|There is a huge difference between "anti-Israel" |
© Shafiq Morton
Did Sam Sokol, Jewish world affairs and Diaspora reporter for the Jerusalem Post “SA ambassador, Ebrahim Rasool, assures action on anti-Israel activity” get his lines crossed? Or, was it calculated Zionist hasbara?
This is a question, to which only Sokol has the answer, and at the time of writing – a week after filing his story – he had not publicly clarified his position, and nor had his employers, the Jerusalem Post.
In his story (6 June, 2013) he had quoted the SA ambassador to Washington as saying that on completion of his diplomatic tour of duty in the US … “he (Rasool) would commit himself to… combating anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity (as) a priority”.
These remarks were allegedly made at a breakfast hosted by the ambassador with the Islamic Society for North America (ISNA) and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), a Jewish-Muslim interfaith group of 10-years standing.
The FFEU is headed by Rabbi Marc Schneier, the charismatic rabbi of the Manhattan synagogue in New York, and vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, an organisation that represents the interests of over 100 Jewish communities world-wide.
The FFEU, in conjunction with ISNA, had been hosting a dialogue on Capitol Hill between Jewish and Muslim representatives from southern hemisphere countries South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Previous dialogues had been held with European and Latin American communities in 2009 and 2012.
The long-term goal of the FFEU, which has embarked upon a programme of “twinning” mosques and synagogues, is to facilitate a global movement of Jews and Muslims committed to communication, reconciliation and co-operation.
At the breakfast Rasool had re-iterated a theme of the FFEU – endorsed by ISNA president, Imam Mohamed Magid – of Jews and Muslims standing up for each other on matters of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
The ambassador had also observed that engagement between Muslims and Jews should be based on a rediscovery of the finest values of the Abrahamic tradition. The question was how those who valued peace, justice and mercy carried it over into this doctrinal space, one he said harked back to 1492 in Spain – a time when there had been productive Judeo-Islamic co-existence.
Using the term “human agency”, Rasool said contact should be based on this principle; a principle (of universal empathy) that could solve intractable problems unfettered by base instincts such as security, or who committed the first wrong.
An investigation by Al-Qalam has shown that nowhere in Rasool’s breakfast address did he speak about committing himself to combating “anti-Israel activities” as alleged by Sokol in the Jerusalem Post.
The mischief starts when Sokol’s second paragraph in his article suggestively switches focus by bracketing “anti-Zionist” with “anti-Semitic”, thus neatly associating anti-Semitism with “anti-Israel”.
The ink had hardly dried on the pages before the Jerusalem Post story started to circulate in South Africa. It was picked up in an e-mail by Muhammed Desai of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Accusing Rasool of being a sell-out, and of being out of sync with Muslim and local political sentiment, Desai asserted that the central issue (in Palestine) was not about religion, but human rights.
He insinuated that Rasool did not sufficiently understand this, and cast aspersions upon the credibility of the participants. According to Desai, it was political struggle that brought people together, not faith alone.
Desai, in turn, was criticised by Rasool’s World for All Foundation for blithely accepting the Zionist-friendly, if not reactionary Jerusalem Post, as being a trustworthy source.
When asked by Al-Qalam if Desai had contacted him to verify his statements in the Jerusalem Post, Rasool said he had received no calls.
In an angry letter to Rabbi Schneier (of which Al-Qalam has seen a copy) Rasool vehemently denied the contents of the Jerusalem Post report, complaining that he’d been falsely accused of saying something that was not even discussed.
“…the report is a travesty. I cannot believe it is the intention of the FFEU to destroy the reputation of those Muslims who enter into dialogue with Jews by distorting a complex discussion on inter-faith dialogue into just another sound-byte support of Israel,” he said.
Rasool also objected to the politically-loaded term “moderate”being applied to Muslims, a quote attributed to Rabbi Schneier in Sokol’s report. He said he’d stressed at the breakfast that those choosing the path of non-violence and peace could be “militant”, and not “moderate”.
He’d also observed that no-one in South Africa who’d survived apartheid could ever be immune to the plight of the Palestinians. South Africans, he said, had too “keen a sense” of what it meant for a people to be dispossessed of their land, and rendered strange in a place they called home.
Rasool emphasised that the biggest South African lesson was that you could not fight racism with racism. In the same breath, the anti-dote to the suffering of Palestinians could not be anti-Semitism.
He said he did not warn against extremism in the Muslim community to support Israel, but to prevent the distortion of the Muslim soul – and also what was being done in his name as a Muslim.
In response to Rasool’s letter, Rabbi Schneier apologised for what he also called a “travesty”.
"We were as shocked and as angry as you are and we have made it clear that this news brief was totally false and inaccurate,” he said in a texted message.
Reports in publications such as the Washington Jewish Week and the Forward corroborate that Sokol's interpretation of Rasool’s remarks differ markedly from those portrayed in the other Jewish media.
The Forward, the US’s biggest Jewish media mouthpiece, quoted Rasool as saying that during the anti-apartheid struggle, South African Muslims and Jews had worked together motivated by a common humanity, but that since 1994, the Palestinian situation had dominated the discourse and divided the communities.
This point was observed too by South African Jewish representatives and Rabbi Schneier, who said that South African Muslims were very passionate about Israel, and that rapprochement in post-apartheid South Africa was one of their biggest challenges.