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A Debate

On the request of Rodney Mazinter, head of Media for the Zionist Federation (Cape Council), I am publishing 2 letters:

1.     The first is an open letter from Daniel Mackintosh in response to Ex-Chief Rabbi Sack’s AIPAC address, and 

2.     The response by Rodney to Mackintosh

I am publishing  this without c0mment as a favour to Rodney who has played a valiant role in Israel advocacy – as have many others – when Israel really needed it. But in future I will retain the right to consider what is worth debate and the form it takes. 

Mike Berger

Mackintosh (Open Shuhada Street):

What does AIPAC really deliver?

The Chief Rabbi of England, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks delivered a speech called the “Will to Life” at the recent AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC which makes a number of important factual and political errors. Unfortunately, these inaccuracies remain ‘common sense’ in the Jewish world. However, until there are more honest appraisals of the role of organisations like AIPAC, Israel will continue to treat the Palestinians as a nuisance to be politically side-lined, rather than a nation they have systematically oppressed and to whom they owe their freedom.

Criticism 1: Chief Rabbi Sacks declares that AIPAC delivers “a strong Israel and a strong Jewish people.”

Are either of these statements true? And even if they were true, would the version that the Chief Rabbi subscribes to be one worth supporting?

A ‘strong Israel’?

It depends on your definition of ‘strength’. While a democracy’s ‘strength’ is measured by the manner in which it protects its most vulnerable members, AIPAC’s support of Israel in Washington allows it to be unaccountable and act outside of the rules of the international community.

‘A strong Jewish people?’

Peter Beinart’s devastating piece, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” demonstrates that large numbers of liberal Jewish students are becoming alienated from Israel because of the way in which the American Jewish Establishment has tried to force them into being unthinking Zionists. Many young Jews are asking whether they feel proud to be associated with a state that claims to act in their name by oppressing another people. Today, Israel may be driving our people’s most highly skilled and ethically committed people away from Judaism, rather than pulling them towards it.

Criticism 2: Is it true that, in Europe, “they hate us” as Jews?

 Antisemitism is a real threat in European communities today. Rabbi Sacks put it thus:

“Eleven years ago, our youngest daughter, who was studying at a British university, came home in tears. She had been at an anti-globalization rally which quickly turned into a tirade first against America, then against Israel, then against Jews. And with tears in her eyes she said, Dad, they hate us. That is a terrible situation, but it’s reality in Europe today.


I have to tell you that what we grew up with, “never again,” is beginning to sound like “ever again.””

But do these real threats of anti-semitism justify Rabbi Sack’s conclusion that “the reality” in Europe is one of anti-Semitism, that “they” (presumably all Europeans?) hate us?

Jonathan Freedland, in a very careful article written for the Daily Beast, argues that Europe is not entering a new dark age for Jews. Freedland claims that:

“Tellingly, this habit [claiming that Europeans hate Jews in ever increasing numbers] can lead many of those U.S. doom-mongers, constantly warning of European Jewry’s dire plight, to be rather selective about which threats they see. While they can be relied upon to highlight any Islamist clash with Jews, they often stay hushed about those ultra-rightists who have no love for the Jews but who, for their own reasons, have decided to declare themselves pro-Israel.”

Indeed, Freedland relates the story of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front in France, whom many ambassadors refused to meet when she visited the United Nations in New York in 2011. Instead, she was met by Israel’s U.N. envoy, Ron Prosor, who had to later apologise because Marine had previously criticised former French President Jacques Chirac for accepting responsibility for Vichy crimes. Le Pen claimed that the declaration was made to please the Jews. As Freedland argues, “[f]or some, it seems, anti-Semitism is only worthy of strenuous opposition when it is combined with hostility to Israel or comes from a Muslim source.”

Freedland points to great European Jewish triumphs, especially in the United Kingdom. British Jews enjoy a full religious and cultural life, and have achieved vast success in a range of professions. Indeed, the next Prime Minister of the UK may be a Jew (Labour Party leader Ed Miliband). Further afield, Jewish life is becoming increasingly rich in Europe too. For instance, Germany is the world’s fastest growing Jewish community and rabbis are being ordained there for the first time since 1942.

Criticism 3: Israel’s crime is chutzpah?

Sacks continues towards the nub of his speech where he asks: “What is Israel’s crime? It’s that we have chutzpah.” Unfortunately, Sacks is simultaneously correct and incorrect. He is right that Israel has chutzpah, but wrong that its chutzpah is its crime.

Israel is flouting international law in a widespread, unapologetic manner in the West Bank (and Gaza). The list of violations is long, but hardly controversial amongst scholars of international law. Indeed, Israeli Professor of Jurisprudence and International Law at the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon Letzion, Orna Ben-Naftali, has argued that Israel’s entire occupation regime is illegal because it has violated the principle that an occupation is only lawful if it is a temporary measure.  Israel’s policies in the West Bank undermine its argument that the occupation is temporary: Israeli settlements are supplied by the State with electricity, water, postal and police serves on around 40% of the West Bank (if their own bypass roads and military zones are taken into account). This constitutes not an occupation, but a de facto annexation.

Criticism 4: Seeing only what you want to see

Orthodox Chief Rabbi Sacks recently toured Israel and claims that it was his job to remind the AIPAC conference of “what we saw, what you saw, what everyone sees but the world does not see.” He visited youth villages for children at risk, the Rambam underground hospital in Haifa, the Bar-Ilan Medical Center in Safed and the Laniado Hospital in Netanya.

But what did he choose not to see?

Did the Chief Rabbi visit the West Bank? Did he meet the residents of Hebron whom the illegal Israeli settlers have announced their intention to remove? Did he talk to the family of the Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian who was arrested on suspicion of throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails on 18 February 2013 and then died, according to the autopsy report of Dr Saber al-‘Aloul, Director of the Palestinian Medico-legal Institute, as a result of torture and ill-treatment inflicted while in Israeli custody. Did Chief Rabbi Sacks take a look at the maps of Jerusalem to see how future Israeli settlements are being designed to split Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem and so deny the possibility of building a contiguous capital in a future Palestinian state?

White people in my home country, South Africa, claimed not to know what was really happening during apartheid. They claimed that the media was so heavily controlled by the government, that they did not know what occurred a few kilometres from their homes. In reality though, white people knew that a society built on racism, which resulted in vast wealth accumulation, relied on police violence to subdue the black majority.  In contrast, the Orthodox Chief Rabbi lives in the UK – a society that protects the freedom of the press – where he can easily read about Palestinian suffering. Or he could have seen the Occupation up close – just jump on a settler bus or on any of the myriad of human rights tours in the West Bank to see how settlements and checkpoints destroy Palestinian life. After all, freedom of movement, for Jewish Israelis (and tourists) in the West Bank, is guaranteed. For the Orthodox Chief Rabbi to visit Israel, without going to visit the West Bank, seems to be a wilful attempt to ignore the truth. Yet, he will never be able to rely on the defence of white South Africans that he did not know any better.


AIPAC does Israel, and the Jewish people, no service. By insulating Israel from the frustration of the international community at its racist policies, AIPAC is directly responsible for the continuation of the Occupation. By forcing young Jews to choose between human rights and their commitment to Judaism, AIPAC weakens our people and drives away some of our most talented.

As the Haggadah points out, we can easily be caught in mental bondage – our ancestors, a slave people, could not free themselves from what it learnt under Pharaoh’s whip and so died in the Sinai Desert until a new generation was born that could understand what freedom meant. In today’s world, we are ill-informed only if we cut ourselves off from seeking the truth, or are surrounded by institutions that prevent us from understanding what is so plainly in front of our eyes. Perhaps, in this season of freedom from mental bondage, is it not time now for us to be delivered from AIPAC  too?

Mazinter (Zionist Fed.):

An Open Letter To Daniel Mackintosh

Firstly, a word of appreciation regarding your article in response to the speech given at AIPAC by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. You have helped me gather my thoughts concerning this matter and for this I thank you. I take the liberty, although you don’t know me from a bar of soap, of responding.

You have called to mind the essence and the meaning of the most important aspects of the Jewish contribution to the morals and ethics of nations and because it is precisely the morals and ethics of Israel that you bring into question I feel that this is where the discussion of its culpability or not must hinge.

I am reminded of the words of Winston Churchill, who in 1920 wrote: “We owe to the Jews a system of
ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the
supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of
mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all wisdom and learning put
together.” He was referring of course to the Talmud, which in comparison to the Torah, is a distillation of 2,000 years of Jewish, wisdom, law and philosophy.

Wait a minute, I thought. Israel is a Jewish state that reveres the philosophy it has inherited. There is something fundamentally wrong with the picture painted by you. Can a people who have just emerged from the most fearful experience in history in just 65 short years throw everything overboard and resort to tortures and excesses against the Palestinians or any other people and yet retain the tenets of Jewish belief in their foundation documents? This bears closer investigation, I’m sure you will agree.

It seems
to me that the modern State of Israel has packed more history into its 65
years on the planet than many other nations have in six hundred. There
are many surprising things about this tiny nation the
size of the Kruger National Park, but the most astonishing is that it has survived at

The very day after the UN declared Israel a country in 1948, five
well-armed Arab countries attacked with the objective of slaughtering her people or, in their words, in an anti-Semitic rant revealing the true nature of their case, finishing the job that Hitler started, and annexing the land. Israel has been struggling for her right to
life ever since. I would like to say a few words on behalf of the independent state of Israel−to reiterate
Israel ‘s right to self-defense, inherent in all legitimate countries.

From Morocco to Afghanistan, from the Caspian Sea to Aden, the 13.6
million square kilometres of territory belonging to members of the Arab
League is home to over 330 million people, whereas Israel covers only
20.7 thousand square kilometres, and is home to seven million citizens,
one-fifth of whom are Arabs. No sign of your empire building exists here.

Israel is thus
surrounded by hostile states 650 times its size in territory and
sixty times its population, yet it stands as the last, best hope of ending two
millennia of international persecution for the Jewish people. The State of Israel has
somehow survived. When during the Second World War, the island of
Malta came through three terrible years of bombardment and
destruction, it was rightly awarded the George Cross for bravery;
today Israel should be awarded a similar decoration for defending
democracy, tolerance and Western values against a murderous onslaught
that has lasted twenty times as long. 

Jerusalem is the site of the Temple of Solomon and Herod. The stones
of a palace erected by King David himself are even now being unearthed
just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Everything that makes a nation
state legitimate– bloodshed, soil tilled, two millennia of continuous
residence, international agreements, a democratic government and more, argues for Israel’s right to
exist, yet that right is still denied by the Arab League.

The Arab Spring has been revealed as a chimera. In Syria alone the government has brought about the death of 100-thousand its own people. Egypt is struggling with riots and deaths and nobody can agree who rules. And so it goes with Libya, Lebanon, the Sudan, you name it.

For most of their
governments, which are rich enough to have economically solved the
Palestinian refugee problem decades ago, it is useful to have Israel
as a scapegoat to divert attention from the tyranny, failure and corruption of their own regimes.

The tragic truth is that it suits Arab states very well to have the
Palestinians endure permanent refugee status, and whenever Israel puts
forward workable solutions they have been stymied by those whose
interests put the destruction of Israel before the genuine wellbeing
of the Palestinians.

The resolution taken by the Arab League after the 6-day war: “No Recognition, No Negotiation and No Peace with Israel” is still in place. Despite this Israel has sought harmony with the Arabs and has taken huge risks to find peace, to no avail. Both King Abdullah I of Jordan and Anwar Sadat of
Egypt were assassinated when they signed a peace agreement and attempted to come to some kind of
accommodation with Israel.

In your castigation of Israel I should be pleased to hear from which of the Arab countries it should take its template. Which countries treat their Jews and Christians in a manner that would serve as an example of benevolent, civilized governance?

Allow me a paragraph to explore if Israel pays its way in the world. The Israeli contribution to finance, science, the arts,
academia, commerce and industry, health, literature, philanthropy and politics
has been astonishing relative to its tiny size and population. And these glowing achievements extend to those Jews in the diaspora as well. You have another view of course about the good Israel does, but I am comforted that you represent a miniscule Jewish minority opinion in these matters.

Although they
make up less than half of one percent of the world population, between
1901 and 1950 Jews won 14% of all the Nobel Prizes awarded for
Literature and Science, and between 1951 and 2000 Jews won 32% of the
Nobel Prizes for Medicine, 32% for Physics, 39% for Economics and 29%
for Science. This, despite so many of their greatest intellects dying
in the gas chambers.

Civilization owes Judaism a debt it can never repay, and support for
the right of a Jewish homeland to exist is the bare minimum the world can
provide. Yet you uphold the excesses of those states at the United Nations that treat Israel like a leper on the international
scene merely for defending herself, with member countries, including those in the West, threatening her with academic
boycotts if she builds a separation barrier that has so far reduced
suicide bombings by 95% over three years.

After the Holocaust, the Jewish people recognized
that they must have their own state, a homeland where they could
forever be safe from a
repetition of such horrors as anti-Semitism inevitably leading to the Holocaust. Putting their trust in Western
Civilization was never again going to be enough.

Since then, Israel
has had to fight no fewer than five major wars for her very existence. She has been on the front line in the war against terror and has been
fighting the West’s battles for it decades before 9/11 ever

Radical Islam shows no sign of ever accepting the concept of an Israeli State, so the struggle is likely to continue for another sixty
five years. There are those who seek more and more concessions from Israel but the Jews know that drawing a line in the sand, saying so far and no further, is less dangerous than entrusting their security to anyone else.

Very often in the West, especially when faced with the overwhelming bias that is endemic in our liberal media, we
fail to ask ourselves what we would have done placed in Israel’s
position? The population of South Africa of 52 million is seven
times that of Israel. In July 2006, to take one example at random Hezbollah crossed the Lebanese border into Israel, killed eight patrolmen and kidnapped two others, and that summer fired four
thousand Katyusha rockets into Israel which killed a further
forty-three civilians.

Now, if we multiply those numbers by seven to get the South African equivalent, just imagine what we would do if a terrorist organisation
based in Zimbabwe were to fire twenty eight thousand rockets into
Pietersburg and Messina, killing 301 South African civilians after killing
fifty-six South African servicemen in an ambush and capturing fourteen. There is absolutely no lengths to which our Government would not go to
protect South African citizens under those circumstances, and quite right
too. No other country in the world would sit back and allow such a thing to happen without taking stern action.

Why should Israel be expected to behave any differently? What right has anyone got to expect Jews and the Jewish state to place themselves in a position where they would without doubt face another Auschwitz, invoking a time of the infamous, overcrowded huts, slave labour, railway sidings offloading their human cargo, and crematoria? Walking in places where their forebears had been worked and
starved and beaten and frozen and gassed, and shot to death.

The state of Israel today guarantees that the obscenity of
genocide which killed six million people in Auschwitz and camps like
it, will never again befall the Jewish people, to whom the rest of
civilization owes so much, particularly when the charter documents of the PA and Hamas call for such a genocide.

Can anyone deny this observation: No people in History have needed the right to self-defence
and legitimacy more than the Jews of Israel, and that is what we, Jews, Christians and people of goodwill everywhere, demand today.

I thank you for having read this far. Your case as I understand it is a cry for justice for the Palestinian people. Very commendable. I am reminded of a quotation from Memories After My Death in which Joseph Tommy Lapid says “The years during which I lived under a communist regime left me with a very strong, almost violent, inner opposition to people who speak in the name of justice. Human history is littered with more crimes committed in the name of justice than for any other excuse. A sense of divine justice was the oil that stoked the flames of the Inquisition. A sense of racial justice was the oil that stoked the flames of fascism. A sense of social justice was the oil that stoked the flames of communism. Justice is the biggest criminal in the history of nations, because in the name of justice it is permissible to do what is impermissible in the name of mercy and kindness and charity.”


2 responses to “A Debate

  1. Mike Berger May 6, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Precisely! I did not think Mackintosh’s infantile letter was worth responding to for the “big” reasons,you mention but also because I’m tired of debating with a classic cases of juvenile idealism contaminated by a grossly overinflated but insecure egos, narcissism and cleverness without character or maturity. The Jews are afflicted with an over-abundance of such people. As one matter-of-fact Jewish Mom once commented apropos of Mackintosh “he just needs a good “klap”. Perhaps he could self-administer it and become thereby a mensch.


  2. Sydney Kaye May 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Mackintosh relies on the premise that ” By insulating Israel from the frustration of the international community at its racist policies” AIPAC harms Israel, but for his conclusion to be correct , his premise must also be correct. Leaving aside the childish self serving throw-away that Israel’s policies are “racist”, is it true that the “International” community is frustrated with them at all. Yes, perhaps activists rudderless leftists , and effete imaginary intellectuals who are not getting the outcome they desire, but not I submit, governments or their voters. On the contrary I would say they are frustrated with obstructionist anti-modern failed states and entities who produce nothing compared with Israel’s obvious productivity and contribution to universal values. They see that the so-called oppression of Palestinians is a consequence of their own leaders’ ill-conceived and pointless polices and Israel having the right to defend herself from them. The collapsing Libya, the collapsed Egypt and the nightmare in Syria have served as an awakening to wishy washy do -gooders who now clearly see the difference between Israel and its neighbours. Mackintosh is fighting a loosing battle. Preaching to an increasingly disinterested converted , with no new converts in sight.


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