Van Heerden’s anti-Israel op-ed ‘dishonest and ignorant’, say experts
Van Heerden was publicly lambasted by the community for his piece: “We all owe the Palestinians our support in word and deed.”
His verbal onslaught starts, “The Palestinians are being decimated. Bombs are being dropped on them, rockets are deployed to kill them, and snipers are at the ready to finish the job where the other methods failed. It begs the question, what have these Arabs done to deserve such treatment? And, what can be done to stop it?”
When asked if he has studied the Middle East, he said, “As an international relations scholar, I take interest in a number of areas throughout the world, especially where conflict exist and political economy matters.”
He insisted that never having been to Israel or to the Palestinian territories did not mean that he couldn’t have an opinion. “Should we have made a similar demand of those millions of people around the world who actively participated in the anti-apartheid movement? Did they really have to be here to understand and appreciate the utter oppression and dehumanising situation the black man found themselves [sic] in? I found this argument flawed, akin to arguing that one cannot empathise and actively support a cause if one has not had that lived experience.”
In his piece, Van Heerden argued that there was a need to adopt the ANC’s four pillars of the struggle, namely: international isolation, mass mobilisation, underground intelligence, and the armed struggle, against Israeli.
His explanation for this proposal relied almost word for word on a controversial, highly inflammatory speech delivered by ex-CNN contributor, Marc Lamont Hill, at the United Nations International Day of Solidarity with Palestine. Hill was fired for this speech, yet Van Heerden practically lifts it in its entirety.
Simon Plosker of HonestReporting, which monitors the media for bias and inaccuracy in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, accused Van Heerden of plagiarism.
“It’s questionable, however, as to how Van Heerden’s piece ever made it past the Daily Maverick’s editor,” said Plosker.
“One of the definitions of plagiarism is copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not. We think Van Heerden’s piece certainly qualifies.
“Did Van Heerden really understand so little about the subject matter that he had to regurgitate someone else’s hateful words,” he asked.
“The Daily Maverick should be ashamed and embarrassed that Oscar Van Heerden’s lazy and intellectually flawed op-ed ever saw the light of day,” Plosker wrote this week.
Van Heerden told the SA Jewish Report, “Lamont Hill’s speech is in the public domain, and I acknowledged and attributed the speech to him, so unfortunately this does not constitute plagiarism. At no point did I pretend the content [was] mine.”
As for his heavy-handed criticism of Israel, which critics say borders on blatant anti-Semitism, Van Heerden said, “This is most unfortunate. Wherever one looks at the definition and/or understanding of anti-Semitism, nowhere does it talk of Israel as a state. Zionists make the link between the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Having a problem with the state of Israel in no way constitutes anti-Semitism.
“Arguing for the dissolution of the state of Israel in its current form does not in any stretch of the imagination amount to advocating for the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Jews. This is a poor and clumsy attempt at discrediting any persons that identify with the plight of the Palestinian people.”
According to his media blurb, Van Heerden is a scholar of international relations, where he focuses on international political economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and the South African Development Community in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and the University of the Witwatersrand. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections, and is a trustee of the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation.
Dan Diker, the head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Program to Counter Political Warfare and the Boycott Divest Sanctions movement (BDS), South African-born Israeli journalist Rolene Marks, and journalist David E. Kaplan wrote a joint response that was published as a right of reply in Daily Maverick.
They accused Van Heerden of insulting South Africa’s intelligence.
“Van Heerden isn’t the first openly anti-Semitic commentator to crucify Israel unabashedly as the nation-state of the Jewish people. However, he provides an astonishing display of academic ignorance of the Middle East, and Palestinian and Israeli society, politics, and security with monstrous disfigurations of fact.
“Far from offering a professional assessment or even the ruminations of an amateur activist untrained in the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Van Heerden issues a clarion call for the annihilation of the Jewish peoples’ ‘apartheid’ nation-state, and recommends that Iranian terror proxies Hezbollah and Hamas assist in carrying out the mission.”
David Saks, the Associate Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, described the piece as “shamelessly propagandistic from start to finish”.
He told the SA Jewish Report there was not even a “token attempt at arriving at a balanced analysis through a considered weighing up of the competing perspectives of the relevant parties”.
Rather, he said, the piece uncritically presents as indisputable fact one damning accusation against Israel after another without anywhere considering or even mentioning what Israel has to say in response to such charges.
“Such intentional intellectual dishonesty on Van Heerden’s part naturally extends to depicting the Palestinian side entirely as innocent, passive victims, who are apparently being subjected without cause or justification to a whole range of injustices,” said Saks. “Van Heerden writes not as a dispassionate political analyst, in which ostensible capacity he has been provided with a platform on what is generally regarded as a reputable news and discussion forum, but as an advocate for radical anti-Israel activism whose fundamental aim is to defame, demonise, and ultimately isolate and destroy the Jewish state. As such, it can only be regarded as a scurrilous, inflammatory attack on the Jewish people as a whole.”
Renowned anti-Semitism expert, Professor Milton Shain, told the SA Jewish Report, “More than 80 years ago, the British philosopher of history, Herbert Butterfield, identified the pitfalls of what he termed ‘presentism’ when analysing the past. ‘When we organise our general history with a reference to the present,’ he warned, ‘we are producing what is really a giant optical illusion.’ Oscar van Heerden demonstrates this lucidly. His critique is a classic example of cherry picking which fails to understand the dynamics of a complex and sadly ongoing struggle between two nationalisms.”
With his latest article, Oscar van Heerden has explicitly signed on to the BDS movement’s agenda, Saks said.