JPost | Judging Israel
Updated: May 8
The Jerusalem Post interviewed the Chief Rabbi about comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa. The author is Jerusalem Post correspondent, Jonah Mandel. Published in July 2010.
As the din of the World Cup vuvuzelas faded, South Africa’s visiting Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein quietly deplored attempts in the international arena to draw a comparison between Israel and the former apartheid regime in his home country.
“The accusation that Israel is apartheid is probably one of the most unjust accusations that could be made,” Goldstein told The Jerusalem Post in an interview in Jerusalem on Sunday. “It is an insult to those who truly suffered under apartheid, it’s morally offensive to compare the actions of the State of Israel to those of the South African apartheid government, and it needs to be refuted at every turn because of the danger that it poses.”
Goldstein said Israel and Jews around the world must work together to combat what he termed a dangerous phenomenon.
“The State of Israel and Jewish people cannot afford to allow these lies to take hold, because of the danger they represent. I saw firsthand what the international campaign against apartheid South Africa did to South Africa. It saps the morale of the country, and it saps the country’s desire to continue,” he said. “We therefore have to be ready with all the arguments to refute it and say exactly why it’s not.”
Goldstein, born in South Africa in 1971 and chief rabbi since 2005, is no stranger to apartheid. One of his books, African Soul Talk: When Politics Is Not Enough, written together with Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Dumani Mandela, deals with the values of the new post-apartheid, South Africa.
His other book, Defending the Human Spirit: Jewish Law’s Vision for a Moral Society, is an adaptation of his doctoral dissertation in law.
A worldwide campaign to delegitimize a regime is not always bad, Goldstein said.
“In the case of South Africa, it was great, because it was an evil system, and it was important that the there was an international campaign to sap the energy of the system so that democracy and freedom could come to South Africa.”
But in the context of Israel, said Goldstein, “it’s morally offensive to compare Israel to apartheid in any way. Jews, and particularly the State of Israel, must launch a counter-offensive against that label but also against all the other forms of delegitimization taking place.
“Within the undisputed 1967 borders of Israel,” Goldstein noted, “there is complete equality between Arabs and Jews. Arabs vote, can and are elected to the Knesset, serve in the judiciary, all the way up to the Supreme Court. These things were unheard of in apartheid South Africa.
You have a state based on the rule of law, democracy and freedom, and a state committed to servicing all of its citizens. You can make the argument that there are areas where the state could have done more for a certain group, but fundamentally it is a state of equality.
“Then,” he continued, “you have a border dispute between the Jewish people, represented by the State of Israel, and the Muslim world, where to draw the 1967 borders. Israel has tried time and again to resolve that dispute and to make successful negotiations around that. So where’s the apartheid analogy?” Without holding Israel above criticism, the Jewish state and Diaspora must not forget the elementary justice in Israel’s very existence that should underlie any such discourse, according to Goldstein.
“We all know that the various governments of Israel have made mistakes in the past, there is a lot of self-criticism and self-analysis in Israeli press,” Goldstein said. “But what we need to be proud of as Jews is the justice of the cause of the State of Israel. We cannot get sidetracked by the fine print of the detailed criticism of this specific policy or this particular action. This is the fundamental justice of the cause of the State of Israel.
“And that’s where we have to be completely unapologetic,” Goldstein stressed. “Not because of ethnic solidarity, it’s got nothing to do with that.
It has to do with justice, and it means to have the confidence to stand up for these beliefs that we hold dear.”
Goldstein has stood up against Justice Richard Goldstone’s suggestion in his report on Israel’s 2006 conflict with Hamas that the Jewish state had committed war crimes, while at the same time upholding the South African jurist’s right to peacefully attend his grandson’s recent bar mitzva celebration in Sandton.
The primary body to lead that struggle over public opinion should be the Israeli establishment, Goldstein suggested. “What is needed is a paradigm shift on the part of the government of Israel to address the question of putting its case before the world, in a way that receives as much attention and thought and planning and budget as the military.
When you come under attack from a military point of view, you’ve got to have an army to defend. Thank God Israel has a very successful military.
But in today’s world you need an equivalent effort and energy put into explaining the case of Israel.
“The Chazon Ish [Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz] said the key issue in defining the morality of an issue is to identify who is the victim and who the villain,” Goldstein said. “That’s the heart of the moral analysis that has to take place in these situations. Each and every incident that occurs – the Second Lebanon War, Cast Lead, the flotilla incident – the State of Israel and world Jewry are on the back foot, condemned as villains. There’s a complete inversion of victim and villain, when in fact there’s a strong argument to be made to the very reverse of that, that Israel is trying to make peace at every turn.
“As soon as there’s an Arab partner for peace, peace is made immediately, whether it was Egypt or Jordan. When there’s a remote desire to make peace, Israel is there. But you can’t make peace alone.”
After some further thought, it occurred to Goldstein that “there is actually a South African analogy; the State of Israel is a lot like the ANC (African National Congress), who waged an armed struggle. The ANC wanted to be a peaceful party, they tried to negotiate with the national apartheid government, but they were not interested in talking with the ANC, who were forced into an armed struggle, since there was no partner for dialogue. As soon as the national party under F.W. de Klerk were ready to talk, they made peace.
“The State of Israel is like the ANC.It’s desperate to talk. But you can’t make peace on your own. That was tried in the Gaza disengagement and it didn’t work,” he said. “It’s true that the environment is hostile, and that there’s a lot of unfair criticism of Israel and there are factors preventing a complete success. But just because we can’t win it altogether, doesn’t mean you don’t try. There’s a terrible injustice taking place in the world, and we can’t remain silent”.