One of the things I’ve discovered in writing this blog for seven years is that there is only one way to deal with bullies. You have to face them down and expose them. Most will back off. That appears to be what may be happening in South Africa regarding the herem into which the Jewish leadership had placed Judge Richard Goldstone, who’d hoped to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah there next month.
After threats from various uber-Zionist groups to picket the bar mitzvah service at the synagogue and tumult within the congregation, Goldstone felt he had no choice but withdraw from the event. But now that the Jewish progressive blogosphere, the N.Y. Times (h/t to reader Robin), and even Rep. Gary Ackerman have weighed in, the bullies are retracting their claws and reconsidering their brutishness.
The chief rabbi had been involved in the original discussions about Goldstone not attending the ceremony, and presumably endorsed the community’s position. Amazing when a N.Y. Times reporter calls how quickly one can change one’s tune, or has he?
Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa, said he had been involved in discussions about the possible disruptions to the ceremony…
But on Friday he issued a statement saying that he, like most involved, believed the judge should be allowed to attend: “It is simply a question of decency and compassion to the bar mitzvah boy not to ruin his day.”
Since those who endorsed the herem did so out of a fake concern for ‘ruining the bar mitzvah boy’s day’ (with protests and the like), I have to wonder what Goldstein really means here. What would ruin the boy’s day? Not having his grandfather there? Or facing the howls and whistles of the Jewish mob if his grandfather was there?
If Goldstein is backing away, not everyone is seeing the light. Some leaders are attempting to rewrite history to absolve themselves of any responsibility or fault in this shande. At one time, Zev Krengel, South Africa Board of Deputies chair, had called Goldstone “a traitor to his tribe.” Open Shuhada Street notes that he also called Goldstone the worst thing to happen to Jews since the Inquisition.
Note how Krengel now blames the victim for his own exclusion from his grandson’s simcha:
It has been widely reported in the media that Judge Richard Goldstone has been barred from attending his grandson’s barmitzvah [sic] as a result of pressure from certain sectors of the Jewish leadership. While it has not been involved in this matter, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies was concerned that it would turn into a divisive issue within the Jewish community, and has therefore carefully investigated it to establish the correct facts.
What has emerged is that…at no time was Judge Goldstone prohibited from, or even requested, not to attend the barmitzvah ceremony by any organisation or individual. Rather, this was a decision voluntarily taken by the Goldstone family and the other respective parties. Certain senior Jewish communal and religious leaders were certainly involved in the discussions around the topic, but in no way did they attempt to dictate to or otherwise pressurize the family into arriving at their decision.
A character in Joan Micklin Silver’s Hester Street tells another:
“You can’t piss on my back and tell me it’s rain.”
That’s what Krengel is doing here. The hyper-Zionists of the community threatened pickets outside their synagogue and every unpleasantness they could muster if Goldstone attended. Yet they had nothing to do with his decision to stay away. Have you ever heard of such hypocrisy?
Though I am not Richard Goldstone and can offer my kopek’s worth of advice uninvited, I would urge him to heed the advice of a South African Jewish friend:
Justice Arthur Chaskalson, who served with Judge Goldstone on South Africa’s Constitutional Court, said the threats “reveal a level of bigotry and intolerance meant to shut down any diversity of opinion.”
He said he hoped his friend would reconsider — and come anyway.
Judge Goldstone: face down the bullies. Don’t give them the satisfaction. They will likely run and hide and you will carry the day.