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Threat to Freedom

In a recent op-ed published in a number of newspapers, the Chief Rabbi writes that the international campaign of delegitimising Israel is a form of intellectual tyranny and a threat to freedom.

Published in The Business Day, Cape Times and Natal Mecury in August 2010

For many years it has been unfashionable to support the justice of the cause of the State of Israel. Times have changed.  It is no longer merely unfashionable; it has become, for many, morally unacceptable too.  Now, the view that Israel is guilty of heinous crimes against humanity is regarded as incontrovertible and obvious.

These conventional wisdoms, created by a worldwide campaign to delegitimise Israel have led to a form of what one could call intellectual tyranny. Just as political tyranny crushes dissent and imposes its views through intimidation, so does intellectual tyranny.   Political tyranny uses elaborate networks of secret police, prisons and kangaroo courts, and intellectual tyranny uses elaborate networks of international activists, institutions and media, which seek to intellectually and morally delegitimise all opposition. The defining feature of this intellectual thuggery is that ideas, rational arguments and facts are not important, and anyone who dares to challenge its narrative of Israel as the villain is dismissed as a racist, right wing apartheid supporter at worst.

Allow me to share with you a recent and classic example of this phenomenon.  Allister Sparks wrote an article in which he appears to accuse me of suggesting that Richard Goldstone ought to have recused himself from the UN Gaza Enquiry because he is Jewish, and of requiring him to prefer his ethnic identity to his moral and professional duty. This is simply not true. I have written a lengthy article on the Goldstone Report which was published both locally and internationally (and is on my website www.chiefrabbi.co.za), in which I never once mentioned Goldstone’s Jewishness.  I pointed out five fundamental legal flaws in the Goldstone Report, one of which was that all four commissioners, including Goldstone himself had, before their appointments, expressed in public their disapproval of Israel’s conduct in the Gaza War. In any civilized legal system, a judge who has so acted is obliged to recuse himself. My point had nothing to do with ethnicity and everything to do with basic procedural justice. All my arguments challenging the legal foundations, both procedural and substantive, of the Goldstone Report have been on record since October 2009. Significantly, neither Goldstone nor Sparks, as far as I am aware, have responded to these arguments. The Israeli military report upon which Sparks relies certainly does not vindicate Goldstone’s findings, and, in fact, is a credit to Israel’s open and critical democracy.

As a religious leader, I feel duty-bound to speak out because of the moral injustice being perpetrated against Israel and her supporters, who are not being given a fair opportunity to defend themselves because of the intellectual thuggery of the international deligitimisation campaign. Tyranny, whether political or intellectual, destroys truth and freedom, and crushes innocent victims in the process. 

As a religious leader I also feel a duty to speak out because there is so much at stake, since without truth there can be no justice nor peace. As the Talmud says, “The world stands on three things: truth, justice and peace.” These three values are linked. Without truth there can be no justice, and ultimately there can be no peace. World peace and stability are in jeopardy because in the court of public opinion only one side of this conflict is being heard.  What if, as so often occurs, the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if Israel is not an apartheid state, but rather the only truly free, democratic state in the Middle East that has, at great loss of life for its own citizens, relentlessly pursued peace? What if the real obstacle to peace is not the establishment of a Palestinian state, which could have been achieved, but for repeated Arab rejection? What if the real obstacle is the deep rooted racist opposition to a Jewish state in the region? What if we take the democratically elected Hamas government seriously when they say in their founding charter that their aim is murder of all Israeli Jews, and in fact of all Jews anywhere? What if we take the Iranian President Ahmadinejad at his word when he says that he intends to wipe out Israel’s almost six million Jews (that familiar number again)? What if Israel is on the front lines of the war between freedom, democracy and human rights on the one hand, and that of a fascist, religious oppression on the other? 

The answers to these questions are immediately relevant to us all. The forces that seek Israel’s destruction could be the very same forces that threaten the civilized world.  If they are, we need to know that.  The very cause of freedom and human rights depends on it. We must stand up to the intellectual tyranny, and give Israel a chance to be heard. Our future depends on it.

Posted on 11 August 2010 in Text, Your World

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