No room for nuance

2018-07-04 06:00

THERE is a new war that seems to be erupting from beneath the surface in this country. It is not one that is based on race, religion or ethnicity, nor is it based on our own long and conflict-ridden past.

It is an imported conflict, yet the lines in the ground are clearly drawn. And the lines are as follows: you are either for Israel or against it. No longer is there an opportunity for a nuanced approach.

Once, you could support Israel’s right to exist, but not each and every policy. An approach that would serve every single other country in the world. But not Israel. Not anymore.

Now, any expression of support for that country, whether it be simply stating the facts or expressing a personal opinion on it, is regarded as beyond the pale. And anyone who does so is seen as a legitimate target for the most horrific bullying, including even death threats.

Take television personality and model Shashi Naidoo. This past weekend she wrote in a series of comments on her Instagram account, that with regard to the Israel-Gaza conflict, there are two sides to the story.

She then proceeded to state the facts to come up with the conclusion that Hamas has to take some responsibility for the deaths of Palestinians. There is nothing unreasonable or controversial in this (except the bit about referring to Gaza as a “s***hole”). Yet the response to her was, frankly, insane. Within minutes she received no fewer than 10 death threats. One of her sponsors dropped her, using nothing but the usual hysterical rhetoric. “Her support for Israel shows a total disdain towards the plight of the people of Palestine ...”

Why? It is possible and quite common to support both Palestinians and Israelis in what is a seemingly intractable conflict where the leadership fails the people. Most people want to see peace.

The sponsor continues: “For her to proclaim to side with Israel shows her total lack of understanding of the situation in Palestine and for me, this is totally unacceptable.”

But things got worse for poor Naidoo. She posted a tearful apology on Instagram, in which she apologised profusely for her comments, and that is when things got really vicious. The Twitterati came out in their dozens, with their nasty comments not even warranting repeating. Yet with all the vitriol, not one dealt with the issues, or engaged with her in a debate. She supported Israel and that was enough to vilify her.

Facts count for little in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. No one wants to get bogged down by 35 centuries of history — that’s more or less when the connection between the Jewish people and the Holy Land began. Who really has the time, patience or interest to become acquainted with the complex unfolding of events, when Jews, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Christians and eventually Arab Muslims held sway over the territory?

Yet those same people for whom facts and reality are irrelevant, refuse to accept any Jewish claim to the land, historical or otherwise. And in order to shut up those who do, they resort to blatant acts of bullying, blackmail and intimidation.

Israel is not a perfect country, and it is (of course) legitimate to criticise its actions.

Yet the falsehoods levelled against it (including hysterical charges of “genocide”) and the whipping up of emotions against it, to ensure that those who support it are legitimate targets for condemnation, is surely problematic.

One does not have to be a supporter of Israel to deplore how extremists on the other side, such as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movemenand and their ilk, are hijacking the conversation with a view to ensuring that only their side is heard. It is something that needs to be condemned across the board, not only as a threat to fundamental democratic freedom, but as an affront to common decency.

Those who care for Israel in reality have a lot more support than the current hysteria on Instagram would suggest.

For all the ugly invective that dominates social media networks, it is not a true reflection of South Africa’s views on the Middle East.

One sees this in the thousands of people across the South African spectrum who have joined in public rallies in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

Supporters of Israel will not be silent or silenced, regardless of the threats and vilification that they may be subjected to.

• Charisse Zeifert is head of communications for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

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