The Jewish blogosphere has won another victory for decency. The leadership of the South African Jewish community had colluded to make Judge Richard Goldstone feel unwanted in his own native Jewish community at his grandson’s upcoming bar mitzvah. After hearing of threats of demonstrations outside the synagogue from the uber-Zionist faction and that the chief rabbi and chair of the Board of Deputies were also in accord with the cold shoulder, Goldstone announced that under no circumstances would he attend. He did not want to mar his grandson’s simcha with such shtuss. The Jewish communal leaders, in full-bore hypocritical mode, claimed that Goldstone made a wise choice since they didn’t wish to see his grandson’s ceremony tarnished either.
That’s when I and others in the progressive Jewish blogosphere went into overdrive. I wrote this post saying that the only way to confront a bully was by getting eyeball to eyeball and showing the bully for what he really is. I asked a group of progressive Jewish rabbis if they’d consider drafting a statement of support for Goldstone and in criticism of the South African community.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and others took this on and two days ago they released a wonderful statement. In the meantime, the NY Times’ South African correspondent, Barry Bearak, also wrote an incredulous report on the banning. The South African progressive Jewish site, Open Shuhadah Street, also posted incisive commentary on the issue.
A South African Jewish progressive just wrote telling me the Capetown Jewish leadership released a public statement distancing itself from the actions of the Johannesburg leadership. He added:
This whole event has been an unmitigated PR disaster for the Board, the Zionist Federation, and the Chief Rabbi.
All of these combined to create the final crack in the community’s resolve. Today Judge Goldstone circulated a statement from the Board of Deputies (the same body which claimed it had nothing to do with his banning) which welcomed his attendance at the bar mitzvah. The Board committed to no protests at the ceremony and invited Goldstone to address the board on the subject of his UN report on the Gaza war. A victory all around:
“The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is pleased to announce that, following consultation between all the parties involved, an agreement has been reached confirming Judge Richard Goldstone attending his grandson’s forthcoming barmitzvah [sic] ceremony.
It was agreed that a meeting hosted by the SA Zionist Federation would take place between Judge Goldstone and leadership of the SA Zionist Federation and other Jewish Communal representatives to discuss the Jewish community’s response to the report of the Commission chaired by Judge Goldstone last year and for Judge Goldstone to give his perspectives on the issue.
It was further confirmed that Judge Goldstone would attend his grandson’s barmitzvah and that there would be no protests associated with the barmitzvah.
The SAJBD respectfully requests, in light of the agreement reached, that all parties immediately desist all public activities on this matter so that the young man’s barmitzvah celebration can be returned to the privacy and dignity that it deserves.
Judge Goldstone said that “I am delighted that I will attend the barmitzvah of my grandson.””
The fact that the incident has been a PR disaster for the leadership of the Jewish community, particularly the chief rabbi, is why the Board of Deputies is requesting that we Jewish progressives desist in our criticism of the leadership. The fact that they attempt to exploit the grandson’s simcha and its supposed “privacy and dignity” in order to stop further criticism only reinforces their utter hypocrisy. They, of course, weren’t above destroying the boy’s happiness by keeping his grandpa away from the simcha previously. I don’t mind political debates or disagreement. But using a 12 year old boy as a shield from legitimate criticism is shameful.
So I want this leadership to know that if they do something like this again in the future (you see, bullies usually do revert to form unless they understand there will be a consequence for their behavior), there will be others watching them and ready to call their behavior what it is.
A round of thanks once again to Rabbis Lynn Gottlieb, Brant Rosen and Brian Walt for the statement, and to Nathan Geffen of Open Shuhada Street for joining me in this effort for Jewish reason and decency.
As I quoted Archbishop Tutu in a post last night, “love is stronger than hate.” Sometimes it is. Since the Kamm-Blau affair I’ve been deeply impressed by the power of progressive online media to break through the secrecy and hate and lay a marker down for decency and human respect. We truly can at times circumvent the barriers that these forces erect to maintain their power and we can pose an alternative that is reasonable. And when that happens, we can win the day. Amazing to think that this is possible.
One last note: Judge Goldstone in no way encouraged, orchestrated or took any role in our activities. We were motivated by nothing he did or wrote and wholly by the outrageous behavior of the South African leadership.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.