How South African Jews ‘protected’ their youth from the Shministim

It is not surprising that the same quarrels among Jews that we see here in the US are also at play in other parts of the world. Take for example South Africa, the land that gave us the word Apartheid.

Check out this cartoon, that appeared in the Mail and Guardian last week…Zapiro cartoon at South Africa\

Before anyone goes running to the hills, shouting ‘Anti-Semitism,’ let’s clarify… the cartoon was drawn by South African leading cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (aka “Zapiro”), who is Jewish and whose kids go to the Herzliah school depicted in the cartoon.

What’s going on here?
the cold shoulder that the institutional Jewish community gave the three Shministim — young Israeli concientous objectors — as they visited South Africa.

Here’s how the event organizers, Open Shuhada Street, describe the welcome the Shministim got there.

The Shministim were called cowards and traitors. Their Jewish identity was questioned. Someone shouted “They should be lynched”, another shouted “Knock some sense into them.”

And here’s the local Jewish weekly describing the event (South African Jewish Report, Oct 16, p.5):

Despite repeated appeals for calm and respectful debate which fell largely on deaf ears, there were frequent interjections from hecklers who disagreed vociferously with the speakers’ stance.

After the stormy meeting, this reporter was approached by an aggressive young individual who demanded that photographs taken of him be deleted “immediately, before I smash your camera against the wall”. Security was tight and the two speakers were escorted from the hall through a side entrance after angry audience members mobbed them following the formalities.

In a letter to the Jewish Board of Deputies, the tour organizers call things by their name:

We consider these incidents antisemitic because the hatred reserved for Jews who criticise Israel is more intense than the ill-feeling towards others who do so, and because Jews who criticise Israel are sometimes blamed for all subsequent criticism of Israel. They were in our view directed against Jews for being Jews. Their vehemence was exacerbated by the belief by these right-wing elements in the community that the Jewish members of Open Shuhada Street and the Shministim are traitors.

They further explain how this environment of verbal and physical hostility was not only condoned, but encouraged:

Before the meeting, David Hersch, a senior office bearer in the South African Zionist Federation, sent out a widely circulated email … It all but directly called for a disruption of the Albow centre meeting. In it he stated, “Fanatics just get stronger in their beliefs and agenda the more they are opposed and confronted, but oppose them and let them know they cannot operate with impunity we all must.”

David Hersch’s complaint about the ‘fanatics’ in the Jewish community are ironic given the fanatic tone of his email. It turns out that he published the names, work numbers, home numbers, and cell phone numbers of the members of the Jewish Board of Deputies and Zionist Council, and asked anyone who would listen,

Phone all these people, not just one. Make sure you speak to them and voice your concerns and opinions. If they do not take your calls or call you back, then they have no right to sit on these bodies as representatives of our fine community and should be replaced or voted off…

Why should they be voted off?

Let me spell out their treason: they issued a public statement to the media condemning the Shministim, but that was not enough. They made sure that no Shministim talk took place in any Jewish school in South Africa, but that was not enough.

Their opposition to the Shministim was not ferocious enough, according to Hersch.

Whatever you do, never give your cell phone number to this fanatic guy, David Hersch!

As I mentioned, the Shmnistim held a meeting with 60 young people at a cafe opposite the 1,800-student Herzlia School, since they were barred from speaking at the school.

Here’s the opinion of Daniel Shalem, a 12th grader in a Johannesburg Jewish school. I reprint almost in full the letter to the editor he sent to the South African Jewish Report — the country’s Jewish weekly.

Please read it and judge by yourself whether South African Jewish youth needed to be protected from the message of the Shministim…

Although I disagree with their refusal to join the Israeli army, I went to the discussion with an open mind (hoping that others would do the same) in order to give them a chance to explain their side.

I was interested in hearing their views because I have been predominantly exposed to a one-sided view of the Israeli conflict regarding its occupation, because I grew up in an Israeli home in which I was exposed predominantly to one side of the conflict.

In addition, I attend King David (Linksfield) High School. A school is a place in which one should be encouraged to learn about academia as well as the world. But how can I formulate opinions about matters in the world when I only hear one side?

The school refused the Shministim permission to present their argument to us. How dangerous is that!

The danger is evident when people formulate uninformed opinions due to the fact that they have only been exposed to one side. I realised this at the Jabula discussion.

We struggled to hear one another on a very basic level. We could not even engage in a constructive discussion. The reason I was shocked during the discussion is because people started attacking the Shministim on a personal level.

They had no interest in what these Shministim had to say. They had no interest in listening to their journey and experiences. They had no interest in hearing about their experience in jail or the atrocities they have witnessed at the tender age of 20.

It is almost as if those being opposed to them, came to the discussion with the sole intention of attacking the Shministim.

I find that we have one idea drilled into our heads and the thought of an opposing idea being valid is simply an impossibility.

I was unaware of how far away from peace we are. Never mind the conflict in Israel, we have our own conflict here, in South Africa: and lack of respect for one another. This is the first challenge.

The Shministim came here with many goals: to learn but also to teach. They taught me the true meaning of the concept of listening to both sides before reaching conclusions.

They also taught me about the conflict. Things are occurring in this conflict that would shock every single human being with a conscience. Yet they occur on a daily basis.

The Shministim believe that all we need to do to begin preventing these atrocities and paving the way forward is to listen to the other side. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is – we cannot even listen to
each other in a small room in the Jabula Centre in Sandringham!

It must be reminded that I disagree with many aspects of the Shministim’s struggle. However, I agree with others. This allows me to formulate a more informed opinion. This is what constructive discussion is about.

Last word to the Shministim themselves. This is the speech they gave at the Ashley Kriel Memorial lecture at the University of the Western Cape. The lecture is given in memory of the murdered 21 year old anti-apartheid activist who was a model for youth struggle and principled resistance. Here are the Shministim in their own words.

– Sydney Levy

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