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Don’t shoot the (uncomfortable) message



I was raised by Germans. I went to sleep with the bedtime stories of Struwwelpeter where a girl sets her hair on fire because she fiddles with matches and another cuts her thumbs clean off because she refuses not to play with scissors. The blood squirts everywhere as a visual warning to those who won’t take heed. Sympathy wasn’t a staple, unlike criticism and instruction, which we understood to denote love and care.

The training was important, given that I live with hate because of my support for Israel. I’m undeterred by those who try and threaten me into silence. I have learned to not allow the bullying to bother me. If anything, it makes me more determined to write and live my truth.

Even at risk.

What does worry me is when we as Jews behave the same way when we’re taught to be different. To be unafraid of discussion and an alternative view. We’re meant to be able to debate, argue, and prove. We aren’t meant to bully those with uncomfortable opinions into silence. Insulting them because of a view is as cheap as it’s unimpressive. Especially when it proves the point that was being made in the first place.

The backstory is that in last week’s SA Jewish Report (28 April 2022), I wrote a column on my recent trip to Israel in which I raised concern that I felt less at “at home” during the trip. I deliberately used examples of a benign incident at a restaurant. The example was, of course, a meaningless one, chosen to open the discussion.

I knew that there would be a reaction. No one wants to have these discussions. But living my truth means doing so even if it’s uncomfortable. What I didn’t expect was the reaction that I received from ex-South Africans. Someone wrote that a “privileged, spoiled, wipe-my-ass attitude reflects the response” that I received.

Others chose deliberately and disingenuously to focus on the restaurant incident, knowing full well that the substance of the article was a lot more significant than that.

The attempt to shut down discussion reflects one of two things: either that no one not living in Israel is entitled to a view, or that there’s tremendous insecurity and fragility among those who are doing so.

If my very personal experience has the ability to upend them emotionally to the extent that it did, it undoubtedly speaks volume as to the precarious nature of their lives.

I don’t expect a pass. I don’t expect them to know that each day, I devote at least three hours to educating people about Israel. I receive almost daily abuse from those who would be happy to harm me. There are times when I not unreasonably think my middle name is “Nazi” because of my support for Israel.

I don’t expect them to appreciate the price I pay when the response to each article on News24 or other platforms where I take the South African government to task will be discredited by some because I support “apartheid Israel”. Or that I have to have security at my book launch because I’m a target.

But I do expect that we don’t lose sight of our values. And that’s to be able to disagree, argue, and debate without attacking the writer and without this level of hysteria and toxicity. And without group think.

The stories of my childhood aren’t recommended for everyone. I wouldn’t suggest that we raise our children on the German fables of my youth. But I’m grateful that my upbringing allows me to see that all the hate and venom deep down is simply an expression of love. After all, we’re all just brothers and sisters, no matter where we live.

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  1. Bev Goldman

    May 5, 2022 at 10:23 am

    Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! Love your passion and your sensibility. Those who refuse to criticise Israel for anything? They need to support the fact that Israel is the ONLY democracy in the Middle East and has joined the company of nations who stand fast for their beliefs, Israel acknowledges that Israelis are people like everyone else and can make mistakes!

  2. Ian Jacobsberg

    May 5, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    Can’t believe you grew up with Struwelpeter. Your parents and mine must have been the only ones in Joburg who didn’t think it was child abuse!

  3. Michael Jackson

    May 9, 2022 at 8:14 am

    Less at home in Israel because of an incident in a restaurant? Surely not!

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