antisemitism,  Israel/Palestine

“I Meant to Say Zionists, Not Jews”

This is a guest post by Ben Cohen of Z Word

As I reported last week, Fatima Hajaig, the Deputy Foreign Minister of South Africa, delivered a speech at a Palestine solidarity rally that could have been scripted by a sub-editor on Der Sturmer. “The control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money,” she screamed, “and if Jewish money controls their country then you cannot expect anything else.”

Hajaig has now offered…what, exactly? A clarification? An apology? A restatement of her original remarks?

Whatever you want to call it, here it is:

I have just returned from a visit to Japan and learnt of the controversy surrounding some comments that I was purported to have made. I have reviewed the proceedings of the meeting and wish to say, to state the following: Throughout my life I have been opposed to apartheid and all forms of racism. It is this opposition that drove me into exile and to work with the African National Congress for decades. Along with all in the ANC and consistent with the recent resolutions adopted at our Polokwane conference in December 2007, I have long been cognisant of the immense suffering the Palestinians have experienced in the form of expulsions, collective punishment and massacres, of which the recent war in Gaza is but the latest example. It is to this suffering that I spoke at the meeting. I deplore the attempts of Zionists to justify policies that have worsened the crisis in the Middle East, in particular unmitigated state violence directed against unarmed civilians as much as I deplore indiscriminate attacks against Israeli unarmed civilians.

At a singular point in my talk, and entirely unrelated to any South African community, I conflated Zionist pressure with Jewish influence. I regret the inference made by some that I am anti-Jewish. I do not believe that the cause of the Palestinians is served by any anti-Jewish racism. As a member of the South African government and a committed member of the African National Congress, I subscribe to the values and principles of non-racism and condemn without equivocation all forms of racism, including antisemitism in all its manifestations and wherever it may occur.

To the extent that my statement may have caused hurt and pain, I offer an unequivocal apology for the pain it may have caused to the people of our country and the Jewish community in particular. I wish to reiterate that the major issue in relation to the Palestinian Israel conflict is the enormous suffering of the Palestinian people and the struggle for peace for all its’ people based on justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

As Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, I reaffirm the government’s commitment to engage all parties in Israel and Palestine to find an amicable and just resolution to the conflict in that region.

Let’s begin with the phrase, “some comments that I was purported to have made.” What’s implied here is that she may not have made these comments, or that what she said has somehow been distorted. One problem, though: she’s on record. Listen for yourselves here, about 50 seconds into the broadcast.

Then she adopts the moral high ground, with a reminder of her service to the ANC and her anger at “Zionists” who justify indiscriminate attacks upon civilians. Her point here is to say, in essence, do not judge me for what I may or may not have said, but rather by my political beliefs.

Then we get the killer line: “At a singular point in my talk…I conflated Zionist pressure with Jewish influence. I regret the inference made by some that I am anti-Jewish.” Check out the fascinating inversion going on here: instead of the word “Zionist” being used as deliberate code for “Jew,” the word “Jew” is being – accidentally? – used as code for “Zionist.”

Fatima Hajaig doesn’t want to explain how she flipped those around. And why should she? Antisemitic canards about Jews and money and power were, no doubt, furthest from her mind when she made this unfortunate slip of the tongue. Those of us who dwell on this point are playing the usual Zionist trick of changing the subject. As Hajaig’s defenders in South Africa’s Palestine Solidarity Alliance put it, what we have here is “no more than a sinister means of diverting public attention from the ever increasing reports war crimes, ethnic cleansing and a massive humanitarian crisis caused in Gaza by Israel.”

Yes, it’s very sinister. After all, Hajaig is clear that what she calls “anti-Jewish racism” does not serve the cause of the Palestinians, so how could she possibly be suspected of anything other than noble intentions? When Hajaig rails against Jewish financial influence, or when Hamas quotes from the Protocols, or when Torah scrolls are pulled from the ark of a synagogue in Caracas and defaced by a group of armed men, none of this is directed at Jews. Shame, really, on those who say otherwise.

Actually, one reason that Hajaig’s statement is so tortuous is that it goes on. And on. And on. Just when you think you can’t take any more, along comes this flourish: “To the extent that my statement may have caused hurt and pain, I offer an unequivocal apology for the pain it may have caused to the people of our country and the Jewish community in particular.” Ah, Fatima Hajaig. If she wasn’t South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister, she’d be the creative mastermind behind Benetton’s next advertising campaign. And teaching the world to sing at the same time.

Perhaps the one saving grace is that what we have, up to now, are Fatima Hajaig’s own words. But what of that final sentence, with the reference to an “amicable and just resolution to the conflict?” I can only think that such diplofluff was inserted by a South African Foreign Ministry bureaucrat who didn’t bother to read the preceding paragraphs.

To return to my original question: how are we to categorize this statement, other than by noting its astonishing stupidity? In my view, it is a statement of contempt, rather like the person who smashes a bottle over your head and then assures you, three weeks later, that they didn’t intend to hurt you.

If Hajaig is signaling that she now wants to move on, her supporters in South Africa already have. Boycotting Israel was a constantly reiterated demand at the rally where Hajaig underwent her Hitler moment. It now appears that Cosatu, South Africa’s trade union federation, plans to take that to the next stage this weekend, refusing to unload an Israeli merchant ship scheduled to arrive in Durban. (Anyone spot the irony there?)

As sure as night follows day, activities like these, in South Africa and elsewhere, are bound to be accompanied by more speeches fingering Jews as the problem. But as to whether the speakers will even be bothered to say, afterwards, that they really meant “Zionists,” all bets are off.