Words which have become rude

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What’s in a word? Depends who’s writing and reading it. The 1861 ink-splodged and messy manuscript of Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations gives insight into the illustrious novelist.  It shows how Dickens constantly returned to his text to change words and nuances and alter sentences. In politics and history, texts and words are most often changed not for literary reasons, but convenience. What’s in a word?

WHAT is a ‘location’? To most people, it’s a place. But in South Africa it was once an area inhabited by mainly desperately poor black people; when many South Africans used that word, it suggested a dirty, unsafe area, where poor people cooked pap outdoors.

The dictionary can never be an unbiased book. Every word that appears in it is coloured by history, politics, connotations and context, and is fuelled by fashion. South Africans are no foreigners to how words are poisoned and meanings changed by politicians. During apartheid, the word ‘native’ was used pejoratively for blacks as an official government term; there was even a ‘Native Affairs Department’ under the authority of the Prime Minister, Hendrik Verwoerd. Actually, the apartheid government struggled repeatedly with coining euphemisms referring to blacks. Terms such as ‘natives’, ‘bantu’, ‘non-Europeans’ and ‘plurals’ all had their day; the latter was called ‘hilarious’ by the Sunday Times in 1978. There was once a ‘Department of Plural Relations and Development.’

But the shoe always tends to slide to the other foot eventually: Many black South Africans and politicians today are too easily tempted to call a white person who disagrees with them about anything a racist, often without cause. And despite losing power, Afrikaners are still famous for using the ugly k-word to refer to blacks, although doing so publically might be called hate speech and get them into serious trouble.

Slippery, politicised meanings of ordinary words are not a South African invention, however. Is the word ‘Zionism’ an ordinary word? Not so long ago, the ideology had to be inherently part of an Israeli government’s platform for it to succeed. But what about an Arab government party? It would be absurd to expect it to call itself Zionist.

Zionism is a particularly loaded word in South Africa, where the ANC, trade unions, leftist academics and NGOs are intensely hostile to Israel. Among politicised activists in black communities, it provokes awkwardness even among people who accept Israel’s existence. For the more extreme, Zionism is akin to a four-letter word. Every word has an implied back story: Many South Africans who use Zionism as a pejorative, are veiling anti-Semitism.

Ever since Theodor Herzl’s day in 1897, the word Zionism was the most central expression of Jews’ fight for a state. Israel now exists, but ironically amongst Jews, the word is being reconsidered amidst the hurly-burly of Israeli politics. Ask Israelis if they are Zionists: many might say they aren’t, Israel is simply the Jewish country where they live and will fight to keep it secure. Increasing numbers of American Jews, alienated from Israel because of differences in world view, would not describe themselves as Zionists.

In Israel, the prospect of an Arab party joining a minority government with Benni Gantz’s Blue and White party, allowed PM Benjamin Netanyahu to attack him using the word Zionist. He derided the possibility that Blue and White might form a government supported by the predominately Arab Joint List; instead, Netanyahu would form ‘a strong Zionist government’ excluding Arab parties.

Is the word Zionism just a term which was once important, but now isn’t? Some people will angrily reject this, saying that discarding the word is a betrayal of people who gave lives for it. But did they fight for something that existed then, but has changed now, and they must change too?

Words are always a weapon or tool: it depends who uses them. What would happen if the ‘z-word’ became forbidden in contemporary society? Or fell into disuse, like ‘plurals’? Would that anti-Semitic thread simply be expressed through a different word?

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za

The thick skin of men in power

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How to cock a snoot at the law: Powerful politicians develop devious ways of avoiding accountability for breaking the law; Former South African President Jacob Zuma (above) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are old hands at this

FORMER South African president Jacob Zuma and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu share something in common: No matter how much damning proof of wrongdoing piles up against them, they continue to behave without batting an eyelid. Zuma is out of office, after nearly destroying South Africa and should be in jail, but his cheerful face still appears on African National Congress party billboards and he is seen publically campaigning for the ANC, doing his characteristic dance, with no shame. People who rejoiced at the exposure of his corruption network thought, “We’ve got him!” But he projects himself as the victim of a conspiracy, saying, “I don’t know what I have done!”

Netanyahu’s three graft charges amount to very serious misdemeanours for which he could go to jail. But no crestfallen face has ever been seen from him. Withdrawing from politics to face his charges, which would be the right thing to do in good democracies, is totally unthinkable. That’s not how Israeli politics works and not how he works. Instead, he continues to behave as if he is a brave warrior fighting a sinister barrage of odds: “Without me at the helm to provide security, the country would fall!” is his message. Sadly, most Israelis believe him, as if there are no other capable people in the nation.

He claims a conspiracy against him from the ‘left’ and has made praise of anyone to the left of his politics as equivalent to a swear word: “It is the leftists who are out to get me”.  In a right wing country like Israel, with the left in disarray, this finds fertile ears.

Zuma has never gone to jail, nor will he: the rot of corruption in every aspect of South Africa with his fingerprints on it is so deep that it will take years to examine and tackle, no matter how many commissions of inquiry work at it. By then the country will have moved on with other things to worry about.

It is highly unlikely that Netanyahu will go to jail too, given the political boiling pot which is Israel and the Middle East. The mark of a canny politician is not only what he does while in office, but how he behaves after exposure for lying or stealing. Netanyahu is still firmly in charge of what happens now.

Politics is a slippery business, not a profession which inspires ethical behaviour in Israel, South Africa or elsewhere. Accountability is difficult to impose. In South Africa, with its toxic, racial mix in politics, most potential whistleblowers quickly withdraw when faced with accusations of racism. Fear of the consequences easily turns into turning a blind eye, all the way from the level of the shopkeeper who cooks his books to pay less tax, to the highest politician who rapes his secretary.

Zuma also made headlines in 2005 after accusations that he raped the woman known as Khwezi, earning him his nickname ‘shower head’ after saying he had taken a shower after sex with her. But he still has a huge, loyal following in KwaZulu-Natal province, which threatens President Cyril Ramaphosa’s power to do what is necessary. This despite the estimated R500 billion loss to the country through state capture which flourished under Zuma.

In politics, it is often the most shrewd, not necessarily the most principled politicians who end up having the greatest effect. But it sticks in the throat to see Netanyahu arrogantly strolling the streets of Jerusalem as if all is well, with his face on Likud posters smiling at the people, just like Zuma does in Johannesburg.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za 

 

 

Looming elections: Can the centre hold?

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Settlers and police: who will they vote for on April 9? Israeli settlers are on the right of the political spectrum and will play a key role in elections on July 8. In the picture, Israeli security forces clash with settlers at Beit El trying to prevent demolition of illegally constructed buildings, on July 28, 2015 (FLASH90). South African national elections are also due in on May 8, with the ANC likely to win, but with huge problems in the country

 

TWO ELECTIONS coming up will provoke serious arguments around South African Jewish dinner tables about values. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose rightist Likud party which has been in power since 1977, alternating with Labour, has declared a snap election for April 9; he leads a confident country at the pinnacle of its economic and political power. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa heads the African National Congress and presides over a depressed country in desperate economic and political crisis, which wants him to save it from going over the cliff. Elections will be on May 8.

Every democratic society has radicals on the extremes, and a centre holding it together. It is instructive to compare the two countries. Centrist South Africans fret over Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, who claims to be on the left, but behaves like a fascist thug in a red overall, playing to the masses’ grossest emotions, like Hitler once did. Israel has radicals who would throw all the Palestinians out of their land, but a powerful centre skilled at knowing where the red lines are, and what would lead to war.

Netanyahu’s motives for calling the election are not so much about policies, but very personal: his concern about criminal charges against him for bribery, which the police have already recommended. If it was possible, he would probably have held elections sooner, so he would be doing so as leader of a popular, recently re-elected party. The Likud will almost definitely win. It’s a sad development: Israel’s previous great leaders, such as Menachem Begin, lived in small apartments and would never have flirted with corruption.

Netanyahu is a man accustomed to the trappings of power, but with his tail between his legs. According to polls, more than 50% of Israelis want him out. And his fight with the radicals, whether settlers or the ultra-Orthodox, constantly threatens to bring his government crashing down.

Ramaphosa represents the moderate left in his country, and is a resolute firefighter with a clean record, aiming to douse the meltdown from the failure for nine years of disgraced former president Jacob Zuma to govern effectively. But he has powerful political and tribal enemies; will he have sufficient time in office to do that?

The left in Israel is in disarray, both the moderate left and the radicals. It won’t recover anytime soon. But the centrist and extreme right has risen dramatically.

Bezalel Smotrich, for example, is leader of Israel’s furthest-right faction, the National Union party, and part of what he calls the “strong backbone” of the tent of the right. He could be called the Israeli equivalent of the racist, anti-white Malema. The media call him the “blue-eyed, bearded settler,” the youthful face of unashamed political and religious extremism. A second-generation settler, he was born in the Golan Heights and grew up in Beit El.

He is criticised as racist, homophobic, messianic and undemocratic – serious charges in Israel’s democracy. In 2005 the Shin Bet arrested him on suspicion of organising violent protests against the Gaza disengagement. He declared himself a “proud homophobe” and organised an anti-gay “Beast Parade” in Jerusalem to protest a gay pride parade, featuring goats and donkeys to ridicule the celebrating of so-called “deviant acts.”

To South Africans and the vast majority of ordinary Israelis, this comes across as bizarre. Smotrich would be unwelcome in South African politics – his views would be declared unconstitutional and branded as hate speech.

What attitude should Jews adopt towards the Malemas and Smotriches of this world? They vote in South Africa but think hard about Israel. Everyone must straddle the line between distaste and support.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za 

The leadership quandary: Trust me, I’ll make your nightmares real

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What kind of leaders does the world and South Africa need? As the international scenario heats up with bellicose posturing by powerful politicians, the morality of leadership takes a knock. In post-apartheid South Africa, racial tensions still fume as politicians use them for their gain. In the picture, the anti-white leader of the EFF party Julius Malema explodes in an outburst

WHAT makes a leader? Morality, humility, wisdom? The question becomes increasingly relevant as the planet seems to be hurtling towards potential self-destruction. Ordinary people watch fearfully as international leaders threaten stability in ways not seen since the Cold War. For us in South Africa, the country seems rudderless, lacking any true national leader.

Authentic leadership goes deeper than having a clean record. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been under police investigation for corruption, yet most Israelis still regard him as best choice for prime minister and vote for him, because no-one else in the political landscape seems able to ensure Israel’s security.

Israelis are anyway cynical about political leaders’ morality: President Moshe Katsav was jailed for rape in 2011; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was jailed for corruption a few years later; and Shas leader and cabinet minister Aryeh Deri was jailed in 1999 for bribery and breach of trust.

Ironically, one of Israel’s most outstanding leaders was an ardent right-winger, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who led the Likud to electoral victory in 1977 after three decades of Labour Party dominance. He was initially reviled by the left, but today is admired as a role model by people across the spectrum for common sense and propriety. He is the leader who made peace between Israel and Egypt with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, with whom he received the 1978 Nobel Prize for Peace.

In America, President Donald Trump’s chaotic tenure in the White House and irrational tendency to change positions on major local and international issues, continues eroding confidence among Americans who believe he is unfit for the job, and creates disdain elsewhere. But he sits in the power seat and could lead the world into a hell from which it would take forever to recover.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin belligerently brags about the ability of his country’s nuclear weaponry to reach targets anywhere, particularly the United States, terrifying people who fear another nuclear arms race.

What about South African leaders? Obviously the historical giant amongst them was struggle icon and former President Nelson Mandela. He is history now, although the memory of his vision lives on, disappointed as the citizens may be at his country’s decline.

And the others? President Cyril Ramaphosa has yet to prove himself; many people believe the task of reconstructing South Africa is too big for him. He succeeded in removing the poisonous President Jacob Zuma from office, but not yet the rot Zuma created.

On a much smaller, charismatic scale, we have Julius Malema. It may seem ludicrous to include him in a descriptive list containing the likes of Putin and Trump, but we are talking qualities not scale. One may not like his politics, but he makes enough noise on the national and even international stage to be noticed by people interested in South Africa. Whether his leadership brand will produce anything positive is unlikely because of his toxic anti-white racism, epitomised by his latest statement, “We are cutting the throat of whiteness,” referring to plans to remove Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip because he is white.

Sounds familiar? It is little different from apartheid leaders HF Verwoerd and PW Botha, whose target was blacks not whites.

Does a leader have to want the best for his people? Not necessarily. Hitler, as repulsive as he was, inspired Germans to move mountains, even if they were in the most depraved direction and eventually brought catastrophe down on them.

South Africa’s record on leaders is not a good one. Are there any potential Mandelas or Hitlers waiting in the wings? This country has a tendency towards great drama, and must beware of the likes of Malema, whose anti-white slogans could easily morph into anti-Indian, anti-Muslim or anti-Jew.

(GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za )

 

Filth, filth everywhere: who can you trust?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has avoided being found guilty on numerous corruption charges. Israel’s highest court has now given police the go-ahead to publicize indictment recommendations in two long-running corruption investigations which could lead to a new scenario for him (Photo: Amir Cohen)

HOW do corrupt politicians cling to power even after being fingered? In Israel, something which shields Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been accused of corruption time and time again, is Israelis’ perception that he is tough on security, which is crucial in that neighbourhood. Although disliked and mistrusted by many, his security credentials win the day.

How did Jacob Zuma stay for so long as South Africa’s president when he was clearly destroying the country? Future historians will puzzle over it, but it has something to do with the ANC’s belief that it owns the country after leading the liberation struggle, and couldn’t allow itself to be seen as installing a crook as president.

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President Jacob Zuma

It was social critic Mark Twain who said: “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”

While South Africans fume at Zuma’s shenanigans, political corruption was not invented here. It is endemic in Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere. It includes countries like Israel, to many Jews’ dismay. In the United States, law enforcement authorities are trying to nail President Donald Trump for the same thing.

Transparency International monitors sleaze in 176 countries. Its 2016 corruption perceptions index lists Denmark and New Zealand as the most squeaky-clean, least corrupt, both at number 1. At the list’s bottom, at 174-176, are the most corrupt – North Korea, South Sudan and Somalia. The United States is 18, Israel 28, and South Africa 64.

In Israel, several prime ministers in the last two decades have been criminally investigated, including Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, whose period in office is second only to Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, has been investigated for a range of things, including receiving expensive gifts from businessmen, a newspaper collusion scandal, a submarine procurement affair, a problematic natural gas deal, a Bezeq (Israel’s telephone company) probe, a case involving furniture in the two Netanyahu residences, and others.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has likened Netanyahu to a mafia boss. In July last year he listed on Facebook criminal investigations linked to Netanyahu, and he posed the question to Israelis: “Hasn’t the time come to put an end to all of this? Have we all gone crazy?”

Netanyahu was initially investigated for fraud and breach of trust in 1997 during his first term as prime minister, and was accused of appointing an attorney general who would deal favourably with a political ally. Two years later, he was investigated for fraud regarding accusations about a government contractor.

Other prime ministers have been no less suspect. In the late 1990s, Sharon was believed to have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in the “Greek Island Affair.” The accusation involved Israeli businessman David Appel bribing Sharon, who was then Foreign Minister, to help Appel win approval for a development in Greece.

Olmert was given a prison sentence in 2014 for fraud and breach of trust in the “Holyland Affair”, a housing project in Jerusalem where he was mayor before becoming prime minister. He was also convicted in 2016 of taking bribes in the “Talansky Affair” where American businessman Morris Talansky testified that he gave Olmert envelopes stuffed with cash.

Do South Africa and Israel share anything on this topic? Both countries have the sense of a grand mission. The former soared to euphoric heights through Mandela’s vision, and although things have since gone wobbly, it still resonates, although not as potently. Israel was seen by its founders as the glorious redemption of a Jewish state after the Holocaust, an inspiration and a haven for the Jewish people.

But politics is politics, and Mark Twain rings true regardless of grand ideals.

(GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za )

Refugees: home is not where the heart is – a voice from SA Jews?

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Equal pay, equal work? Israeli activists and African asylum-seekers protest outside Tel Aviv Museum of Art in April 2017 against special conditions on migrants’ salaries, designed to encourage them to leave the country (photo:Eliyahu Kamisher)

WHEN acrimonious debates arise in the Jewish world, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial intention to deport 38 000 African refugees from Israel back to Africa, voices from tiny Jewish communities such as South Africa seem very muted.

South African Jewry has long been in distress because of political chaos in the country, its attempts to find its place here as a minority group, and its rapidly shrinking size – it is less than half what it was in the 1970s and many of its best and brightest have left for safer shores. Given these internal problems, it appears there is little appetite for involvement in wider matters such as the migrants.

Jews are justifiably proud of Israel without having to trumpet its achievements to the world. However there are moments in a nation’s history when it must do something extremely public to affirm its core. This is such a moment. The status of ‘refugee’ is central to the Jewish historical experience, and Jews are being put in the position one generation later of making such a decision for others.

Some 72 percent of the migrants are Eritrean and 20 percent Sudanese who arrived between 2006 and 2012 to escape war and repression. Many live in south Tel Aviv. The Knesset gave Netanyahu the power to deport them or imprison those refusing to leave ‘voluntarily.’ There have been accusations from Israelis that they have contributed to rising crime in the area and other misdemeanors. Many Israelis want them out.

Does this little South African Jewish community have anything useful to say? The mandate of its representative organisations is to ‘protect the Jewish way of life’. Could this way of life include something about treating migrants? We have witnessed a myriad times in South African history, the effects on helpless people of governments shunting them off to inhospitable places.

Menachem Begin gave us the opposite example in 1977 when, in one of his first acts after becoming Israeli prime minister, he welcomed 66 Vietnamese ‘boat people’ who had been rescued at sea, comparing them to Jewish refugees seeking refuge during the Holocaust. He granted them citizenship. Israel was praised for its humanity.

Refugees from war and disaster zones globally are more numerous today than any time since the Second World War, estimated at 66 million. Some Western countries have taken a number in, others have refused. The 38 000 in Israel constitute one-half of 1 percent of Israel’s population – currently no threat to its demography, although obviously the future is uncertain.

Netanyahu’s intention to eject them has evoked protest in the Jewish world. Nearly 800 American Jewish clergymen signed an open letter urging him to cancel the deportations; two former heads of the Foreign Ministry, Nissim Ben Sheetrit and Alon Liel have protested; and 147 Israeli academics, 35 former diplomats, and Israeli Holocaust survivors.

El-Al pilots have said they will refuse to fly deportees to Africa; the New Israel Fund, refugee support group HIAS and rights group T’ruah have joined; ADL’s national director and CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt has protested, as well as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Irwin Cotler, former justice minister in Canada who chairs the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights in Montreal and has dealt with African migrant matters for over a decade, has lobbied against deportation. Netanyahu has accused George Soros, international humanitarian and philanthropist, of backing protests.

Are there any voices from rabbis, leaders or others here which might add a South African angle to the debate?

It would be interesting to hear the views of South African Jews – whether they agree with Netanyahu’s plan or not – on something that is not about running Israel, but about a moral issue.

(GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za )

The dirty business of politics and friendship

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A meeting of minds and hearts? President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on 20 September 2017

AMIDST the hot air sprouted by politicians during this December/January break, US president Donald Trump took the cake for something significant for South African Jews who consider themselves both Zionist and African.

This story goes back to January last year, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent the newly inaugurated Trump a warm message: “Congratulations to my friend, President Trump.” Here was a man, said Netanyahu and Israeli rightists, who would unequivocally support Israel, including West Bank settlements, and was not afraid to stand up to the Palestinians and the Muslim world – a welcome contrast to his predecessor, Barack Obama. Conservative Jews, including South Africans, backed Trump, particularly among the Orthodox, hoping he would strengthen Israel’s right wing.

He pleased them further last December by announcing that the US recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, upending decades of established US policy, and would begin moving the American embassy there. Delighted Israelis decided to name a planned railway station after him near the Old City. Photos of Trump standing at the kotel caused Jews worldwide to think he was their friend.

But be careful who you call your friend. Michael Wolff, celebrated author of the bombshell new book “Fire and Fury,” exposing the White House’s disastrous inner workings, said in interviews that Trump is racist, xenophobic and sexist, views women in “as transactional a way as he thinks about everything” and is “aware of who is Jewish in a way that feels creepy,” although not saying he is anti-Semitic. Trump denies it all.

Never one to disappoint, Trump dropped a new bombshell last week in a meeting with lawmakers at the Oval Office on immigration reform, where he called African nations “shithole countries”, provoking outrage worldwide.

Netanyahu boldly declared recently that Israel is “coming back to Africa,” amid high-profile visits to African countries to strengthen ties. Does he have the courage to criticise his “friend” Trump for his comments about Africa? Trump is child-like, and one day when he is piqued by something Israel does, will use a similar slur for it.

What do conservative South African Jews think? Will they continue applauding Trump because he supports Israel and Jerusalem as its capital? Or broadcast disgust for his comments about their African home?

They can’t hide behind the notion that it is not their affair what the American president does in relation to other countries. Trump’s words are gutter-level politics which dehumanise Africans. Jews have a long history of being dehumanised by such politics, prior to being attacked – by Nazis or others.

The African Union, representing the continent’s countries, condemned Trump. Will SA Jews stand with the AU, or refrain because some AU countries are anti-Israel? A group of 54 African countries at the UN denounced “the continuing and growing trend from the US administration toward Africa and people of African descent to denigrate the continent and people of colour.” Will Israel and Netanyahu support them against Trump?

At its recent national conference, the ANC resolved to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Israel. Jewish community organisations showed Israel loyalty by protesting and sending mass mailings to members. What about their loyalty to Africa? They may be Zionists, but they are also African.

A Jewish public statement denouncing Trump for insulting Africa could be appropriate. It might also gain credit for them in ANC ranks, or be an opportunity to agree for once with someone like ANC deputy secretary-general Jesse Duarte, who is no friend of Israel, but publically denounced Trump.

Cavorting with people like Trump may serve short-term goals for Israel as perceived by Netanyahu, but it generally comes back to haunt. Israel was built with the help of many Jews from those “shithole” African countries, including from South Africa.

 (GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za )

Risky politics as Netanyahu flatters pit bull Trump

bibi-and-trump-4THE WARM congratulatory message Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu sent US President Donald Trump after his inauguration last Friday – “Congratulations to my friend, President Trump” – highlighted the schism between Netanyahu and a major portion of world Jewry disgusted by the new president; for them, his message was cringeworthy. He was definitely not speaking for the whole of Jewry, nor the whole of Israel.

Trump expresses admiration for Israel, bemoaning its “unfair” treatment in the conflict with the Palestinians. He will discover the conflict is infinitely more complex than he imagines, and cannot be solved with his famous simplistic bombast. He is referred to as the great deal-maker in entertainment and hotels, without political experience. But he resembles an unpredictable pit bull begging the question: Will the real Donald Trump please stand up?

How will he react if the parties refuse his deal-making? The Middle East is not a hotel. When he comes up against the unceasing incitements from both sides – Palestinian terrorism and Israel’s settlement construction on Palestinian land – will he remain Netanyahu’s “friend”?

Trump’s election typifies the rise of nationalistic right wing leaders worldwide with xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes – although Trump has a Jewish son-in-law and would be outraged to be called anti-Semitic. His bellicose use of the “America first” slogan evokes memories of other populist leaders in history who pounded the table with such refrains while leading their countries to ruin.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organisation dedicated to combatting anti-Semitism which often speaks out on other forms of discrimination, pressed Trump last year to drop the slogan because of its tainted legacy from the America First Committee, the isolationist movement created in 1940 after Hitler invaded Poland. The America First Committee urged neutrality towards Nazi Germany, and even doing business with it because it didn’t threaten America directly. One openly anti-Semitic leader, aviator Charles Lindbergh, said Jews were a threat because of their control of the media, and that he was backed by a silent majority of Americans denied a voice by a hostile press. Trump, however, ignored the ADL plea.

At the over 500 000-strong anti-Trump women’s march in Washington on Saturday – part of two million demonstrators countrywide reported by AFP and CNN – a keynote speaker was Gloria Steinem, a founder of the 1960s feminist movement and daughter of a Jewish man whose family were immigrants from Germany and Poland. She challenged Trump’s assertion that he represents “the people” of America, saying: “I have met the people and you are not them!”

Trump supporters have mentioned a possible master registry of Muslim immigrants in America in response to radical Islamic terrorism. But the ADL’s head, Jonathan Greenblatt, said Americans must reject all forms of discrimination regardless of which minority group it targets. He pledged that “if one day Muslim-Americans are forced to register their identities, that is the day this proud Jew will register as Muslim… As Jews we know what it means to be forced to register.”

The Jewish world – as with broader society – is deeply split on Trump. Many conservative Jews in the United States and Israel back him, particularly in the Orthodox segment, hoping he will strengthen the Israeli right. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is an Orthodox Jew on the far right of Israel’s political spectrum who opposes the two-state solution and strongly supports the settlement movement.

How will Trump react if anti-Semitism continues rising in the United States? Will he censure its perpetrators when many – the nationalists who hail “America first!” – will probably be people who voted for him? Will his recent nasty comments on the media’s negative coverage of him eventually translate into the old slogan that “the Jews control the media”?

Netanyahu did nothing diplomatically incorrect in congratulating Trump on his inauguration. It is normal diplomatic protocol. But his message’s obvious warmth was jarring to millions who believe Trump is a potential fascist.

Some argue Netanyahu is simply playing realpolitik and sees in Trump the opportunity to strengthen Israel. But many Jews are asking: Does Israel not endorse the humanistic values which two million women marched for on Saturday in defiance of Trump?

Nobody knows if Netanyahu’s warm words towards Trump will help the Israeli PM’s cause. They may return to haunt him when the pit bull turns vicious.

(Geoff Sifrin is a journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email: geoffs@icon.co.za)

De Klerk-type leadership needed to prevent Israel apartheid

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Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, the two leaders who made the end of apartheid possible. Is their brand of leadership possible in the Mideast, to implement the two-state solution and avoid Israel becoming an apartheid state?

Many Jews will reject the warning a week ago by the last white South African president, FW de Klerk, that Israel is heading towards apartheid, that unless it urgently begins implementing the two-state solution, it will plunge into the ‘abyss’ South Africa experienced. Interviewed by a journalist in Tel Aviv while attending an anti-racism conference at the Berl Katznelson Foundation, he said Israel is not today an apartheid state.

“But,” he said, “if the two-state solution is not implemented, and if, in such a situation, the Jews have special rights while the Palestinians live as second-class citizens, Israel will become an apartheid state… As an outsider, it seems to me that the window of opportunity for the two-state solution is about to close. You might miss this chance.”

Who better than De Klerk would recognise apartheid? He was the last Afrikaner president of apartheid South Africa, who stunned the world in 1990 by announcing freedom fighter Nelson Mandela’s release after 27 years in jail, unbanning of African liberation movements, and dismantling of the racist system. He won a Nobel Peace Prize.

A common response to the ‘apartheid-Israel’ argument is that comparing Israel and South Africa is wrong. The latter had only itself to worry about. It never faced terrorism, hostile enemies and religious conflict endemic to Israel’s situation in the volatile Middle East. There was no ISIS, no external enemies poised to destroy it. Furthermore, several genuine attempts by Israel to create a Palestinian state all ended disastrously, including the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and repeated rejections by the Palestinians.

The ‘knife intifada’ currently raging in Israel will increase enactment of more rules separating Palestinians from Israelis and removing more of their rights. How can Israel prevent a Palestinian state from becoming another jihadist entity right in its heart? Is de Klerk naïve about Israel’s situation? South African solutions are not automatically transferrable.

Global politics have also changed since De Klerk and Mandela led South Africa into democracy through their sheer power of great leadership.

But therein lies the nub: it is ultimately about great leadership. Watershed moments in human history are defined more by great leaders who rose to the occasion than the circumstances ordinary people saw as insurmountable. When he was elected SA President, De Klerk represented the right wing in a right wing white party, yet he led the party to the agreement with the ANC.

“They voted for me because they thought I was the most conservative of all candidates. They were wrong about me. A leader’s job is not to follow opinion polls. Leadership requires taking an initiative, a vision, a true aspiration to improve the situation, and the ability to convince your voters that the change in the status quo will benefit them in the long-run. That’s what I did on the white side, and that’s what Mandela did on the black side. We both did it while facing harsh criticism from our camps.”

Israel has had great leaders, as have Arab countries. For example, a few years after the traumatic 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israeli PM Menachem Begin joined with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat – who had sent Egypt’s army into battle, believing it would destroy Israel – to establish peace between their countries, which has lasted nearly four decades.

Sadly, the Palestinians haven’t produced a leader with the willingness and power to meet the challenge. PLO leader Yasser Arafat was not the man; nor is PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Is Netanyahu made of that ‘right stuff’? He officially favours two states, although his actions often point elsewhere. If a suitable Palestinian leader arose, could he meet the challenge as De Klerk did with Mandela and forge a historic new path?

Some believe popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the first and second intifadas who is serving jail time in Israel, might be the one. Could he, like Mandela, make decisions from prison no one else dares make on the outside?

“The lesson we learned many years ago, before we freed Mandela,” said de Klerk, “was that you have to negotiate with whoever has the support of the majority.”

Imagine the scene: Netanyahu and Barghouti shaking hands to thunderous applause as they receive the Nobel Peace Prize, watched by billions of people, for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. Is it naïve, wishful thinking?

(Geoff Sifrin is a journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. This article was first published in the SAJR on December 2, 2015)