The Mercury

September 20 , 2013

What seems quite apparent is that David Saks, in his attack on Why Israel?  entitled “Driven by unthinking antipathy to Israel and the US” (Mercury, 18 September) –  has not even read our book! If he did, then we are sure that he would have commented on the more than 55 pages that explore how the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) – of which Saks is the executive director – has intimidated South African critics of Israel; vilified journalists and commentators; and consistently evaded debate on the question of Israel as an apartheid state.

Did Saks miss the pages that described how the SAJBD tried to strike a backroom deal with the SABC in July 2007 to ensure that there was more pro-Israel coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Of course, we can well understand why he would want to avoid discussing this particularly embarrassing episode, since it did not make the pages of any mainstream newspaper in South Africa – and he would not want it do so now!

We also cover how Saks included journalists Tim Modise and Mathatha Tsedu, and renowned academic and anti-apartheid stalwart Barney Pityana,  in anti-Semitism reports for the Stephen Roth Institute, when these highly-respected commentators attempted to provide balanced accounts of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We wait to see if Ivor Blumenthal’s December 2012 lament of not being able to stone South African anti-Zionist Jews to death, will feature in the next anti-Semitism report that Saks compiles. Incidentally, we also cover Blumenthal’s chilling rant and SAJBD’s mild disapproval of his statements in Why Israel?

Saks has also overlooked the sections dealing with a sustained 18-month campaign of family and personal pressure and intimidation from the SAJBD’s sister Zionist organisation, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) on Justice Richard Goldstone. Goldstone headed a damning UN Human Rights Council enquiry that found the Israeli government guilty of war-crimes during Israel’s 2008-9 bombardment of the Gaza Strip, code-named Operation Cast Lead. Goldstone wrote to Archbishop Tutu saying: “when the attacks started – they were vicious personal attacks on me…” It is rather instructive that Ronnie Kasrils – one of the Jewish community’s greatest and most celebrated anti-apartheid struggle stalwarts – recently reiterated at the Johannesburg launch of Why Israel? that the attacks and abuse that he received from the Zionist lobby in this country, including the SAJBD and SAZF, was far worse than anything he faced from the apartheid South African government.

Saks also seems to have ignored the core of the book which discusses Israel’s numerous  violations, and its status as an apartheid state, in terms of international law. We are not surprised that Saks’ entire piece did not even mention the comparisons between current-day Israel and apartheid South Africa, since the Zionist lobby in this country has a long history of evading debate on this issue. Saks’ own SAJBD recently refused to participate in a debate at Rhodes University on this very issue.

Rather than trying to discredit Why Israel? and Media Review Network, Saks would be better off reading the sections in the book that  examine Israel’s collaboration with apartheid South Africa, and the role of the SAJBD in aiding South African apartheid. This might help him reflect on how the SAJBD is again defending an apartheid state.

Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman are the co-authors of Why Israel? The Anatomy of Zionist Apartheid – A South African Perspective (Porcupine Press, 2013) and members of Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based advocacy group.