COSATU letter incited hatred against Jewish community

Chief Rabbi, SAZF and SAJB say Patrick Craven's statement venomous and an affront to civilised discourse

Letter from the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, SA Zionist Federation and Office of the Chief Rabbi to COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, July 31 2012

Mr Zwelinzima Vavi
Secretary General
Fax: (011) 4030803

31 July 2012

Dear Mr Vavi

We are writing to you in our joint capacity as the three main representative communal bodies of the South African Jewish community, namely the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, SA Zionist Federation and Office of the Chief Rabbi of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues.

The purpose of this letter is to object in the strongest terms to statements made by Mr. Craven, National Spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions in a communication to Reverend Inkosi, Phakama Shembe, spiritual leader of the Shembe Church on 27 June 2012. This letter was subsequently released to the general media in the form of an official statement by COSATU. Its purpose was to dissuade the Shembe Church from participating in a march in support of the State of Israel scheduled to take place in Pretoria the following day.

It must be unequivocally stressed at this point that it is not the fact of COSATU's having taken this course of action that we object to. In a democratic society such as ours, everyone is entitled to express an opinion, even if this means robustly disagreeing with the standpoint of others.

However, this right should not be seen as a license to demonize, abuse and incite hatred against those who hold such contrary viewpoints, nor does it make blatant misrepresentations of objective facts permissible. In this regard, in terms of both tone and content, Mr. Craven's letter far exceeded the boundaries of what can reasonably regarded as fair and decent political discourse. Indeed, a court of law might well find that certain sections, and perhaps the letter as a whole, constitute constitutionally prohibited hate speech. Furthermore, Mr Craven's letter is replete with many distortions of the truth and factual inaccuracies, which are used to defame the State of Israel together with the South African Jewish community.

In moving on to note the actual contents of the letter, we will of necessity confine ourselves to those we consider to be particularly objectionable. First and perhaps foremost is his characterization of the SA Zionist Federation as a group "whose hands are dripping with the blood of our sisters and brothers in Palestine". There can surely be no excuse for such inflammatory, and indeed libelous, rhetoric, regardless of what COSATU's stance on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict might be. It is relevant to add that the SAZF is amongst South Africa's oldest, as well as most broadly representative, Jewish organisations in the country. For this reason, false and overheated accusation s of direct complicity in crimes against humanity inevitably constitutes incitement to hatred against the Jewish community as a whole.

On several occasions, Mr. Craven falsely characterizes the Zionist ideology as being an expression of Jewish racial superiority exercised at the expense of the non-Jewish world in general and the Palestinian population in particular.

He does not confine his vitriol to Zionism as a national-political movement, but also makes overt and very ugly inferences about the Jewish religion as well.

Denying by omission the historic and religious connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, Craven writes that "... Their occupation and the theft of the land and natural resource of the indigenous people is nothing but a legalisation of Jewish supremacy to further dehumanise everyone outside their scope of Zionist purity...." Further on, he declares that "Zionism refers to those that believe in a state exclusively for the ruling supremacists at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian people because they view themselves as ordained by God to do all it takes to defend their privileged position".

All of this serves to propagate, ostensibly under the guise of anti-Zionism, one of the vilest antisemitic canards, namely that Jews regard non-Jews with contempt and will stop at nothing to advance themselves at their expense.

Such venomous rhetoric has characterized anti-Jewish propaganda throughout history, frequently with lethal results.

In addition to distorting the theological concept of Jewish "chosen-ness", falsely characterizing it as an expression of Jewish racial superiority in clear contradistinction to the way Jewish theologians have always understood it, Craven even seek to stir up anti-Jewish feeling within the Christian community. Specifically, he writes the Israeli town of Nazareth is "part of historic Palestine", that the majority of its inhabitants are descended from the very people who lived there during the time Jesus did and that these "descendants of Jesus" were now being harassed by the Israelis.

What this does is not only to brazenly deny the well-established facts of Jewish history, which is inextricably bound up with the Land of Israel, but also ironically to contradict Christian theological tradition as well. No believing Christian, after all, denies that Jesus was a Jew who lived and preached among fellow Jews. Such outrageous theological and historical revisionism has, unfortunately, become part and parcel of official Palestinian propaganda in the contemporary era. The question is why COSATU should choose to endorse it.

There is a great deal more in Patrick Craven's letter that breaches the boundaries of civilized debate. This certainly true of how Black South African Christians, who of their own free will are amongst the most committed and sincere supporters of Israel, are portrayed as having been hoodwinked and manipulated by white Zionist Jews just as certain blacks were persuaded to collaborate with the apartheid regime. In addition to depicting South African Jews as a manipulative, untrustworthy force, this appeals to anti-white racial resentment and grossly insults the intelligence of pro-Zionist black Christians.

Taken as a whole, this letter issued in the name of COSATU is an affront to civilized discourse. It is an inflammatory, hate-filled attack on the integrity of the Jewish community leadership as well as on the deeply-held convictions of the great majority of its members. This, surely, is not the way South Africans talk to one another.

Indeed, Mr Craven's letter is so vulgar and aggressive in its tone and content that it is far beyond the pale of ethical behaviour and constitutes a violation of the most basic values of our Constitution, such as dignity and equality.

Therefore, we call upon COSATU to distance itself from such an aberration and to commit itself to a dialogue and discourse with its fellow South Africans that is in keeping with our South African dream of a society based on human dignity and respect for all.

Yours sincerely

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein - UOS SA Chairman

Mrs Mary Kluk - SAJBD

Mr Avrom Krengel - Chairman, SAZF

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