Like little learner stormtroopers

Jeremy Gordin on the disruption of Yossi Reshef's piano recital at Wits and related matters

The older I become, the more bored I grow with so-called "politics". Discussing JG Zuma reduces me to deep fatigue. Thinking about luminaries such as Nathi Mthethwa and Angie Motshekga forces me to withdraw to the bottom of the garden where I sob uncontrollably.

I realize that this means that sooner rather than later the editor of Politicsweb shall have to give me the Order of the Boot. That's okay, I'm getting close to retirement age; and when I retire, I shall not, like some people we all know, spend my time defacing this website with a plethora of idiotic and illiterate opinion.

I shall decamp, like the Bullfinch, to Stellenbosch in search of fromage and frottage.

Now then, one sector of "politics" that really injects a profound ennui into my system is the Israel/Palestine question and all who and which sail in her.

I find it infinitely tedious to debate whether Israel is an "apartheid" regime (or not ... could the answer be not?? ... nah, perish the thought ...) - because no one in Israel/Palestine really gives a damn what we think and I can tell you for free that just now the Syrian people don't give a toss either.

If a bunch of righteous Seffrican students, lecturers, ANC lackeys, young Communist nitwits, and other bozos - who are feeling left out of the mainstream or can't get laid, and who, instead of going to do something socially and politically useful, like collecting the shit buckets in Missionvale, Eastern Cape, if they want to hold an Israeli apartheid week at Wits - that's fine with me. Whatever gets you through the night, as we used to say in the 70s.

Similarly, if certain gelded ministers of the realm - Marius "genius" Fransman, Ebrahim "Ibie" Ebrahim, and Rob "label it, baby" Davies - if they want to flex their limp dicks and waste our time and money by fulminating against Israel when their fulminations actually have no effect whatsoever and when there is actually some serious work that needs doing locally ... well then, as Arik Sharon might have said, anee mzayen autam b'tachat, I'll slip ‘em the big chiluga via the back door - and be done with the matter.

Anyway, they do serve a purpose in that they give the jovial and over-enthusiastic editor of Johannesburg's My Shtetl something about which to wax hysterical. However, a matter has come up that requires me to apply my mind and maybe to nail my colours, naartjie and puce, to the mast. So I turned to my friend, Roy "Roykela" Isacowitz, who lives in Tel-Aviv, for assistance.

Roy comes from an excellent blood line. It was his paternal Bobba, a more frightening personage than Golda Meir, who first named him "Roykela". When we arrived back from Israel on our first visit home, circa 1971 - remember our hair hadn't been cut for about three years by then - Bobba said: "Roykela, cut your hair, don't be a hippo."

Second, Roykela has always been more interested in "politics" than I have; I was much more interested in nookie. Roykela writes a fine - and I think very brave - column straight from the heart of the er, Jewish state. (I left Israel after five years; Roy stayed on - and off - for the next 35.) The column's called the Kibbitzer: Grumpy Reflections on Israel's Descent into Madness (see here), and some of the columns have run on this site.

Roykela is, then, for obvious reasons, besides my ennui, much more in touch with the Israel-qua-apartheid-state debate than I am. So I asked him, my rebbe on this subject, what he thought.

"It all depends," he replied, "on whether you're using apartheid as an adjective or a noun. Nazism and Italian fascism were very different, but they were both fascist systems. Likewise, South African and Israeli racial discrimination are very different, but they both discriminate against people on the basis of their race. That, as I see it, can be defined as apartheid (lower-case "a") - a system discriminating against those subject to it on the basis of race etc. But it's not Apartheid (upper-case) - the system of racial discrimination practised in South Africa.

"In a piece I wrote a couple of years ago," Roy continued, "I argued that apartheid was, above all [sic - bit of hyperbole there, Roykela?], a psychological condition. The racist legislation, social separation, economic discrimination etc. were only possible because people were emotionally attuned to them. Fertile ground. In that sense, Israelis are apartheid-ready."

Okay; fair enough. Then I asked Roykela what he thought about the BDS (Boycott, disinvestment and sanctions) movement. And I noted that many of its members and leaders seemed to be propelled by good ‘ol Jew-hatred, including the Jewish ones, though of course they always scream blue murder when you accuse them of anti-Semitism. They say that the accusation stems from Jews not being able to handle criticism of Israel. 

"I know very little about the ins and outs of BDS," replied Roy [an Israeli by passport], "though in principle I support it. I don't doubt that there are true anti-Semites among them and that fundamentalist Islam has infiltrated it and so forth. But Israel deserves to be boycotted, however unsavoury some of the boycotters.

"When a country defies the collective international will, as expressed in UN Security Council resolutions and so forth, the practise is to impose sanctions of different sorts. That was true of SA and it's true of Zimbabwe, Iran, Syria, etc. So why not Israel?

"Personally, I'm in favour of all sanctions, especially those which will make Israelis feel isolated - travel restrictions, sports and cultural boycotts, etc. Israelis love to be cosmopolitan and those things hurt. But, at this stage, I'm happy to go along with sanctions which focus on the settlement enterprise, which seems to be where several countries are starting. Israel needs to understand that there's a price to being assholes."

Well, there we have Roy's view. I think Roy's being provocatively naive about the UN Security Council and all who sail in the UN - all governments, that is. (I.e. he knows better, I know he does.) But Roykela's entitled to his view - and it's good one to air because most Seffrican Jews don't like to hear it. For obvious reasons, they're deeply defensive about Israel and rationality exits the precinct.

But now let's shift to another matter. On March 12, the bozos from the Wits SRC (see para 5 above), as part of their Israeli apartheid week or whatever it's called, barged, like little learner storm troopers, into a recital by a pianist named Yossi Reshef. They bullied the people already there and those trying to get into the Atrium in the SW Engineering block. These people were, given the sort of event that it was, mostly elderly.

Now then, Reshef, though Israeli-born, lives and works in Germany. Nor was he brought here by any Zionist or Israeli government or embassy organization. He received help with his airfare from something called "Tararam", which, judging by its name, is some kind of South African/Israeli (donor-funded) fund for musicians.

But the bozos, many wearing their Wits SRC regalia, first disrupted the concert with vuvuzelas etc and then broke in through a back door - this on the Wits campus - and curtailed Beethoven - and, as I noted, frightened, intimidated and swore at many people. Brave boys.

Wits security personnel were too few - or maybe, as they are wont to do, had disappeared for the nonce.

Here's Reshef: "I am a musician, not a politician. I am an Israeli, but does this make me a representative of my country's policies? The fact that in many places it is mentioned that I live in Germany (and I am very happily making music there) seems to have no relevance. ...

"It is also quite obvious that the perpetrators are unaware of my activities which support dialogue and the peace process in the Middle East, among them my 8-year coaching of Israeli and Arab Students (Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian and so on) in the ‘Playing for Peace' project organized by the Apple Hill Chamber center in New Hampshire, USA and my concerts together with an Egyptian pianist as part of the European Mozart Academy. However, this clearly made no difference to those bent on disrupting my performances simply because I originate from Israel. ...

"Following my experience at Wits I travelled to Cape Town to perform at a fund raising concert for ‘Save a Child's Heart'. This Israeli organization has done tremendous work in operating on children with heart disease, most of them Palestinian. There was no demonstration at this concert. Perhaps the organizers of the demonstrations thought it would be a little bit too silly to demonstrate against the people who help them."

Prof Loyiso Nongxa, the vice-chancellor, put out a statement: "The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, deeply regrets that a concert held on its campus last night was disrupted by some members of the University community and representatives of external organisations. The University is investigating this matter and will take the appropriate action based on its policies, processes and procedures. 

"In light [sic] of this incident, the University offers a public apology to the organisers of the event and all who attended the concert. The disruption of this event points to intolerance on the part of some members of the University community and goes against the core values espoused by the University."

Ja, well, let's see what happens. Whatever you do, don't hold your breath. The mills of Wits not only grind slow, they also grind exceedingly poorly. Let's also see, when the next, similar incident takes place, whether the new VC, Adam "dial-a-quote" Habibi, is going to issue such a sweetie-pie statement.

But what I'm trying to do is to join the dots between what Roykela has explained and Israel apartheid week and bullying a bunch of mainly ou ballies, mostly probably Jewish, who'd come to Wits University to hear an Israeli-born pianist do his thing. We don't get too many visits any more from leading concert pianists.

I'm also trying to figure out why, notwithstanding my attitude to the matters under discussion, I sincerely regret not having been there and therefore having missed the chance to swing a couple of those wooden chairs. And it wouldn't have been the pianist or the old folk at whom I would have been aiming.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter