I refer to the review essay “The People who said ‘enough’“ written by Janet Smith (19th September, 2013) which discusses the recent book Why Israel? by Firoz Osman and Suraya Dadoo. The reviewer – not unusual for a reviewer – clearly enjoyed the book and found its arguments persuasive. What I found astonishing is that your paper found it necessary to afford a right to reply to another entity – The SA Jewish Board of Deputies – that would probably not enjoy the book – on the same day and page where the essay appeared. This is a significant departure from standard journalistic norms for reviewing books (invariably an opinionated endeavour). Reviewers do their thing and editors judge it unworthy or worthy of publication. In the case of the latter, readers are free to write in to agree or disagree.
My first question is “What unspoken editorial issues, anxieties and fears of backlash from which lobbies prompted this deviation from the standard norms for publishing a review essay?”
My second question is this: Given that the book deals with Israel and not with South African Jewry, why was the SA Jewish Board of Deputies approached for a response? There is an Israeli embassy in South Africa (however distasteful many of us may find its presence in a post-apartheid county) and it does represent the State of Israel. I accept that most South African Jews support Israel but – given the ad nauseum and untested claim of the Jewish Board of Deputies that they represent all Jews in South Africa – surely they should remain silent on matters wherein the Jewish community is divided. (Unless, of course, they employ the kind of Apartheid logic used against the likes of Braam Fisher and Beyers Naude by many Afrikaners that ‘Because you opposed apartheid you are not really an Afrikaner’). Why is a group that represents a South African religious/ethnic community presumed to be automatic spokespersons of a state thousands of kilometers away? What business (or business interest) did you have in approaching them for comment?
Finally, shouldn’t The Star have insisted that they at least read – or pretend to have read – the book before providing them with editorial space to condemn it?
Written by Professor Farid Esack
Farid Esack is a South African Muslim liberation theologian, Professor in the Study of Islam and Head of the Department of Religion Studies at the University of Johannesburg.