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Good or bad? That is the question




I got to thinking about what it means to be a good person. Truth is, we have no idea whether Portman is a good, bad or innocuous individual. And her choosing to take a stand against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by not going to Israel to accept her Genesis Prize (the Jewish equivalent of the Nobel Prize) doesn’t define her as good or bad.

No. What it does is show that she is taking a political stand against the leader of the country in which she was born and identifies with. In much the same way as South Africans booed former president Jacob Zuma at political rallies or marched to the Union Buildings calling for him to stand down, she took this stand.

Granted, because she is so famous and loved particularly by our tribe, she has been criticised by the yin and yang for her stand.

But this doesn’t make her bad, does it?

In the same week, Harry Potter author JK Rowling took a stand against anti-Semitism. While British Jewry are reeling from the debate over the Labour Party and anti-Semitism within its ranks, this world-acclaimed author made her point on Twitter to her 14.4 million Twitter followers. She tweeted: “Anti-Semites think this is a clever argument, so tell us, do: were atheist Jews exempted from wearing the yellow star?”

We love her that much more for doing this, but does this comment make her good? Well, my already high estimation of Rowling soared, but I can’t say it means she is innately good or bad. It is a matter of perspective.

In this week’s newspaper, we introduce you to Montoedi Seane, a 33-year-old Johannesburg businessman who came out with the ugliest anti-Semitic comments about a Jewish lawyer who did something he didn’t like. He used social media to let rip again and again against Colin Strime, the law firm he works for and Jews in general.

Had we come into the picture then, we would have unleashed all our powers against his hate speech. Instead, the SA Jewish Report hears about this from Seane, who sends us a letter of apology he wants us to print.

In the letter, he is contrite and, apparently, so repentant. He doesn’t spell out what he said, but that “did not only injure his (Strime’s) dignity, integrity and credibility as a professional attorney of many years, but also caused harm to the Jewish community, of which he is a member”.

Seane goes on to write: “I wish to retract any and all the words I used to humiliate and discriminate against him by virtue of being a member of the Jewish community, and unconditionally and unreservedly apologise to all who were affected by my comments.”

And so Seane went on.

On reading the letter initially, I believed this man was really sorry for saying something – although I had no idea what. He came across as a good person who had done something wrong and was feeling very bad about it.

As it turns out, in fact, he did more than write this letter in order to get “redemption”.

Back to the question of being a good or bad person. Some of the things Seane posted on social media were beyond horrific, based on the ugliest racial hatred. Reading what he wrote made it hard to believe there were any redeemable qualities in such a man. Is he a bad person?

Then, we find out that the chairperson of Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) South Africa, Professor Farid Esack, is to be awarded the South African president’s Order of Luthuli (Silver). Considered the highest award that South Africa bestows on its citizens, it is to be given to Esack for his contribution to human rights and research.

As people who believe in the State of Israel, and for whom its very existence and success is essential to who we are as Jews, Esack is so much more than a thorn in our side.

He is a man on a mission to see the downfall of the State. While he makes a point of always saying he is not anti-Semitic, only anti-Israel, the two are almost impossible to separate.

But has this man done any good in South Africa? He obviously has. I remember when I was a journalist on mainstream newspapers and he was on the Commission for Gender Equality. He was always very helpful and friendly, and clearly worked hard against gender disparity. But as the anti-Israel lobby gets louder in South Africa, so too does the anti-Jewish sentiment. Who is at fault for this? Is this man good or bad?

These are situations that are probably more clear-cut than most – particularly the last two, but in most people there is both good and bad.

And, as we move into Freedom Day, let’s give each other the space to be human, make mistakes and not always do the right thing. Let’s give people a real fighting chance before deciding they are pure bad.

Good Shabbos and Happy Freedom Day!

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