By Kim Hawkey

(source: Sunday Times – April 18,2010)

activistrabbi judge 

Row over bar mitzvah deepens after Achmat refuses to apologise. Activist Zackie Achmat has hit back at the country’s chief rabbi in the war of words over a 13-year-old boy’s bar mitzvah.

Yesterday, Achmat spoke out for the first time about chief rabbi Warren Goldstein’s plan to sue him over statements he made about his handling of Justice Richard Goldstone’s reported exclusion from his grandson’s bar mitzvah.

Achmat remained firm in his stance that the rabbi was a neo-conservative.

The furore around Justice Goldstone was sparked by reports this week that the former Constitutional Court judge had been barred from attending the event in Sandton in two weeks' time – because of the UN Human Rights Council report he penned on the Gaza conflict last year. The report, which found both Israeli and Palestinian groups guilty of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during Gaza's bloody war in 2008, has been heavily criticised by some local Jews. In a short blog entry on Wednesday, Achmat criticised Goldstein's stance on the bar mitzvah, accusing him of intolerance. "Judge Goldstone has been banned by the South African Zionist Federation from attending his grandson's bar mitzvah. The chief rabbi, a neo-conservative who has betrayed the tolerant tradition of the late chief rabbi, Cyril Harris, has blessed this travesty," it read. On Friday, Goldstein threatened to sue Achmat for his "defamatory lies". He said he had instructed his lawyers to prepare court action against Achmat for the comments. Goldstein denied that Justice Goldstone had been banned from the event and said an "agreement" had been reached between Justice Goldstone's family, himself and the Sandton shul – where the bar mitzvah will take place – that Justice Goldstone would not attend. This was because the federation had threatened to protest outside the shul if Justice Goldstone was present. Achmat said the federation's threat amounted to Justice Goldstone being pressured and intimidated to retreat. "A 'compromise' is struck which, for the moment, defuses the issue. Intolerance has effectively won," Achmat said yesterday from North Carolina in the US, where he is on a sabbatical and doing work for the Palestinian Solidarity campaign. "It was this effective 'barring' of Justice Goldstone that I denounced in my blog as a travesty and which, I said, had been blessed by the chief rabbi." Achmat criticised Goldstein for not taking a stance against the federation, especially since he was a "regular participant" in the organisation's national management committee. "It is therefore reasonable to assume that he is well informed about, and is indeed partly accountable for, (the federation's) activity. "Why has he not told the public what steps, if any, he took to prevent the (federation's) threats to Justice Goldstone in the first place?"  He said that, unlike Goldstein, Harris would have condemned the threatened protest. But Goldstein said in a statement he had pushed for Justice Goldstone to attend the bar mitzvah, as he felt strongly about "the human pain" of the situation. "It is simply a question of decency and compassion for the bar mitzvah boy not to ruin his day. Politics should not ruin the day of a family celebration," he said. Achmat said he had not yet received a letter from Goldstein or his attorneys and had learnt about the threatened legal action through media reports. Yesterday, Justice Goldstone said: "I am making no comment other than to say that, in discussion with leaders of the Sandton synagogue, to which the (federation) was party, and in the interests of my grandson, I will not attend the ceremony."