Monumental Man

A tribute to the passing of Israel’s internationally renowned sculptor – Dani Karavan

By David E. Kaplan

Internationally famed for making his monuments blend into their environment, Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan – who died this past May 2021 at the age of 90 – blended into the public, hardly recognized when walking about his native Tel Aviv.

Monumental Man. Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan became recognized for making his monuments blend into their environment.

I put this question to the artist in a  co-interview with Moshe Alon in 2013 when we asked:

“While you are an internationally acclaimed artist, admirers of your work might not recognize you standing alongside one of your masterpieces? Does this bother you?”

Not at all. I think you hear about the noisy ones more than the quiet ones but this is true of any group. People hear about the extroverts and less about the introverts. Some artists prefer to create their work in peace and quiet, and you don’t hear much about their personal lives.”

Karavan’s work can be found across Europe, Asia and Israel. It’s hard to escape his distinctive style that blends sculpture, architecture and the landscape into unique and monumental pieces. Through molding and meshing of the environment, Karavan’s works showcase the urban or natural elements of their respective surroundings. As such, his materials range from concrete – in the construction of large geometrical structures – to the lands natural offerings – trees, water, grass and crusty surface.

We noted that “Your works are not ‘sculptures’ in the traditional sense – pieces that are exhibited in a museum or placed in the middle of a public square,” and asked. “You integrate the natural environment using the land – as if sculpting the landscape?”

That’s correct. This is what characterizes my work which is rooted to a physical environment and not to an atelier [artist workshop]. I was once privileged to meet the distinguished sculptor Henry Moore and observe him work in his environment – how he molded a model the size of a suitcase handle and enlarge it ninny-nine times its size.

For me it’s the opposite, because the large environment where I work emerges as part of my composition.

One example is the wall at the Knesset, rooted to the environment –  physically and conceptually. Another is the Negev Brigade Memorial – my first big piece as a sculptor – and which was a groundbreaking project. Up until then, “site-specific” environmental sculpture did not exist. To some degree, it is similar to architecture, where the architect designs specifically for a particular environment.

Monumental Impact. The Monument to the Negev Brigade is in memory of the members of the Palmach Negev Brigade who fell fighting on Israel’s side during the 1948 Arab Israeli War. The perforated tower alludes to a watchtower shelled with gunfire and the pipeline tunnel is reminiscent of the channel of water in the Negev defended by the soldiers. Engraved in the concrete are the names of the 324 soldiers who died in the war, the badge of the Palmach, diary passages from the soldiers, the battle registry and verses from the Bible and songs.  In addition to its strengths as a memorial, it was a precursor to the land art  movement.

In effect, I am a sculptor that does not search for a place, but rather the place seeks me. Michelangelo said that the statue already exists within the stone; I say that the sculpture already exists within the environment. I just unearth it. This is essentially my contribution to the evolution of sculpture. I wanted that sculpture be something people can climb and children play on – that it will be full of life and not pieces where people visit once a year to lay flowers.”

How true when I think of Karavan’s massively monumental work at the Edith Wolfson Park on the eastern edge of the city of Tel Aviv. If its Tuesday, “we, the grandparents”, are usually there with our grandson. Perched high, the park offers a magnificent view of the city from its most iconic KaravanThe White Square”, the monumental work overlooking “The White City” as Tel Aviv is famously known because of its white Bauhaus architecture. Karavan’s sculpture is a complex geometric work that is an ode to the city itself.

Fun in the Sun. An activity all to familiar to the writer, a father and son slide down the sundial of Dani Karavan’s ‘White Square’ sculpture at Edith Wolfson park, overlooking Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

If Tel Aviv is a city not so much to see but to experience, then so too is Karavan’s sculpture where it is less viewed than it is walked, climbed, roller-skated and rollerbladed upon. I invariably join the “kids” in sliding down the sculpture’s colossal “sundial” on carboard as well as scampering up the large “pyramid”. The sculpture exudes physicality  – it is a metaphor for Tel Aviv of open-ended action befitting its reputation as “the city that never sleeps.” If you are generally “into art”, then visiting The White Square you literally, “get into” this art as you climb in, over, upon and through it!

Feeling his Way

On several occasions, he was commissioned to create memorials for victims of Nazi Germany.

The horrific atrocities suffered by Jews, and others during World War II, was a key theme in Karavan’s work, not least because his parents’ families lost many members during the Holocaust.

On Track to Death. Dani Karavan poses on part of his installation “Homage to the Prisoners of Gurs” during the presentation of his exhibition “Dani Karavan Retrospective” at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum in Berlin. After the Vichy government signed an armistice with the Nazis in 1940, Gurs became an internment camp for mainly German Jews. (Courtesy of Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images).

Another notable example is the “Way of Human Rights” at the Germanic National Museum in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg.

Karavan’s  “Passages” memorial in Portbou, Spain, also became well-known since its unveiling in 1994. It commemorates the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, who died in the small Spanish border town in 1940 while fleeing from the Nazis.

It was named “Passages” in remembrance of Benjamin’s final passage from France to Spain, as well as his enormous unfinished work Passagenwerk (Arcades Project) on 19th-century Paris. The name also refers to the several passages visitors make during their time at the memorial, from the journey down the steps to the glass view of the ocean whirlpool and back up to the rectangle of sunlight in the dark.

War and Remembrance. Inaugurated on 15 May 1994, marking the 50th anniversary of his death, “Passages” in Portbou, Spain  pays homage to  the philosopher Walter Benjamin in his failed flight from the Nazis.

Taken from Walter Benjamin’s On the Concept of History, etched in German are the words:

It is more arduous to honour the memory of anonymous beings than that of the renowned. The construction of history is consecrated to the memory of the nameless.”

That “nameless” Dani also ‘rectified’ in his memorial created in 2005, depicting the foundation of the Regensburg Synagogue in Bavaria, Germany that was destroyed during a pogrom in 1519. On February 21, 1519, the Jewish community of Regensburg  –  that had lived in the city for 500 years – was ordered to leave but only after its members had demolished the interior of their 13th-century synagogue.

Demolishing more than a synagogue, they were forced to demolish their past.

Despite his international fame, when asked which award among all those he has received touched him the most, he answered unwaveringly:

The Israel Prize which I received at the age of 46. It stands today as my greatest honour. I received it during a very special year and the person who shook my hand at the ceremony was Yitzhak Rabin… an added honour. While I hardly mention the international awards I have won, I am never reticent about my Israel Prize.”

Visitors surround the memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims in Berlin
Remembering Roma. The Berlin memorial for the Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis during World War II Many relatives of Dani Karavan were killed during the Holocaust and the atrocities and those affected by them became an important theme for the Jewish artist.

‘Portrait of an Artist’

The recurring flower motif  in Karavan’s work is reminiscent of his memories of his childhood and of his father’s garden. The ‘sights and smells’ of nature from his home in Tel Aviv – before it was the bustling city it is today – continued to influence the artist’s’ work.

Dani probably drew his inspiration from his father who had been a landscape architect. He studied art in Israel (at Bezalel), Florence, and Paris. During his youth, he was also involved in the establishment of kibbutz Harel, located in the Jerusalem Corridor. A week following our interview in 2013, he travelled to Berlin to dine with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A man of the world, he relished in recalling “raising mice and lizards” as a child and “weeding my father’s garden in order to earn a small allowance to buy falafel and soda.”

Forgotten People Remembered. Dani Karavan and Chacellor Angela Merkel at the opening ceremony on October 24, 2012 of the Memorial for the Murdered Sinti and Roma. (Photo Stephanie Drescher)

Known for creating poignant monuments in Israel and around the world, Karavan’s most recognized local work is the huge wall carving in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, named “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”.

While Karavan could mold material to articulate his dreams and visions, he lamented “an inability to influence better relations with our Arab neighbours. My father arrived in Israel in the 1920s. He came as an idealist, and I inherited that idealism and what better vision to work for, than the pursuit of regional peace and happiness. If you ask what I still want to do, yes, I need to finish my autobiography but also, to collaborate with a Palestinian artist on a project toward peace.”

Writing on the Wall. To inspire all before it at work on guiding Israel’s destiny, Israeli artist Dani Karavan’s ‘Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem’ on the wall of the plenum hall at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, May 13, 2015. – REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Not all endeavors “towards peace” are invariably fulfilled. However, that task, even though Dani Karavin has passed on, still maybe possible. If Dani Karavan is no more, his most notable work in Israel, the huge wall carving decorating the plenum of the Knesset – is.

Appropriately named, the stone mural of an abstract Jerusalem landscape depicting surrounding hills and the Judean desert, faces the elected members of ALL the people of Israel – and under the shadow of Dani Karavan’s creative mind and hands, they can continue his ‘unfinished work’  – to pursue peace.




Some of Karavan’s important works:

A walk in the park7 The “Path of Peace” sculpture by artist Dani Caravan. An environmental sculpture which is one of the attractions of Nitzana


A Walk In The Park5


UNESCO Square of Tolerance – Homage to Yitzhak Rabin, Paris, France



A Walk In The Park6
The Axe Majeur, Cergy-Pontoise, France









While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

The Arab Voice – June 2021

Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond, opine on issues ranging from making the case that Jewish sovereignty was never in the Middle East but in Russia, to whether Iraqis will boycott their upcoming election in October and the frightening fate of Syrian refuges in Denmark.



The First State of the Jews: Why is it a hidden fact?

By Fakhri Hashem Sayed Rajab

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, June 12

Have you heard of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Russia? Probably not. That’s because the State of Israel has a vested interest in hiding the fact that this republic exists.

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, located in southeastern Russia, is the motherland of the Jews. Until this very day, a large portion of the local population is Jewish. Unfortunately, this fact has been obscured, in cooperation with the State of Israel, so that the Zionist dream of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine would continue to exist.

An artist impression of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to the court of King Solomon in Jerusalem in about 950 BC, long before there was ever a Russia.

Unlike what Zionists like to claim, Palestine was never the homeland of the Jewish people. The Jews could have easily established their homeland in their allocated autonomous region, where they wouldn’t harm anyone or rely on the continuous support of Uncle Sam.

For the record, this independent republic has an area of over 40,000 square kilometers. That is, it is close to the size of Switzerland. It also has an extremely low population density. Therefore, it could have served as an ideal homeland for the Jews. Instead of usurping Palestinian lands, Zionists could have built their nation at a place already allocated to them.

But this fact has been obscured so that the world would stand by Israel’s side as it steals Palestinian lands.

Another important question: Why did Zionists prevent the secession of this republic from Russia? How come the Jewish Autonomous Oblast didn’t seek independence, just like other territories such as Chechnya?

I think the answer is clear: No one wanted attention diverted away from Palestine. The Zionists wanted to keep their options hidden so that the territorial occupation of Palestine could continue to take place to this very day. 

Fakhri Hashem Sayed Rajab




Will Iraqis Boycott the next Election?

By Ali Hussein

Al-Mada, Iraq, June 11

The 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in October. Will the scenario we witnessed in the previous elections of 2018 be repeated? Will Iraqis boycott the election en masse?

Some might ask: Why not encourage the practice of democracy that takes place in most countries of the developed world? Why not vote?

An Iraqi student, holding a flag, flashes the victory sign during anti-government protests in the Shiite city of Najaf, in central Iraq, Jan. 28, 2020. – HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP via Getty Images

Gentlemen, I, like all Iraqis, dream of real change, but what our politicians are practicing cannot be described as “democracy.” Our political system is not much different from a tragicomedy that is playing over and over in front of our eyes, on repeat. As soon as the elections are over, the exact same people will appear on our television screens, delivering the exact same speeches, ripe with the exact same buzzwords. “We came to save you” will be the gist of their remarks.

But what the people of Iraq are desperate for are political leaders who possess the qualities of integrity, honesty and magnanimity; not people who seek to enhance their own power, protect their own interests, and abuse their political immunity to evade corruption.

The foul odor of cronyism fills the hallways of our state institutions. From there, it spreads into the streets of our provinces, towns and cities, where local leaders fight over political titles, social prestige and power.

An Iraqi man updates his voter ID registration at an Independent High Electoral Commission center in Baghdad, Iraq January 20, 2021. Reuters

During the previous elections, about half of eligible voters in Iraq chose not to vote. They were tired of begging for their most basic rights.

I don’t know what the election results will look like. I also don’t know what turnout rates will actually be. But I do know that the people of Iraq are fed up. They cannot bear to suffer the same corrupt and inept leadership they’ve been dealing with for the past three years. 

Ali Hussein



Fear and Anxiety Among Denmark’s Syrian Refugees

By Dominic Sujil

Al-Ittihad, UAE, June 12

Getting through an entire night of sleep has always been a difficult task for Syrian refugee Sabriya, but now sleep has become almost impossible. The possibility that the Danish government will send her back to Syria is extremely unsettling.

If her attempt to appeal the revocation of her residency permit fails, Sabriya will have to choose between “voluntarily” returning to the country from which she fled or moving into a deportation center until further notice.

It doesn’t matter that the Syrian regime killed Sabriya’s husband and bombed her family’s home. It also doesn’t matter that she has no one to return to in Syria, and that all of her family members have been separated from each other. The Danish authorities have determined that it is currently “safe” for Syrian asylum-seekers to be repatriated.

Demonstrators in Copenhagen at a protest to stop the expulsion of Syrian refugees, on 21 April, 2021. The sign on the right reads, “Syrians are not your political game”. (B-Joe Johansen/TNH)

Indeed, Danish authorities have revoked more and more residency permits granted to refugees in recent years. Policy experts said the government’s decision reflects a long-standing effort to make Denmark less attractive to asylum-seekers. There are fears that foreigners could become a burden on the Danish social welfare system and harm social cohesion.

Experts on Syria, including a large majority of those consulted by the Danish authorities, rejected the notion that Damascus and its surrounding areas are considered safe in any way. More than a decade into the Syrian civil war, over a million Syrian lives have been lost. Lisa Blankenberg, senior adviser at Amnesty International, noted that if Syrians returned to government-controlled areas, they would be subject to interrogations, torture and potentially death.

So far, 400 cases of Syrians, including minors, have been rejected by the Danish immigration authorities. Rejecting cases does not result in immediate expulsion, for the simple legal reason that Syrians cannot be forcibly returned as long as diplomatic relations between Copenhagen and Damascus are severed.

 – Dominic Sujil



*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb




While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

The Deafening Silence of Assent.

By Stephen Schulman

We can’t replace what was lost in the fire, and the pandemic is with us for some time to come, but if we help one another, and continue to show care and kindness towards each other, we will emerge stronger.”

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
Vice-Chancellor

There is a Setswana proverb that goes Motho ke Motho ka batho. In isiZulu, it goes umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. As we commemorated Africa Month in May, we at the University of Cape Town (UCT) felt this spirit of ubuntu that is not limited to Batswana or AmaZulu or South Africans alone but Africans in general as a people who naturally prioritise the well-being of others and understand that we are, because of others and that in lifting others up, entire nations rise.”

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
Vice-Chancellor




An Open Letter to Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Vice-Chancellor

The University of Cape Town

22th June 2021

Dear Professor Phakeng,

On the eve of International Holocaust Day, Lwazi Lushaba a lecturer in the political science department of UCT issued the following statement:

Hitler committed no crime. All Hitler did was to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.”

It should be noted his views were not a private expression aired on the electronic media but stated in his official capacity as a university faculty member giving a prerecorded lecture to first year political science students.

Given the status of Lushaba, his influence, together with the enormity of his statement and its ramifications on university policy and campus culture, it is essential to analyze his words and their significance:

Hitler committed no crime.

Simply put, in his eyes, the Holocaust, the industrialized genocide of six million Jews of Europe was perfectly acceptable. The brutalization and untold suffering of the citizens of the countries invaded and occupied by the Nazi regime meets with his approval and the myriad heinous crimes against humanity perpetrated by Hitler and his henchmen in no way deviate from his societal norms. It is common knowledge that as a result of Nazi ideology and policies; tens of millions of innocent men, women and children perished. However this to Dr. Lushaba, is insignificant and inconsequential.

The New Abnormal. UCT academic Dr Lwazi Lushaba’s claimed in an online lecture – shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day – that “Hitler committed no crime”. “All Hitler did,” the senior political studies lecturer continued, “was to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.”

Lushaba’s words place him in the front ranks of infamous Holocaust deniers, linking arms, amongst others, with the Mullahs of the despotic Iranian regime noted for its suppression of human rights, spreading of international terrorism and the avowed aim of destroying Israel, the notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan and his followers and – strangely enough for a black African – the members of extreme right wing and neo-Nazi movements.

“All Hitler did was to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.”

Here, the esteemed Dr. Lushaba justifies his blatant antisemitism and historical distortions with a qualifying sentence.  The introductory words: “All Hitler did was…” are most instructive since this phrase is commonly used to downplay the importance or the consequences of an action such as: “All I did was to grab him by the ear” or “All they did was to break one window!” He then arrives at the crux of his argument:  “…to do to white people what white people had normally reserved for black people.” The message is quite clear: the millions of innocent people – men, women and children – that Hitler systematically murdered got their just desserts and deserved their cruel deaths because of their white skin. He decides that on account of their pigmentation each and every one of the victims was an innate racist, a white supremacist and potential mass murderer of black people who like the Nazis would have had no compunction in setting up death camps and organizing murder squads to execute the genocide of all black people. By clear inference, Lushaba’s crackpot, defamatory and sick ideology of ‘predeterminism’ would also apply to all the white people today!

Here, dear Vice Chancellor Phakeng, clearly spelt out for all to see, are the ravings of an out and out anti-Semite and racist. An individual with a mind so corroded by hatred, so devoid of all vestiges of reason and so warped by venom that he has lost all moral and ethical compass. He is so deeply mired in his poisonous bigotry that he willfully distorts history even choosing to ignore the fact that Roma, Sinti and darker skinned Jews of the Middle East were among Hitler’s victims too. His beliefs fly in the face of all the values that a liberal university stands for. Such a sick minded person has no place on a campus.

In the wake of consequent protests and condemnations and in the light of your above statements in the official alumni newsletter, as a concerned alumnus of UCT, I expected an appropriate and official reaction. A reaction did come but only from Declan Dyer the mealy mouthed head of the Student’s Representative Council (SRC) who supported Lushaba by pathetically explaining away that his words:

“should be seen in context!”

Seen in context!!! Should the Holocaust be explained away by seeing it in context? Should the slave trade both past and present be thus rationalized? Should Apartheid and genocide “be seen in context?” The words of the head of the student body expose him both as a simpleton and ignoramus!

The words of Lushaba are shocking and outrageous. Infinitively more shocking and outrageous is the behaviour of the University of Cape Town that has chosen the policy of remaining silent. Over two months have passed since his vile utterances and silence still prevails. Lushaba’s behaviour has impugned the bedrock tenets of UCT and yet the Senate, University Council and academic community have made the decision to ignore his words. You all had a choice: to speak out and in so doing, confirm the values on which the university was founded; or acquiesce in intolerance and racism. You chose the latter. There has never been any censure, nor has an apology ever been demanded. Not a word of protest has been uttered. Not a weak whinny, not a plaintive bleat, not even a perfunctory peep has been heard! Your silence is the silence of assent. By electing to remain silent, you have deliberately chosen to condone his words, give your stamp of approval and stand behind him and his dissemination of hatred and lies.

In an alumni newsletter you wrote:

“…..if we help one another, and continue to show care and kindness towards each other, we will emerge stronger.”

In the following one you quote a Setswana proverb:

“…. Africans in general as a people who naturally prioritise the well-being of others.”

These are admirable sentiments, but in the light of your university’s actions, ring hollow and are completely meaningless. You have consented to his desecration of the memory of all victims of Nazi persecution and of those that fought against it, South Africans included – both black and white. You have permitted him to deeply offend the Jewish community, grossly insult fellow South Africans and tread roughshod over their sensibilities. Is this your message for Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation? Where is your professed compassion? Where is the tolerance and inclusiveness?

Racism is racism no matter who says it. It cannot be justified for whatever reason and those that preach it must be condemned. When a white person attributes pejorative and demeaning characteristics and traits to all black people, that is racism. When a black person declares that all white people are inherently evil, that is racism. The virulent hatred that Lushaba harbours and nurtures within him is no different from that which many white nationalist racists in the Apartheid era felt towards black people and other groups. He is no better than them and he has simply become their mirror image!

The half century of official Apartheid thankfully ended in 1994. Since then, almost three decades have passed. Rhodes has fallen and is no more. His faeces smeared statue has departed the campus. UCT is now an African university with much to do to help the country and the continent with its expertise and involvement. It has many challenges to face: Presently, South Africa is well on the way to becoming a failed state and many of its neighbours are beset with problems. It is natural and understandable that a large residue of resentment from the injustices of Apartheid era still exists and much healing remains to be done. Nevertheless, if the university does not extricate itself from past hatreds and divest itself from Lushaba and his ilk, then it cannot move into the future. Your silence as vice chancellor and figurehead of the University of Cape Town bodes ill for this once august and liberal institution.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Schulman,

Ramat Hasharon,

Israel





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

JUNETEENTH – What’s in a name?

Could the Americans have learned from the Jewish heritage?

(Author’s personal observation)

By Craig Snoyman

While South Africans were celebrating the heart-warming hoax of decuplets, the so-called “Tembisa 10”, the United States of America was midwifing its own birth.  With little advance notice, and starting labour on Tuesday 15 June, pushing through the birthing canals of the House and the Senate at great speed, the new-born was announced to the world on 17 June 2021.  President Biden, who confirmed the signs of life, signed it into law and held the birth-certificate up high for everybody to see. Although officially, its date of birth was declared as 19 June it was officially named “Juneteenth National Independence Day” and proudly touted to the nation. Joining a group of ten other siblings, it became America’s eleventh annual federal holiday. Named in honour of an event which happened on June 19, 1865 – or “Juneteenth” –  it recalls an incident where General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas and announced that President Lincoln had freed the slaves almost three years earlier.

Usually, the creation of a national holiday is no easy task. Only four federal holidays had been added to the American calendar in the last one hundred years before this one. There had previously been several attempts to introduce a “Native American Day”, all of them unsuccessful. As a kind of substitute, a cultural “Native American Week” was introduced. Proposals for the introduction of new holidays is all about politics – the politics of identity, the politics of voting, the politics of affiliation, the politics of ethnicity, the politics of patriotism, even the politics of sport.  Yet somewhere amongst all of this congested political melee, Juneteenth National Independence Day – the fastest tracked Federal holiday ever- became law. If you were outside the USA, you might have missed it. While it was happening, it didn’t gather too much attention in the States either.

Juneteenth was initially only a specifically Texan celebration. There were other Emancipation Day celebrations commemorating the freedom from slavery. African Americans in South Carolina and Georgia had also been holding their own Emancipation Day programs but chose the date of January 1. Both groups memorialised the struggles of their people and sought to inspire upliftment in honouring those emancipated slaves. Why did the Carolinians and Georgians celebrate on 1 January? Simple, they followed historical fact. It was on 1 January 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all persons held as slaves were immediately free.  The Texans were only apparently officially informed of the Emancipation when Granger finally reached Texas on 19 June 1865. Ironically, notwithstanding the announcement, most of the slaves were only freed after the cotton harvest was completed, some months later.    The event of the announcement was thereafter commemorated annually mostly by the former slave, who combined the words “June 19th” into “Juneteenth”. As the Civil War became more distant, Juneteenth and Emancipation Day celebrations became less prominent, almost fading into obscurity until there was a cultural revival of Juneteenth, starting in Texas, in the 1970’s.

Jews also have also created their own holidays or “chags”.   When looking at the origins of these festivals, one can see the historic events which gave rise to the festivals. Each one of these Jewish holidays has a unified meaning for its followers. The aim of each holiday is to commemorate and remember the national, religious and world view identity of the Jews. The ideological connection between the Jewish holidays and with their national and cultural values is apparent. Jewish holidays, while established thousands of years ago, and grounded in the Torah, have not lost their relevance today. While the holidays may have been modified, they still continue to be celebrated with the same joy, unity, and cohesion as in ancient times.

It is not difficult to see how these Jewish holidays were created. It is, however, difficult to imagine that the crossing of the Red Sea could  have been celebrated  on the day when Jethro announced to Moses that  he and his kinsmen has  heard about the event and not on the date that the Children of Israel actually walked through the water on dry land. Similarly, that the “international day of independence” could fall on the day that Moses brought down the second set of tablets, rather than when Mount Sinai smoked and thundered and a Divine covenant was created, would seem absurd. Equally preposterous would have been for all the Children of Israel to be ordered to observe a second Pesach simply because some of them were impure for the first celebration and they could not participate.

Exodus from Egypt

But this is what has happened with Juneteenth!

It celebrates an announcement made to the slaves of Texas, telling them that they should have been freed about three years before they heard the announcement. However, the real problem is not the timing or to whom it was said, it’s that the nature of Juneteenth doesn’t support the ideals expected of a holiday.  It doesn’t support unity or nationalism or patriotism. There is also an existing division amongst the ethnic groups celebrating the liberation of the slaves about the date as to when emancipation should be commemorated. It is a very sectarian holiday. On the face of it, it should be a cultural event celebrated by Texans and enjoyed by anyone who wants to participate, much like Native American Week. Both the name and its significance had lost their relevance until its re-introduction about one hundred years after it had faded into virtual insignificance. Even then, it was re-introduced as a cultural event and not a political event! Historically, American slaves were emancipated when Lincoln’s Proclamation was issued, not when the slaves heard about it, or even when they were physically liberated. Emancipation took place on 1 January 1863, in the midst of a civil war. It was Winston Churchill who said that a nation that forgets its history has no future.  Can the rewriting of a nation’s past lead to different future?

President Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)AP

Maybe this is all hair-splitting. After all, 48 states recognised Juneteenth as a state holiday before it became a federal holiday. But they recognised “Juneteenth”; they did not recognise  “Juneteenth National Independence Day”. This federal holiday embodies neither Nation nor Independence.  A re-announcement of emancipation that has already been throughout the rest of the country to a territorial group of people who believed that they are slaves when they are not really slaves, is not  a national event. By legislating that Juneteenth is an Independence Day when it was not and when there is already a nationally celebrated Independence Day on 4 July is divisive and confusing. When an event commemorates an occasion affecting a small ethnic group is made a national occasion it is can only serve to  encourage  fragmentation  and factionalism instead of nationalism and patriotism. This application of a mixed ideological agenda at this time in America’s history does not advance its national aims. In the politically dismembering climate that exists today one must ask whether this was not just a short-term advancement of the non-inclusive political agenda of “Black Lives Matter”.

Another  Federal holiday, Christopher Columbus Day, may be the harbinger of the trouble that Juneteenth National Independence Day may bring. Christopher Columbus Day was recognised by 45 states  before it became a federal holiday in 1968. Congress said  that the nation was honouring the courage and determination which enabled generations of immigrants from many nations to find freedom and opportunity in America.  South Dakota then objected to this view. It has called that holiday  “Native American Day” since 1990.  In 2014 , the Seattle City Council followed South Dakota’s lead and unanimously voted to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous People’s Day”.

Will the issues about  Juneteenth National Independence Day be more pervasive and more damaging? There are already certain groups  which have stated that they will not recognise it. Other militant groups will no doubt ensure the holiday receives its due recognition (or notoriety). Recognising the holiday as a National Independence Day brings with it the underlying inference of  the currently trending “existing systemic racism” and all the baggage attached to it. Is it unrealistic  to expect the “colonial Independence” of 4 July comes under further attack, bearing in mind the inroads into education of the 1619 project?  Will one see  the Juneteenth flag  waving, contests pride of place with  the Stars and Stripes? It also becomes quite feasible that other  existing federal holidays will now be subjected to attack due to their historical, but colonial origins. There is already a struggle to claim the foundations of American democracy, this holiday is only going to add to that struggle.  And by calling it a National Independence Day, it opens the door for  claims of  for  reparations for slavery.   With the stoke of a pen, has the nation unwittingly placed itself  back  into a civil-war, even if this is not yet visible?

Perhaps, in the same way that there is precedent as to how the Sanhedrin interpreted Zechariah’s word to eliminate certain fast days, the US government will not feel constricted to re-examine certain Federal holidays and their names. While one must always remember  and celebrate the abolition of slavery (were we not once  slaves as well?), one wonders if a holiday called Juneteenth National Independence Day  is the appropriate step in advancing an agenda of  national patriotism and common identity.

So while some South Africans celebrated hoax-babies on Saturday 19 June 2021, and some Americans celebrated Saturday 19 June 2021 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, some of us  also celebrated Saturday 19 June 2021 as ….. Shabbat.



About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 20 June 2021

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape

Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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Articles

(1)

Talk about Change!

By David E. Kaplan

Facing the Future. Isaac Herzog says that he’ll work to ‘build bridges’ within Israeli society and with the Diaspora.

Following Isaac Herzog’s election as Israel’s 11th President, the writer looks back on his interview in 2007 with the then ‘Minister of Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against Antisemitism’, and reflects how he can now use the weight of his new high office to tackle many of the issues then discussed that remain no less monumental challenges today.

Talk about Change!

(Click on the blue title)


(2)

In Every Generation

By Rolene Marks

Revealing Insights! Singer Halsey weighs in on Twitter about “colonialist” Israelis murdering “brown children”.

In every generation they rise up to try and destroy us. Jews know too well the dangers of antisemitism as it changes from generation to generation. What makes this latest iteration of antisemitism different and what are the contributing factors?

Spoiler alert: we will overcome this one as well! Read more here:

In Every Generation

(Click on the blue title)




(3)

A Rabbi and a Self-Hating Jew walk into court with a Newspaper

By Adv. Craig Snoyman

The Rabbi vs The Rogue. Libelous words that began in the press may end up in court.

ANC stalwart, Ronnie Kasrils, who has publicly renounced his Jewishness happily traffics on his abandoned identity to attack South Africa’s Chief Rabbi. The writer, a practicing advocate, exposes the former Cabinet Minister’s hypocrisy and welcomes the rabbi having a go at the rogue in court!

A Rabbi and a Self-Hating Jew walk into court with a Newspaper

(Click on the blue title)




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LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

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While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

The Israel Brief- 14-17 June 2021

The Israel Brief – 14 June 2021 – Special Report on swearing in of new government.







The Israel Brief – 15 June 2021 – IDF braces for possible violence ahead of Flag march. Indoor mask mandate ends. Gantz proposal for Meron disaster investigation.







The Israel Brief – 16 June 2021 – IDF strike targets in Gaza strip in response to arson terror. New US Ambassador chosen for Israel. Netanyahu warned to vacate Prime Ministerial residence. First deaf MK sworn in.





The Israel Brief – 17 June 2021 – ICC changes Chief Prosecutors. Ministers to vote on Meron inquiry. Incendiary balloons continue to set fire to land.








While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

In Every Generation

By Rolene Marks

Jews know too well the dangers of antisemitism as it changes from generation to generation.

We have been raising the alarm for years. Antisemitism has a way of mutating into a different form every couple of decades or so but its roots and bones are always the same – a seething, venomous, irrational hatred of Jews and anything that is seen to be representative of us. Today that alarm is ringing out louder than we have heard for decades.

Over the centuries, this has manifested in accusations of deicide, blood libels and refusal to conform to idolatry or other religious doctrines. Jews have endured exile, auto-da-fé , Inquisition, pogroms, the Holocaust and the latest iteration – any and all attempts to demonise our nation state, Israel, while applying gross double standards and attempts to call into question its legal, internationally recognized sovereignty.

Every Passover, we Jews gather at our Seder tables and read the ancient passages that have sustained us through generations. One of those passages we read, speaks of how in every generation there are those who rise up to try and destroy us.

We have survived them all.

We are no strangers to manifestations of antisemitism, be they the genteel murmurings of the champagne socialist elite or the outright and sometimes violent actions of the anti-Israel activists. Following the recent flare up between Israel and Hamas that has come to be known as “Operation Guardians of the Wall”, antisemitism seems to have taken on a more insidious iteration.

Unveiling Her Insights! Among the pop stars who waded into the conflict between Israel and Hamas was Singer Halsey who wrote on Twitter: “It is not ‘too complicated to understand’ that brown children are being murdered.”

For many of us, the world seems to have tilted on its axis. The rise of “woke” culture that is centred on identity politics is creating more division than tolerance. While we are having very important and long overdue conversations about race, it seems that this dialogue excludes antisemitism and the results of this exclusion has never been more evident than in the wake of Operation Guardians of the Wall.

Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is seen through the prism of identity politics. Jews and in this case Israelis are seen as white, Ashkenazi of European descent, engaged in a war against the Palestinians who are people of colour. Singer Halsey, evidenced this in the following Tweet.

This seems to be this generation’s manifestation and not only does it display great ignorance of the facts and history but negates the narrative and experience of the many Jews who were expelled from Arab countries, including North Africa and not forgetting the story of Ethiopian Jewry. It excluded the Jews of India and the African continent and the fact that the majority of Israelis are in fact, to use the parlance of the trendy, “people of colour”. Today’s generation is very attracted to social justice issues and this is admirable but the problem lies in their lack of understanding of history and facts. When it comes to understanding the conflict, context is king and facts and nuance matter. One does not become an expert on the Middle East by looking at memes on Instagram or Tweets from celebrities, models, pornstars (I am not joking!) late night talk show hosts and social media influencers desperate to prove their blue-tick social justice credentials.

Israel’s detractors know this too well and realise that placing the conflict against a background of identity politics, while relying on the ignorance of many, is a formula that unfortunately seems to be working well. They use words like “Apartheid” or “colonialists” which are highly emotive as their central accusation against Israel and as a result of this, Hamas with their genocidal intentions are now seen as resistance fighters and the Israeli Defense Forces as the aggressors. A moral equivalence has been drawn and Israel is the only country that has to defend its right to defend itself against attacks on its sovereign territory. History be damned!

I told you the world was topsy turvy and off its axis!

This is also compounded by politics. While Israel enjoys strong bi-partisan support in the United States, the increasingly vocal and acrimonious “Squad” whose trio of vociferous Israel-bashers, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Rashida Tlaib, have displayed an incredible ability to read the room. In other words they understand the power of the language that they use and platforms that their constituents flock to which is social media. These Queens of Identity Politics have a clear agenda and are not afraid to push it and dismiss them as a small but loud minority at your peril. Today’s leaders may not pay as much heed as they should but they are extremely influential amongst the movers, shakers and opinion makers of tomorrow.

Young Israelis Today.  If those anti-Israel celebrities and pop stars visited Israel they would know its Jewish population is a kaleidoscope of complexions, a far cry from the lies and distortions about Israelis they tweet to their millions of adoring followers.
 

Global institutions and mainstream media have also joined the milieu. Hardly a day goes by without the United Nations and its agencies condemning Israel for something and the once venerated global institute is more synonymous these days for institutionalized antisemitism. Where are the resolutions condemning antisemitism that is rife in the streets of cities around the world? Where was the emergency session when convoys of hate rolled through London screaming “Fuck the Jews, rape their women” or when diners were beaten up in Los Angeles and other cities? Silence. Raping Jewish women is not going to “Free Palestine”.

Deafening Silence. Where were those celebrities and pop stars on social media following a convoy of cars on May 16, 2021 adorned with Palestinian flags driving through North London whose occupants were
shouting: ‘F**k the Jews,’ ‘Rape their daughters’ and ‘Free Palestine’. (Photo: Screenshot)

The mainstream media are just as if not more guilty. Fueled by competition for ratings, the “David vs Goliath” narrative with its inference that Israel is the giant to the oppressed Palestinian is contributing to the growing hate on the streets. In fact, we can almost draw a direct line between the narrative portrayed on TV and the rise in vicious antisemitism. I have lost count how many times I have been called a “baby killer” as the result of people being fed a steady media diet of very partisan reporting. Most of the media have skipped over the facts that Hamas awarded Al Jazeera for their coverage of the recent flare up, choosing instead to focus on the razing of the media building that housed Associated Press and Al Jazeera and a fair shake of terrorists hell bent on finding ways to destroy Israel’s Iron Dome system. But of course they didn’t know they were sharing office space with Hamas!

It takes a brave news channel to challenge the narrative these days and thank goodness there are those like Sky News Australia or the newly launched GB News in the UK who are not afraid to go head to head with the wokeratti!

And it doesn’t get more “woke” than the Hollywood elites. Desperate to be seen as committed social justice warriors, everyone from Ellen Barkin (is she still relevant?) to John Oliver and supermodels Bella and Gigi Hadid have A LOT to say about Israel. None of it correct. From their sanctimonious perch amongst the mansions and estates of Malibu to Beverly Hills, these faux experts have used their social media platforms to spread dangerously inflammatory rhetoric. Now before we roll our eyes so far back in our heads that we detach our corneas, these schlebs have millions of followers that far outnumber the total amount of Jews on the planet. I do find it vaguely amusing that the Hadid sisters who grew up in the absolute lap of luxury and earn a living wearing next to nothing are suddenly getting in touch with their Palestinian roots. I doubt Hamas take too kindly to Victoria’s Secret models but I could be wrong.

Model Behavior! Male model Anwar Hadid (left), the brother of Palestinian model Bella Hadid, who recently published a host of inciting anti-Israel posts was allegedly caught in a text message exchange, proclaiming he wants Israelis to be “erased from the planet”. Anwar, is seen here with his girlfriend, British pop star Dua Lipa (right), who during the recent Israel Hamas war, posted on Instagram: “The big bad tough guys of the #IDF thoroughly enjoy beating and shooting children”.

So what is the solution? It is quite simple. We have to show up wherever and whenever we can. We have to challenge the hypocrisy and false narrative by sharing the stories of our diverse people and remember our indigenous rights. This is our identity politics. It is sad that we have to politicize our identity but in the narrative war this has become an imperative. In every generation they rise up to try and defeat us. In this generation it is an attack on our very identity and diversity all represented in the existence of our nation state. Israel is a physical manifestation of the ethnic diversity of the Jewish people. We will survive this as we have all the others by being present and proud. One blue tick at a time.



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Talk about Change!

As Israel’s 11th President, Isaac Herzog is tailor-made for transformation

By David E. Kaplan

A new President, a new Prime Minister and for the first time in Israel’s history, something extraordinary – a NEW religious Arab Muslim party (Ra’am) in Israel’s ruling coalition government. People can disagree on multiple issues of what is evolving, what they cannot disagree is where it is heading –  CHANGE.

Exactly what that change will be, nobody is too sure.

As Israel awoke the morning after ‘chaos in the Knesset’ to a new political reality, I received emails from friends and family abroad, all variation of a theme:

Nu, what does this mean?”

For the most part I replied it was a case of ditching deadlock.

The country is moving on, first a new president now a new Prime Mister and we will have to wait how this political theatre plays out. True, most of the cast remains the same actors; but there is a touch of Shakespearean irony here with Herzog’s ascendancy to the Presidency recalling the Bard’s – “The play’s the thing that will catch the conscience of the king…”. In 2015, Herzog vied to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and as chance would have it, he was elected President a few years later on the day that a coalition united in a bid to remove the veteran Prime Minister from power!

Further irony for this writer, “Enter Isaac Herzog” was the title of my interview with Isaac Herzog back in 2007 when he was then Minister of Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against Antisemitism. The article was for Haaretz magazine and it was concerning Jewish youth around the world focusing on “nurturing tomorrow’s leadership”.

Face to the Future. Former Jewish Agency head, Labour chief and son of the 6th President, Israel’s 11th President, Isaac Herzog –  seen outside the Knesset  – says that he’ll work to ‘build bridges’ within Israeli society and with Diaspora.

All these years later, “enter” the former Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party as Israel’s 11th President!

From the stable he comes he has inherited the family mettle. The son revealed in the 2007 interview an illuminating story about his father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s 6th president, and the birth of a nation.

On the 11 March 1946, a car bomb exploded beneath the Keren Hayesod wing of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The bomber, an Arab in the employ of the American Consul was a trusted person at the Agency. “He said he had stuff to deliver and needed to park as close to the building as possible.” Why should they have doubted him? Only two weeks previously, he had supplied weapons to the Hagana (pre-curser to the Israeli Defence Force). What they did not know was that he was a double agent, and that ignorance resulted in eleven fatalities, including the Director of Keren Hayesod, Leib Jaffe.

Emerging from the Rubble. March 11 1946, Arab terrorists bombed the headquarters building of the Jewish Agency for Palestine in Jerusalem killing eleven and wounding eighty-six. Among the injured was Isaac Herzog’s mother, Aura who was rescued under the rubble by his father, the future 6th President of the State of Israel.

My father had been the Chief Security officer of the Jewish Agency at the time of the bombing. Luckily, he was in the toilet when the bomb exploded,” says Isaac. Not so fortunate was his mother, Aura, who was buried under the rubble.

My dad had to dig her out. She was unconscious and remained in hospital for six months. After riding in the ambulance with her to the hospital, he then had to rush afterwards to an important meeting with a representative from the United Nations. He had no time to change, so his clothes were covered in my mother’s blood. The UN man took one look at my Dad and said:

 “If this is the way you come dressed to a meeting, no one will deter you from winning this war”.”

How right this UN representative was!

Ever since, the UN has been mostly wrong about Israel and it was Herzog senior who in 1975 gave his memorable firebrand speech to the UN General Assembly  rejecting the resolution equating Zionism with racism. It was described by prizewinning historian Simon Sebag Montefiore as “one of the great speeches of the 20th century.”

Herzog stated that the resolution’s supporters were motivated by the “two great evils” of “hatred and ignorance”, something that has not changed to this day. So poetically and poignantly he ended his speech with:

For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper, and we shall treat it as such,” before tearing the draft resolution in two.

The wife he earlier saved three decades earlier in the rubble in Jerusalem, Aura Herzog became a social activist and in 1968, she founded The Council for a Beautiful Israel – a public non-profit organization focused on improving the quality of life in Israel – and remains at 96, its international president. This family name has a presidential ring about it!

The Israel Connection. An old generation cellphone, Isaac Herzog being interviewed in 2007 by the writer, on ‘connecting’ with Jewish youth around the world. (photo D.E.Kaplan)

No less enlightening, his Egyptian-born mother is the one who gave Israel’s new President his popular nickname “Bougie” by mixing the French word for doll “poupee” with its Hebrew equivalent “buba”.

In his acceptance speech as Israel’s 11th President, Bougie said:

I intend to be the President of all Israelis, to lend an attentive ear to every position and respect every person. To join the connecting lines and build bridges of consensus, in order to bring in even the most distant amongst us, as well as our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.”

These words resonated with the writer recalling what he had expressed back in the 2007 interview. Sitting in a restaurant in his hometown of Tzahala, a neighbourhood in north Tel Aviv, he said, referring to the Internet and the World Wide Web:

Press ‘enter’ today and you are connected to the world; that’s the good news. The bad news,” he continued, “is that in the new age of instant connectivity, too many Jews in the Diaspora have become disconnected – from their religion and their community.”

While the majority of Jews today live in democracies enjoying unprecedented freedom, “it has not come without a price. Too many have become alienated, a challenge to Jewish leadership the world over.”

This remains a challenge that as Israel’s 11th President, Isaac “Bougie” Herzog can pursue with the full weight of his office.

From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A youthful relaxed then Minister of Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against antisemitism, Isaac Herzog being interviewed by the writer at a restaurant in north Tel Aviv in 2007. (photo D.E. Kaplan)






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

A Rabbi and a Self-Hating Jew walk into court with a Newspaper

By Adv. Craig Snoyman

South African Jewry is resilient. They know that their government is vociferously anti-Israel and that when an incident flares up in the Middle East between the Israel and its neighbours, they know to keep their heads down and try and weather the storm.  This time, the captain of the ship was on the starboard, plotting a course to safety and became a target.

Two weeks ago, a three-quarter page article appeared in South Africa’s most widely read national newspaper, the Sunday Times. The headlines blazed:

 “A chief rabbi who is a disgrace to his faith and to human decency.

This prominently placed article was written by a former politician, who is now well past his sell-by date. Once a cabinet minister in the Thabo Mbeki cabinet, his star has faded, but he tries his best to appear news-worthy whenever he can. His sure-safe recipe is knocking Israel or the Jews.  He can do this because he was born a Jew and it’s therefore “acceptable”. It always makes for great conversation when a Jew publicly attacks another Jew, even if the first “Jew” has not an iota of Jewishness, save for the accident of his birth.  This was the situation with our self-hating “Jew”, Ronnie Kasrils. His target was the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, and he could hardly fail!

The Rabbi vs the Rebel. Ronnie Kasrils’ article in the Sunday Times attacking South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein.

Kasrils, who has very publicly renounced his Jewishness, has pooh-poohed the idea that the Jews were chosen by God. He has declared that Jewishness is merely a charade for Jews to hide their racism and their Zionist exclusivity. His article, which he called an open letter to the President, was much of the same.  Many didn’t read past the headline.  It was a sickening headline. In fact it is exceedingly difficult to find a more disturbing headline than this, in any mainstream newspaper anywhere in the free world. It was incredible that a newspaper was prepared to print it. How does one react to big, bold in-your- face print that says – “A chief rabbi who is a disgrace to his faith and to human decency”.

The article itself was filled with the normal vitriol about Israel and the Jews, but it also made an unjustified and unheard-of attack on Rabbi Goldstein. In fact, the last time that I can remember a chief rabbi of South Africa being so viciously attacked was when Rabbi Rabinowitz attacked the Nationalist government for its policy of Apartheid.  It was an uncalled for, ad-hominem attack on the Chief Rabbi  and a rant against many things Israeli or Zionist.  It was an article that had no place in any respectable publication. Kasrils started off his letter by referring to “the illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian land” which was “the greatest moral issue of our time”. It only got worse from there.  He referred to the anger at the pain and humiliation inflicted on the Palestinian people, to which was an offence South Africa’s core values of equality, justice and human rights. Clearly, Rabbi Goldstein had no justice or compassion of the hundreds of innocent Palestinians who perished in Israel’s “so-called precision bombing” The Chief Rabbi’s version of “the truth” about Sheikh Jarrah was the same as Apartheid’s eviction policy. Similarly the Chief’s statement that there had been many attempts to create a Palestinian state, was “sheer sophistry”. This was because Israel had colonised Palestine in 1948 and had thereafter engaged in expansion, land theft and ethnic cleansing.  It was the Israeli government that had refused to be a partner for peace, while the Palestinians, even Hamas, “had gone out of their way to consider a two-state solution”. It was the Israelis that had rejected proposals, instead insisting on a Bantustan solution. The Chief Rabbi was “obfuscating” if he suggested otherwise. As for Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’ rockets, “Goldstein [had] callously ignored the rain of death poured into the world’s most densely populated concentration camp where two million inhabitants have no place to hide.” How can he support a “people that smash a small densely populated territory to smithereens because they sustained 12 deaths?” Kasrils did not forget to refer to the dubious quote of Richard Falk that “Palestinian resistance to occupation is a legally protected right” and that Israel was violating international law. He also scoffed at the Chief Rabbi’s reliance on “a property-dealing God who presented another peoples land to the so-called chosen” which was in stark contrast to the belief of Palestinian Christians and Muslims. He concluded by holding that “numerous devout Jews interpret the Hebrew bible very differently to Goldstein and his ilk. His views are not representative of Jews in general” and that “Goldstein’s utterances contradict the golden rule of all religions to treat others as you wish them to treat you”.

Up to his Neck. No, Ronnie Kasrils is not wearring a tallit (prayer shawl worn by Jews) but a Palestinian keffiyeh.

With the Jewish community in shell-shock, the response came in last week’s Sunday Times. Entitled “Kasrils breached acceptable boundaries of civilised discourse” virtually every leading organisation within the Jewish establishment attached its name to this public rebuke.  A small photo-replica of the original article with the offensive heading was attached to the Jewish establishment’s response (just in case it could have been forgotten).  In defending the Chief, Kasrils was accused of breaching acceptable boundaries, demonising and defaming the state of Israel and vilifying and crassly impugning “the integrity of the chief rabbi, Dr Warren Goldstein, the public face of the Jewish faith community in South Africa” and inflaming race relations in South Africa. Notably, the Chief Rabbi was not a signatory to the article.

Like any Jew, I know some things and I have an opinion on some things. They don’t always overlap. I have an opinion on Kasrils’ conduct (which might not be fit to publish) and I know something about the law of defamation in South Africa. My opinion based on my knowledge of defamation is that he has opened himself up to a massive lawsuit. Kasrils, who has been on the winning side of a defamation case previously, must also be acutely aware of this as well.

The law of defamation in South Africa balances the existence of various conflicting constitutional rights such as the right to privacy and dignity against the right to freedom of expression and political rights. In principle, to succeed in a defamation case one needs to prove the following: 

(1) there is a statement

(2) it has been published 

(3) it concerns that person

(4) it is defamatory

(5) it has injured that person in his reputation.

The test to be applied to decide whether a statement is defamatory is whether the words complained of, are reasonably capable of conveying to the reasonable reader a meaning defamatory of that person. One does not need to prove falsity. The quantification of damages is dependent on reputation and character, standing in the community and the extent of the publication.

The party being sued has a variety of defences at his disposal. The most common defence is that while the statement appears on the face of it (prima facie) defamatory, the words were used in a non-defamatory sense and special circumstances are set out.  Other defences might include (a) the absence of intention to cause harm (this defence is not available to the media) or (b) that it was made in jest or (c) that the words were spoken in sudden anger as a result of provocation (referred to as “Rixa”) or (d) lack of knowledge of wrongfulness or (e) denial of wrongfulness i.e., that the defamation was not wrongful. 

There are also defences that would apply where the statement was made in the discharge of an official duty such as (f) qualified privilege or where it was made in parliament being (g) absolute privilege. For statements appearing in the media, there are two   defences that are invariably raised, viz. (h) truth and public interest and (i) fair comment. 

When one looks at the requirements that the Chief Rabbi would have to prove, then elements (1)-(3) are self-evident. The crux of the case would be – the reasonable person test.  If this is successful then element (5) falls into place. I regard myself as a reasonable person. On a simple reading of the article, I find it to be unacceptably egregious. On a deeper reading of the article, I find it to be irredeemably and grievously reprehensible and having no redeeming merit. Thus, on the Chief Rabbi’s version, I believe that he cannot but succeed.  As the Chief Rabbi is the pre-eminent Jew in South Africa, I believe that he should qualify for the largest sum of damages ever awarded for defamation in South Africa.

Heading to Court. The man Kasrils has accused of as “a disgrace to human decency”, South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein speaking at Nelson Mandela’s memorial ceremony on December 10, 2013. (Sky News, YouTube)

Strategically and tactically the response was brilliant. Whether intentionally or by chance (or should I say by fate, as Rabbis don’t believe in chance), with the stroke of a pen, the people of the book  vindicated the Chief Rabbi. The entire upper echelons of the Jewish Community, unquestionably comprising of reasonable people, found the article to be, not only defamatory, but as exceeding the bounds of civil discourse and both vilifying and crassly impugning the chief rabbi’s integrity.  One can’t get a much stronger condemnation of Kasrils’ statement than that. No doubt the Chief has a superior legal team advising him. His father, Ezra Goldstein was one of the sharpest judges on the South African bench and certainly one of the most compassionate.  But the Chief Rabbi, no doubt, has a Greater Hand guiding him. I think the whole Jewish community would derive immense satisfaction in seeing him nail this ###%##   BIG TIME, through the agency of this Greater Hand.

Kasrils, on the other is not without his defences. He has revelled in his article, has not denied a single word of it and his only complaint is that it was not published in its totality. Various defences are immediately ruled out. Having called the Chief Rabbi an obfuscating sophist whose views, and that of his ilk, are not representative of Jews in general, he can hardly be seen to raise a defence of absence of intention to cause insult, or that they were not intended to defame the Chief Rabbi.  The defence of lack of knowledge of unlawfulness is moot. Many of our jurists hold that it is an element of intention. Whether unlawful forms part of intention or not, Kasril’s   statement falls within this larger category.  So Kasrils is left with a choice of two defences: truth and public interest or fair comment. To succeed in the defence of truth and public interest requires proof that both (1) the statement was true and (2) that its publication was to the benefit of the public. Just on a summary of his statement as set out, it is unlikely that he can prove either. Which leaves Kasrils with one defence, that of fair comment. The elements required to be proven for this defence are (1) that it was a comment and not a statement of fact; and (2) that the comment was “fair” (in that it does not exceed certain limits); and (3) the facts commented on were truly stated and (4) the matter was in the public interest. With several facts indisputably incorrect as well as a response from the entire Jewish establishment that Kasrils’ comment breached acceptable boundaries of civilised discourse, it will be difficult for a judge to hold that this defence has any merit either.

Last but not least, the law also provides the Chief Rabbi with a further useful line of attack. Even if Kasrils were able to show circumstances providing a justification for his statement, such a defence should fail, if it can be shown that he intended to injure the Chief Rabbi in his reputation. As my maths teacher used to say: Quod Erat Demonstratum! (Roughly translated: this which has been proved)

In defamation cases like this, not only is the writer of the article sued, but the publisher is as well. There have been cases where even the distributor and the printer of the newspaper have been sued as well. In this case, it would probably be adequate to sue Kasrils and the owners/ publishers of the Sunday Times.

Like all juicy court cases, there is invariably a twist in the tale.  This one is no different. Following this notorious article, Kasrils was interviewed on a Muslim television channel.  He went on record as stating that he was not responsible for the headlines that appeared above his article, that was done by the newspaper itself. It is almost inconceivable that the largest national newspaper, with top-class legal advisors on tap, could have created such a stupefyingly defamatory headline. Our Supreme Court of Appeal has made it abundantly clear that the public media cannot rely on the absence of animus injuriandi to escape liability, (although it may rely on absence of negligence.) If Kasrils is to be believed, not only would it appear that the Sunday Times had been negligent, but it would seem that a case might be made for malevolent premeditation and malice in choosing the headline.  That the Sunday Times first published and then republished the headlines a week later, when the response was published, places it in a very invidious position. Not only has the headline been published twice in hard copy, but these headlines appear around the world in soft copy and remain on record.

No place to hide!

The newspaper’s legal team are going to have their work cut out for them, in the event of defamation litigation being instituted.

I am one of those South Africans who keeps my head down. I am not part of the Jewish establishment. I don’t know what the Chief Rabbi will do. In response to the article, I have bought a Jewish National Fund Certificate so that a tree will be planted in Israel in the name of Ronnie Kasrils.  I really hope that the Chief Rabbi will sue and get the biggest defamation award ever issued in South Africa and then donates it to a Zionist cause in the name of Kasrils. ….and it all has to published in the Sunday Times!



About the author:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO) .

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 13 June 2021

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While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).