Crying for the beloved Country

You have the right to know! Many will wonder why on earth is someone who chose to leave South Africa and start a new life in Israel is doing jumping on her soap box and giving her opinion about  the protection of State Information Bill that will be passed in South Africa on November 22nd.  (although it still needs to go to provincial level, then back to the president before being gazetted)

 The sign of a healthy democracy is a free and open press. The role of the media is to shine a light on the dark corners of government corruption and expose any form of bad governance. The rule is simple. The government is answerable to the citizens of the country it governs. Hey, they put you there – and they can remove you! In a democracy, the citizens have a right to know if their rulers are dodgy and/or if they are doing things with valuable tax money that raises an eyebrow. South Africans fought long and hard for true democratic rule and can boast one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world. The passing of a law that disallows the criticism of the government and its institutions and muzzles the press not only makes a mockery of the tenets to which many hold dear but is tragic for a country that can boast the Freedom Charter as a yardstick for measuring human rights. Yesterday the ruling ANC cocked a giant snoot at the South African Constitution, her citizens – and the fight of many to end Apartheid. There is no great difference between the censoring of the press in the Apartheid era and now!

 

I feel compelled to add my voice to the growing outcry against this bill. November 22nd 2011 will go down in South African history as one of its darkest days. Even though I live in Israel I showed my solidarity – as did many of my South African, American, Israeli and other colleagues – for “Black Tuesday” by wearing something black. The concept of a free press is something to hold sacred. A free press tells us that we live in countries that allow us the freedom of expression. As someone who makes a living as a wordsmith, the idea of being silenced would be like losing one of my senses. Although many would agree that the idea of Rolene Marks finally shutting up may be a good thing! Two weeks ago I was the subject of a hate blog – it seems someone took exception to my contrary opinion to theirs. I say bring it on!!! I will protect YOUR right to disagree with me.

 

I have spent most of my life doing some kind of advocacy work for Israel. More often than not I have heard many people grumbling about the Israeli press. It is too left, too right, criticises the government too much, does not criticise enough. Today I am grateful for our media. I am often asked why the world media is so hostile against Israel. Although it is painful to see my country unfairly singled out for opprobrium, I am glad that we allow it – and that we can hold our own against the accusations that come. Criticising the government is the national sport of Israel and the old adage “two Jews, four opinions” is very true. Long may we enjoy this right!

 

South Africa, your people fought bravely to end Apartheid and institute freedom for all. Continue the fight to include the media in the category “ALL”! In the immortal words of a protestor in Cape Town yesterday (and my apologies to non-South Africans who may not get the joke)….JOU MA SE SECRECY BILL!

Bearing Witness

Forgive me for diverting from my usual pieces about Aliyah but I feel it has become incumbent on me as an ex-South African and now citizen of Israel to write the following piece.
 
As many of you know, the State of Israel has been put on trial for the last three days in Cape Town, South Africa by the “judicial” (and I use that term loosely) farce known as the Russell Tribunal for crimes of Apartheid perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Given that the Tribunal has no official judicial status it can only be described as a kangaroo court. The Russell Tribunal forms part of the Betrand Russell Peace Foundation which was originally formed to investigate violations of international law and human rights.
 
For the past three days the sounds of kangaroos hopping their way to the courthouse has drowned out all sounds of reason. And the jury selection for this has been full of kangaroos (apologies for the comparison, cute marsupials from Australia!).From former Special Rapporteur for the UN on Palestine, John Dugard, who is almost as heinous as his successor to Red Ronnie Kasrils himself! And not to forget the Arch Tutu, Zackie Achmat and Winnie Mandela. Winnie “withdrew” from the panel. Perhaps her own scurrilous human rights record should face its own tribunal! Lest I forget star witness, Leila Khaled, she of first female airplane hijacker fame! And these are the people who judge Israel for human rights abuse? Laughable if it weren’t for the fact that the Tribunal is taking place in South Africa, former Apartheid state, the jurists are famed anti-Apartheid activists and the venue for this theatre of the ridiculous is the District Six Museum. Very symbolic. This is enough to have any anti-Israelist turning cartwheels and thinking all their birthdays have arrived at once.
 
So why have I decided to write this piece? As someone who grew up during the emergency state years in South Africa, I bore witness to the crime that was Apartheid. As an Israeli, I live the reality of what Israel is like every single day. Is there racism in this country? Yes, just as there is in any other. No, Israel is not utopia but neither is any other country – including South Africa. We tend to forget what the word Apartheid really means. Apartheid is defined as “the Afrikaans word meaning ‘separation’, Apartheid was the racial, social policy introduced by the National Party government of South Africa in 1948.” Today it is used to describe Israel. It is a very sexy catchword, after all it is emotive, evocative and provocative. Perfect if you want to package and market hatred. The very use of it to describe Israel is not only odious but makes a mockery and cheapens the tremendous suffering endured by South Africa’s black citizens.
 
Growing up in Apartheid South Africa, I bore witness on a daily basis to the inhumane suffering of my fellow citizens. Only they were not regarded as such. Denied the right to vote or have political representation they had no voice in government. Unlike MK Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset and another “star” tribunal witness. South Africans who were not perfect white specimens were denied the right to a decent education, receiving a “bantu education”, which was inferior to that I received. The Apartheid laws in South Africa denied black citizens the freedom of movement. I remember witnessing the humiliation of black men who were out past their curfew as police checked their pass books and in some circumstances whipped them with a sjambok (whip). Just because they could. As a child I once asked my mother why it was that nannies (domestic workers) always sat on the grass in the park. Was it that they did not like the chairs?Imagine my mother’s discomfort explaining to me that nannies were not allowed to sit on benches because they were for “whites only”. An idea that was unimaginable to my naïve childish mind. I also wondered where the black children were because they did not attend my school or my ballet class or swim in the same swimming pool as I did. If my father gave our “nanny” a lift anywhere, she has to sit in the back of the car for fear of breaking any racial laws. We as Jews come from a history where we understand too well the implications of racial laws. I could go on and on about the injustices suffered by black South Africans and it is extremely painful to write this piece as I also acknowledge how I as a white child benefitted.
 
I now focus on Israel. I am proud to be an Israeli citizen, it  is the realisation of a lifelong dream. Yes, this country is defined along ethnic lines – as was legally voted in by the United Nations and is no different from the countries, and there are many, who define themselves according to their Islamic identity. I live the day to day reality and it pains me to hear my country so erroneously compared to South Africa. Visit any Israeli hospital where Arab doctors treat Jewish patients and vice versa. Take the public transport and revel in the fact that there are no seats marked “Jews only”. Attend any of our Universities which are fully integrated. Visit the beach. Enjoy your lunch or coffee in any of our restaurants and coffee shops. Find your way around our country in Hebrew or Arabic (and yes sometimes even English) as they are our official languages. Vote for the Arab parties if you so wish. Have your case heard before Arab Supreme Court judge, Justice Joubron. Serve in our army or foreign service. Rest assured these are not positions reserved for Jews only. I am proud of our imperfect yet pluralistic democracy.
 
I am proud to call myself a Zionist Israeli. I challenge the jury of buffoons who dare sit in judgement to truly look at Israel with open eyes. I fear that they do not. The Russell Tribunal would not have been out of place in Salem circa the witch trials because it is exactly what it is.
 
Jurists of the tribunal, under the laws of balanced, democratic jurisprudence, I find you guilty of racism.