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Friedman’s Limmud lecture full of ‘glaring inaccuracies’

I would like to address Prof Steven Friedman in an open letter.



Letters/Discussion Forums

Victor Gordon

At Limmud this past Sunday, I attended your lecture (“The only democracy in the Middle East?”) expecting to be presented with unassailable facts becoming of an academic of your stature. Perhaps then, you might explain what prompted you to present your audience with the following glaring inaccuracies.

Prof Friedman responds – see below

You claimed that 80 per cent of Israeli land is available for purchase by Israeli Jews only, to the exclusion of Israeli Arabs.

The fact is that 93 per cent of Israel’s land cannot be sold to anyone, Arab or Jew. Of this land, 80 per cent is state-owned and leased long term to Israeli citizens through the ILA (Israel Land Authority).

The ILA leases land to both Israeli Arabs and Jews without discrimination. In 2005 the Israeli attorney general declared that the 13 per cent of the land belonging to the JNF since 1901, originally for lease to Jews alone, should also be made available to Arab citizens. Only the remaining 7 per cent of the land is privately traded as a commodity to any willing buyer.

Secondly, you declared that Israeli passports bear the designation “Jewish” or “Arab” and not the all-encompassing  appellation, “Israeli”. This is blatant misinformation. Israeli ID cards (carried by all citizens from the age of 16) stated the ethnicity of the individual until this practice was terminated in January 2005. It has never applied to passports.

Finally, you referred glowingly to a “long-term hudna” offered to Israel by Hamas without explaining that a truce of this nature, devoid of any permanent peace treaty, is worth no more than a blank cheque to enable Hamas to rearm, reorganise and replenish over a lengthy period before resuming its attacks from a position of greater strength. 

Long-term hudnas have a maximum term of 10 years and are neither a truce or genuine ceasefire, but merely a tactical tool to gain military advantage. 

Distortions like these leave the uninitiated with a completely false take of the true facts and are unbecoming of someone who regards himself as an authority on his subject. May I respectfully suggest that in future a smidgen of care might be advisable?


If you enjoyed this tête-à-tête, be sure not to miss
the comments below, and the follow-up story

“Abu Mamzer” joins debate & Gordon has much more to say

Prof Steven Friedman responded to Victor Gordon’s letter in the print edition of Jewish Report. Here is what he wrote:

I am glad Mr Gordon feels that I am an academic of stature. I am equally glad that the “glaring inaccuracies” he identifies are not inaccurate at all.

On land: The situation up until 2005 was that the vast majority of land in the State of Israel (Mr Gordon says 80 per cent – most sources put it at 93 per cent) could be sold only to Jews.

Mr Gordon is correct that, in that year, the Israeli attorney-general ruled that it was discriminatory to make the land available to Jews only. However, he also ruled that a compensatory arrangement should ensure that the overall amount of Jewish-owned land in Israel remains unchanged.

So the principle of land allocation on an ethnic basis is still intact, which is the point I made at Limmud.

On nationality and citizenship: There is no such thing as Israeli nationality – all citizens are allocated an ethnic nationality. Attempts by Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens to secure court rulings that they are Israeli national, have repeatedly failed. Most Israelis are categorised as “Jewish” or “Arab” by the state, but there are more than 130 nationalities which can be used by the state to categorise Israeli citizens. 

This is far more than a symbolic point, since some 30 Israeli laws give people afforded Jewish nationality, privileged immigration and naturalisation rights as well as access to land and employment. The system is discriminatory, which is another of the points I made at Limmud.

On Hamas’s offer of a hudna or truce: Mr Gordon is guilty both of factual inaccuracy and passing off opinion as fact. While the current ceasefire offered by Hamas would last for 10 years, it has made other offers, which are still n the table, of 30-year or indefinite ceasefires.

It would be interesting to hear from Mr Gordon why it would make sense to offer a permanent ceasefire in order to re-arm? Even 10 years seems like an awfully long time to lay down weapons if you plan to take them up again.

Mr Gordon makes assumptions about Hamas’s motives – these are not facts. It is unethical to claim that I was misleading people simply because I happen to disagree with Mr Gordon’s assumptions.

Finally, if the Israeli state was willing to negotiate in good faith and it shared Mr Gordon’s fears about rearmament, it would be entitled to place this issue on the table in negotiations and to demand that guarantees against rearmament be enforced.

The sad reality today is that an opportunity to end the violence through negotiation, has been on the table since 1997, when Hamas first offered an indefinite ceasefire. The Israeli state’s refusal to negotiate, has cost many Jewish and Palestinian lives and it is the duty of anyone who shares the age-old Jewish reverence for life, to use all peaceful and legal means to press the Israeli authorities to negotiate a peace agreement.

Professor Steven Friedman
Director, Centre for the Study of Democracy
Rhodes University/University of Johannesburg

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  1. Mike

    Sep 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    ‘F is for fraud.’

  2. Steve Marks

    Sep 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    ‘No amount of left wing positing will alay  the fears of the Jews of Israel. It’s about Jewish survival in the sea of antisemites. Friedman misses the entire point of a Jewish state. May he never need it’

  3. Some Body Else

    Sep 3, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    ‘Prof Friedman implies that Hamas is willing to make peace with Israel. Perhaps he would care to explain why the Hamas charter calls for the complete destruction of Zionism and the Zionist entity. Perhaps he can also explain why a movement so willing to make peace took an economically viable, flourishing region (Gaza) and used all the resources available to build tunnels and underground bases for attacks on Israel instead of for the benefit of the Palestinian people.

    Prof Friedman reminds me of most people who are passionate about their views and beliefs: \”My mind is made up, please don’t confuse me with facts.\”

  4. Theo Kopenhager

    Sep 4, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    ‘The problem with Steven Friedman’s presentation was the question time. Questions were asked in groups of 4 questions, to which he replied. I agree with Victor Gordon that this gave Friedman the opportunity to deflect the answers and at best to disguise the true facts without giving the questioner the opportunity to counter what he said. Bring Friedman back next year to debate someone with the true facts at hand.   ‘

  5. Choni

    Sep 5, 2014 at 9:16 am

    ‘So why invite Prof. Friedman to Limmud in the first place.

    His anti-Israel views are well known, and his presence can only be harmfull, since there might be those uninmformed guests who might be influence by what he says.

    Dr. Kopenhager, Your ‘hatred’ of the fanatical right wing ‘settlers’ in our sacred heartland of Israel is as offensive  and hurtful as anything Prof. Friedman might expouse.’

  6. Gary Selikow

    Sep 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    ‘Steven Friedman has a pathological hatred of Israel and Israelis and his entire being is driven by this. He clearly supports Hamas’

  7. Abu Mamzer

    Sep 6, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    ‘Steven,having heard your colleague Farid Essak accuse  Israel of simulation of rocket fire,in order to justify her responses on Gaza,I know that your arguments are tantamount to psychotic delusions and not amenable to any persuasion.Not to mention Arab/Moslem funding at UJ which you need to come clean about!

    Hamas negotiate with Israel? The current ceasefire was agreed to provided Hamas did not have to have direct negotiations with Israel.(and not the other way round)

    You have referred to Israel as an Apartheid State and signed advertisements  to that effect and your multiple signatures against Israel defending itself are for all to see.

    \”Paranoid Jews\”is one reference.Thanks for the compliment but stick to Political Theory,since I’m not sure you have the credentials in Psychiatry 

    \”\”Only Democracy can protect Jews\”\”

    (Like current UK,France ,Belgium huh?)

    In essence you presented a lobotomised view of the Middle East…\”\”Israel aligning itself with Authoritarian Arabian States\”\” how dreadful ! What next.Saudi special forces will be given springboard bases in Israel to attack ISIS!

    Hamas represents the worst of  anti-Semitic Islamic fundamentalism and they have seen their Waterloo .

    Not to mention their complete violation of the Geneva Convention 4 ,which makes NO mention of \”\”Proportionality\”\” and clearly acknowledges that civilians get caught up in war.

    Mr Editor,what is the cure for these born again Bundists!Stop the Bundwagon,let me off!

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Golden Acres yom tov services a shining light



I’m sure we speak for scores of Golden Acres residents who attended the recent yom tov services in expressing our deepest appreciation to Rabbi Jonathan Fox and the management of the Chev for the most inspiring services.

Although Fox wasn’t physically present, his designated officials were outstanding. Thanks to Rabbi Gideon Waks, Rabbi/Cantor Hilly Chrysler, and Spencer Schwartz (your shofar blowing was superb) for leading the services so professionally. Rabbi Fox, the venture served as a perfect substitute for a live drosha. Thanks also to our resident kohen, Tony Damelin, for administering the priestly blessings.

A special thanks to Golden Acres residents Selwyn and Helen Meyers for their usual tireless efforts in making this operation a fulfilling success. Also to Denise Rubin and her dedicated staff for arranging seating under trying circumstances, and for all the paperwork involved.

Once again, sincere thanks to all concerned and to our fellow residents. Thanks also to the Chev for the beautiful flowers and delicious chocolates sent to every resident.

– Norman, Brenda, Choni, and Miriam

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Tribute to a man who embodies Judaism at its best



As the Torah observant manager of a busy food establishment and as a member of the Jewish community, I wish to give thanks and recognition to a pillar of righteousness.

Rabbi Yossi Baumgarten joined the United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) kashrut department more than 40 years ago, and gave the prime of his life to serve the community.

No factory was too far. No mashgiach question was turned away, even if called at 01:00.

Baumgarten addressed kashrut matters with integrity and honesty, and with a zest and energy that motivated and inspired all those who had the privilege and honour to work with him.

I once had the privilege of going on a trip with Baumgarten. The man is utter Judaism. From the way he treats others, to the way he ties his shoes and walks. His greatness is in his kindness, humility, and truthfulness.

The UOS kashrut department has been internationally recognised for decades as a result of the sterling input of Baumgarten, and this is evident by the many calls and messages he would field throughout the day from people all over the world. Whether it be a call from the Orthodox Union or the OK or Star K certification agencies, or a mashgiach or local housewife, the Jewish local community and the kosher world at large owe Baumgarten a debt of gratitude.

On behalf of the Mashgiach Association, we wish Baumgarten much strength and success in all his future endeavours.

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Letters/Discussion Forums

Deafening silence about Afghanistan, hue and cry about Israel



Tali Feinberg’s excellent piece in the SA Jewish Report (2 September) titled Africa4Palestine Compares Israel to Nazi Germany, offers sufficient expert academic opinion to totally discredit this narrative that is the backbone of the organisation’s campaign. That crusade together with the continuous use of the apartheid canard has one goal only: the total destruction and delegitimisation of Israel. Both apartheid and Nazi myths carry powerful emotive connotations.

While these falsehoods are somewhat over-played and over-used, Israel’s defensive operations are what elevates the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions organisation’s attack to a crescendo. Just months ago, the world erupted in a show of anger, with hordes filling the streets of capital cities, admonishing only Israel during a conflict with the Hamas terror group.

Contrast that to the recent get together in which Hamas and Islamic Jihad poured congratulations on the Taliban for the takeover of Afghanistan and broke bread together. These Sunni terror groups, including Al-Qaeda, share an ideology of gender violence and misogyny, and support each other in multiple ways. Of course, the Taliban’s unmentionable barbaric treatment of women has been well documented and condemned by most of the world.

Those throngs of protesters voicing thunderous support for Hamas, the blood brothers of the Taliban, now manifest a deafening silence. Where is “the squad” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib? Not forgetting Jewish college students on the left, who all had much to say in their condemnation of the only country in the region able to stand up to terrorism of this kind.

Are those protesters oblivious to the plight of Afghan girls and women?

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