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Jewish policing in sa overstepped

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By Virginia Tilley

(source: BusinessDay – 26 April 2010)

It is gratifying to see the chief rabbi, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) come into such domestic and international disrepute. Newspapers here and abroad are covering the scandal of Justice Richard Goldstone’s effective exclusion from his grandson’s bar mitzvah and aghast editorials are springing up in the four corners of the world.

And the latest round of hasty explanations only shows they are justified: the Jewish so-called “leadership” (unelected) in SA abandoned its spiritual responsibilities so long ago that, facing this opprobrium but in fact fully endorsing a cruel and heartless attack on one of the community’s most eminent and principled members, the chief rabbi can now only offer flimsy rhetoric about “open shuls” that convinces no one (Judge welcome in shul despite report, April 21).

In fact, for many decades the SAJBD and the SAZF have worked hand-in-glove to police the political views of Jews in SA. Anyone who spoke up against Israel’s policies, including the most bloody and shocking of its actions, is deliberately shamed and ostracised, and anyone contemplating similar freedom of expression is accordingly frightened into silence. With impunity and encouragement by the SAJBD, the SAZF (and its thuggish Israel Media Team) even litter denunciations of progressive Jews in the very pews of the shuls, so that named attacks stare at worshippers from the back of the service programme or general community information. Imagine what this means to a father who had the courage and principle to offer his own ethical commitment to opposing Israel’s policies in public — in the finest tradition of free Jewish thought, we might remember — to find tracts naming him as a traitor to the Jewish people confronting his sons as they sit down to worship G-d on a Friday evening. It is clearly reprehensible that a commitment to silencing differences within the Jewish community about Israel and its policies has extended even to gate-keeping Jewish access to the Jewish religious community in SA. It is just as reprehensible that this strategy has worked so effectively — until now. The good news is that these sordid methods finally overstepped and assaulted an internationally admired jurist, and the nation and the world have finally realised what is going on. May principled and honest Jewish South Africans take this opportunity finally to stand up and speak out for the great tradition of Jewish freedom of expression. Meanwhile, the rest of us can consider the deeper implications. Forced ethnic solidarity in the name of state security is something we have seen before.