OUT TO LUNCH
I lay in bed at three in the morning the other day, worrying as ever about the prospect of living in a country with no electricity supply and a manically thieving commie government wanting to get its grubby hands on what is left of the money I have to exist on for the rest of my life, when my thoughts turned to what has been known for the best part of 100 years as ‘the Middle East problem’.
What must it be like I wondered, as I listened to what I assume was a Spotted Eagle Owl on my roof crooning to his lady, to spend the night listening to a bombardment of rockets and shells hitting the neighbourhood and awaking to the sight of the front part of your apartment kitchen lying in the garden of the neighbour below?
The TV footage of civilian damage in both the Israeli and Palestinian territories has been terribly upsetting and what we never see on news footage is how life continues under such appalling conditions. How do you patch up the gaping hole in your apartment? Where do you go for your daily food shop?
Can you get to work and earn money? These are all nightmare challenges for anybody caught in the middle of the ‘theatre of war’ as it’s rather euphemistically called. I’ve seen TV footage of Palestinian families and of Israeli families with their lives wrecked and I shed tears for them all. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___
I was fortunate enough to visit Israel on a travel journo trip in the early 2000’s. We stayed at the five-star King David hotel in Jerusalem which turned out to be a comfortable walk to the Holy City.
I awoke early in the morning long before breakfast and headed for the city, for no better reason than I had to photograph it in the early morning light. The street merchants hadn’t yet arrived and I was able to walk through Old Jerusalem virtually alone.
After breakfast I returned with some of my travel colleagues and the place had been transformed into a bustling street market. We visited all the holy sites and pushed off the next day to a Dead Sea resort for some spa treatment. On the way back to Jerusalem we visited Masada, the ancient site of a rebellion against Roman rule.
I never fail to be impressed by the brilliant innovation and genius of the Israeli people. And equally for compassion for innocent Palestinians caught in Gaza. I did a quick Wikipedia check and our density of population in the Western Cape is 45 people per square kilometre. In the Gaza strip it is over 5 000 and in the whole Palestinian areas it is 731 which gives you some idea of the impact of war in such a crowded area.
But down to business. Last week Joseph Gerassi the headmaster of the highly respected Redhill School in Sandton found himself in hot water for suggesting in a letter to parents and staff of the 14th May that:
“In the best interest of the Redhill community, one that is multi-cultural, accepting of difference, and supportive of inclusion, I urge all families to encourage their children not to discuss this issue at school and to desist from cancelling any other student on social media. However strongly you feel as a family about the conflict and who might be right or wrong, this does not give anyone the right to bully, cancel, be unkind or discriminate against anyone else”.
A brave letter indeed and one in which the head has acknowledged that even writing the letter has “put me at risk with certain people”. How right he was.
A peaceful demonstration of about 100 people, most waving Palestinian flags, took place outside the school and within hours he was being accused of shutting down debate with so called ‘media personality’ Eusebius McKaiser leaping on the bandwagon with a Tweet spitefully suggesting that Mr Gerassi isn’t even fit to run a crèche.
Joseph Gerassi, Executive Head of Redhill School, shouldn't even run a crèche.— Eusebius McKaiser (@Eusebius) May 16, 2021
How on earth is the best pedagogical response to divisive conflict to ban your students from talking about it? Use it as a learning moment to ROLE-MODEL, as staff, how to engage effectively. pic.twitter.com/ykvRdstmjv
In the same week as Mr Gerassi wisely urged pupils and parents not to pour petrol on the flames of the Middle East conflict cars bearing Palestinian flags were driving through predominantly Jewish areas of North London with men broadcasting violent anti-semitic messages through a loud-hailer. The incident was videoed and subsequently four men have been arrested for hate crimes. The incident has also been condemned by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK.
I don’t know Mr Gerassi but by all accounts, he is a dedicated teacher and a decent man and his attempts to defuse tension in a school which caters to a diverse religious population should be seen as wise and certainly not as any infringement on freedom of speech.
To subject him to cancel culture as Wokists like McKaiser want to do shows just how sick our society has become. I would respectfully suggest that Mr Gerassi was more concerned with protecting young lives than silencing debate.
This week marks two major anniversaries in my life. A year ago this week I was ‘sacked’ as a columnist from the South African Institute of Race Relations’ website “The Daily Friend” for what the Twitter mob convinced them was a racist Tweet.
So the sacking had nothing to do with what I had written for the IRR but what the journalistically ambitious Ivo Vegter (recently transferred from the leftist Daily Maverick) managed to spook them into thinking was a good reason to get rid of a popular fellow columnist.
That, and the threat of a loss of funding, such as from one of their European sponsors, persuaded them to bend the knee and crumble to cancel culture. For an organisation that claims to espouse the principals of freedom of speech and freedom of expression this came as a great disappointment to me.
But ‘cancel culture’ is a powerful force and one must appreciate that the more invertebrate among our species are particularly susceptible ... particularly when there are large wads of moolah involved.
The Wikipedia site for SAIRR contains the following entry:
“In March 2019, the IRR was criticized for working with columnist David Bullard after they announced that they were hosting an event with him at Stellenbosch University. The IRR went on to hire Bullard as a columnist for their online publication The Daily Friend. Bullard had previously attracted controversy for referring to black people as "darkies”. The IRR's head of media Michael Morris defended the decision to platform Bullard, citing freedom of speech. Morris said "It takes courage to be willing to be offended and reply with reason. That is what freedom means. Outlawing what might offend us only enfeebles and disables reason itsef.
In March 2020, David Bullard was fired from the IRR after he made a tweet defending the use of the racial slur "kaffir”.
(I was actually ‘fired’ in May and never once mentioned the dreaded ‘K’ word but why let facts get in the way of a good character assassination?)
As anybody who has half an operative brain-cell and who followed my subsequent Tweet knows the “K’’ word clearly referred to “Kleptocrat”. I make no apology for labeling our government as such, particularly in the light of the Zondo revelations, but I do find it extraordinary and troubling that an organization founded in 1929 that claims to be “one of the oldest liberal institutions in the country” should:
a) not be prepared to hear my side of the case before judgement and
b) should make no attempt to correct this online slander and
c) should crumble because of the cancel culture ethic; particularly bearing in mind their support of me at a speaking event in Stellenbosch the previous year.
On the upside though, more people now know of The Daily Friend’s existence as a result of my sacking and, from a personal perspective, my reputation as a ‘tell it like it is and fear nothing’ columnist remains unblemished. So…. a happy ending as they are wont to say in the seedier massage parlours.
The other and far more celebratory anniversary is the 40th year of my arrival in South Africa to lead a new life at age 28 initially for a few years but, what with one thing and another (such as marriage), it turned into 40 glorious years.
It’s been wonderful thank you. I’ve loved every minute of the roller coaster adventure and, even with sporadic electricity, a hopelessly corrupt government and nothing but economic gloom forecast for the future I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Particularly on a red sunset day over Table Mountain with a full glass of Cab Sauv in the hand.
The first 17 years were spent in the emerging financial markets and particularly derivative markets and that allowed me to ‘semi-retire’ for the next 23 years into journalism at age 45 with the Sunday Times, writing a weekly column and feature articles for many publication on subjects as diverse as cars, wine, travel, food and with all the attendant freebies that go with such a gig.
Thank you, South Africa, thank you the readers, thanks for all the great opportunities and, finally, thank you the haters … without you it would all have been a rather pointless experience.