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A Study in Contrasts

For the core truth of the Hamas-Israel conflict take a look at the Bolt Report here: Simple and honest it cuts through the spin and verbiage to the essential reality.

Roughly 7 years ago, I interviewed a prominent ex-South African journalist, Benjamin (Benjy) Pogrund, for a film I was engaged in creating on Identity. Specifically, Jewish identity and how it found expression in the creation of Israel.

Pogrund had established his reputation in South Africa as a courageous and outspoken opponent of apartheid as deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail under Laurence Gandar had been imprisoned for his writings and eventually left the country to continue his journalism in the UK and the USA. In 1998 he emigrated to Israel taking his liberal beliefs along with him, which found expression in the Yakar Centre for Social Concern which is dedicated to finding and building communication across political and cultural divisions, especially between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis.

I found a sincere, opinionated but friendly man whose basic instincts I could easily identify with: recognition of the universality underlying differences of ethnicity, politics and culture and committed to rationality, tolerance and open communication as the means towards peace and progress. He was a Zionist, married to liberal ideals and critical of those elements within Israeli society which, to him, smacked of intolerance, chauvinism and racism. While he recognised the contribution of the Palestinians to the perpetual stalemate, he was equally critical of Israeli policies and actions which, in his view, were more-or-less were equally contributory.

A few years earlier, I would have wholeheartedly endorsed such views but already my own perspectives had darkened. The anti-Israel voices in South Africa, all under the banner of a progressive and idealistic vision of a decent society, were frankly vicious, entirely one-sided and patently dishonest. Ready to believe and publicly endorse any slander against Israel in the face of rationality and empirical evidence to the contrary, they were equally ready to dismiss any Arab or Palestinian culpability. I recognised the selectivity in the news being presented and the manner in which the media was used for propaganda. These media voices were allied with a slick, well-funded and ruthless BDS campaign based on the South African model which contributed to the fall of apartheid. I squirmed uncomfortably when I recognised some of my own previous attitudes being replicated by the more vociferous opponents of Israel.

Since then the situation has both polarised and clarified. By now, any thinking person will have recognised that we are witnessing the rise of a new barbarism under the banner of an extremist Islamic doctrine. Incoherent and uncoordinated as these movements are, they all variably share in a combination of religious extremism, commitment to violence both as a tool and as a moral imperative, an absolute intolerance of differing belief systems and, especially of the Western ideals of freedom and democracy. These doctrines have found expression in the brutal oppression of women and homosexuals and in a wave of murderous violence and instability across huge sections of the Middle East, Africa (especially North Africa), parts of Asia and reaching even into Europe and the Americas.

It was in this changed and evolving context that I attended a presentation by Benjy Pogrund to the Press a couple of days ago. He simply repeated the old mantra that I heard 7 years ago, possibly this time even more critical of Israel even while Hamas used its own women and children as propaganda fodder in its nihilistic war of extermination against the Jewish state. I realised that Pogrund, despite his sincerity and vast experience, was simply trapped in a self-sealing, internally reinforcing bubble of perception. And, of course, he is part of a much wider problem. In the case of Pogrund and many who think like him there is no question of latent anti-Semitism but in many quarters darker forces are operative.

Within the last century mankind faced a similar barbarity in Nazism and almost succumbed, saved perhaps by the courage and obstinacy of Churchill. Other civilisations have perished in the face of the dark forces of Mankind. So focussed are the Western critics on the motes in their own eyes and, especially those in the eyes of their fellow citizens, that they fail entirely to perceive the beam in the eyes of their most ruthless enemies. It is also convenient. Perhaps if Israel is sacrificed it will buy time or even immunity for themselves. In any case there are financial, personal and career interests to be considered, not to mention the opinion of one’s peers.

In such a climate the nakedness of the Emperor can be mistaken for the finest of clothes and it will take much more than one small boy to reveal the truth. Futurists like Sir Martin Rees see the chance of mankind surviving the 21st century as about 50%; which means that, like the rest of us, he hasn’t a clue. Perhaps the Western body politic will turn out to be more realistic and resilient than I have given it credit for. Let’s hope so.

Mike Berger


3 responses to “A Study in Contrasts

  1. Mike Berger August 10, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    The political domain of the Middle East allows little room for sentimental fantasy. Only sharp-edged clarity offers any hope for the future of both Jew and Arab.


  2. Pingback: VIDEO. |

  3. Syd Kaye August 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Yes I agree with you. Pogrund seemed naive and in denial. For instance while agreeing that Hamas was using Gaza as a base to attack Israel , he saw this as uncomfortable ammunition for the argument not to withdraw from the West Bank , rather than a fact that should be a genuine cause for concern in that regard.


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