-nationalism, bereft of morality” and wrote that “it’s time for us to call time on systems of racialised privilege and oppression”.
According to the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, it’s antisemitic to make “mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective”. Furthermore, antisemitism is “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example, by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour; and drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
“October 7 and reactions to Israel’s military response have brought an undercurrent of antisemitism to the surface in many countries,” says HonestReporting Editorial Director Simon Plosker. “South Africa’s spurious International Court of Justice case has inflamed sentiments even further to the extent that the M&G evidently has no problem publishing Adam Haupt’s vicious screed.
“If Haupt were to visit Israel, he’d see that more than half of the Jewish population traces their roots to the Middle East and couldn’t possibly benefit from white privilege,” he says. “Portraying Jews and Zionists as ‘white supremacists’ is simply nonsense. Just ask genuine white supremacists what they think about Jews, and it will become obvious why Haupt is being completely disingenuous.
“Haupt’s implication that Zionism took its lead from Nazism, and comparisons between the two ideologies are really plumbing the depths,” says Plosker. “As formulated in the IHRA definition, this clearly amounts to antisemitism, and should have no place in a mainstream media outlet.
“The false insinuation that South African Zionists benefitted from apartheid then and support apartheid now is dangerous and inflammatory,” he says. “Haupt’s piece, dressed up in pseudo-academic language, is simply a nasty attempt to revive the ‘Zionism equals racism’ charge. Shame on the M&G for publishing it.”
Emeritus professor of philosophy at UCT, David Benatar, says, “Haupt’s recent article is the kind of ignorant and ideological eructation to which he is prone. To consider just one example, he sets up the tendentious and false dichotomy between those Jews who ‘saw apartheid for the unjust racist system that it was and opposed it’ and ‘those with Zionist sympathies’ who ‘saw the opportunity of supporting and benefiting from systemic racism’.
“In fact, most South African Jews were both Zionists and opposed to apartheid,” says Benatar. “This applied to the rank and file who voted for the opposition, but also to leading anti-apartheid figures such as Helen Suzman, Benjamin Pogrund, and Isie Maisels. It wouldn’t be worth paying attention to Haupt’s piece were it not for the fact that his thinking is so typical of the intellectual level now dominating UCT discussion about Israel and Zionism.”
South African Jewish Board of Deputies National Chairperson Professor Karen Milner describes Haupt’s OpEd as “simply a diatribe that segues from a discussion of white privilege to an attack on Israel as an ‘apartheid settler colonialist’ state with no evidence other than vitriolic rhetoric. The arguments are designed to foment hate, based on an ignorant understanding of Zionism, South African history, and the history of the Jewish state. The assertion that opposition to apartheid amongst Jews was dependent on one’s status as a ‘Zionist’ is just silly historical revisionism.
“The piece is an illustrative example of how doctrinaire anti-Zionism has become a de facto license to distort, manipulate, and in general rubbish Jewish history to position it within a predetermined ideological framework,” says Milner. “In this worldview, facts are cherry picked and massaged to fit the theory. In this case, the writer casually disregards the history, heritage, religious traditions, culture, and identity of an entire people.”
Benji Shulman, the director of diplomacy and public policy at the South African Zionist Federation, says, “Since the start of the war, we’ve seen a proliferation of malicious comparisons in the press between Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis. Another example is Zapiro’s recent cartoon, in which he perniciously accuses Netanyahu of carrying out a ‘final solution’ against the Palestinians.
“These comparisons fall directly into the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, who are indigenous to the land of Israel, and any attempts to delegitimise the rights of Jews to self-determination and self-defence ought to be questioned and challenged.”
The SA Jewish Report reached out to the M&G about the piece. Acting editor-in-chief Luke Feltham responded: “The article appeared in our Thought Leader section, meaning it was an opinion piece and was submitted by an external contributor. I cannot speak on the author’s behalf or to their intentions.
“We employ a thorough vetting process to ensure that all Thought Leader pieces deliver fair, accurate, and critical argument,” he says. “Our mission is to offer our readers a multiplicity of views from a variety of social and professional backgrounds. We welcome responses to articles that have appeared on our platforms.”
The SA Jewish Report also reached out to Haupt, but had not received a response at the time of going to press.