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Cosatu, Antisemitism and My Inbox

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been a silent party to one of the most disturbing email exchanges I’ve ever encountered. Bongani Masuku, an official of Cosatu, South Africa’s trade union confederation, has been embroiled in a deeply unpleasant … Read More

By / February 26, 2009

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been a silent party to one of the most disturbing email exchanges I’ve ever encountered.

Bongani Masuku, an official of Cosatu, South Africa’s trade union confederation, has been embroiled in a deeply unpleasant and ill-informed argument about Zionism, racism, Israel and apartheid in full view of about a dozen cc’s, most of whom I’ve never corresponded with, much less met. Like me, the vast majority of them didn’t say anything. For the record, I felt that approaching Masuku via email and publicly copying a number of people, as someone on the list did, was ill-advised. But once ensnared, Masuku didn’t hold back. Today, he sent the following email to the list:

Now that almost everyone has fully understood what I stand for and what I mean when I say we shall support the cause of justice till end, could I humbly request that no more Zionist communication with me any further. I want to repeat the following in case of doubt;

  1. Israel supported apartheid South Africa and assisted in the murder of many of our comrades and still works with the most reactionary and murderous regimes the world over, including Colombia (also financed by the US)
  2. All Jews who have risen above the fascist parochial paranoia of Israel have changed our views on Jews, as we thought all of them are inhumane, hence our respect for Kasrils, Friendman and all of them. But we still believe the majority of them continue to vote the Likuds, Kadimas, Yisraelis who have blood in their hands and are equally guilty of murder
  3. The source of the war is the occupation of Israeli and not rockets of Hamas or Al-Aqsa matrys. Any people who are occupied have a duty to fight as we all did, we would never support people who only submit to invaders, but will actively support those who are fighting against colonialists and settlers, who have one intention, occupation to steal other people’s land. No jew, however much his hatred will ever deny that FACT that occupation is evil and an injustice
  4. Finally, in the world where there are progressives who stand on the side of justice and progress, on the one hand, and enemies of peace and justice who support wars OF OCCUPATION IN IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, PALESTINE, etc, one the other, we stand on the side of those who stand for justice and are victims of colonial bigotry and wars of greed. Israel is the client and puppet of US imperialism and responsible for protecting the oil interests of the west, which itself was stolen from the Arabs

A humble reminder therefore, Israeli as an apartheid state deserves the fate of all its preceding fellows and friends. Apartheid is a crime against humanity, so is colonialism and invasion.

With these words, I dearly apologise to all friends of justice and comrades who were angry at me for even wasting precious time with enemies of justice, agents of apartheid and friends of Hitler, instead of attending to more urgent things with people of justice and freedom from occupation. I finally rest my case and request that we are not seeking to change your poisonous views, we only wanted you to know that finally justice will prevail.

It is now official, may I plead with all of you, as you have accepted we are enemies of each other, you stand for apartheid, we stand for justice, to please keep away and no more shall I need your communication or anything ever from you. Beyond this level, it would mean something else.

Masuku may well have provided us with the definitive reference work for understanding anti-Zionist discourse. Here you have it laid out in transparent terms: the only decent Jews are those who are anti-Zionists. To engage in communication with Jews who do not hold anti-Zionist views is to collude with racism and thereby stain one’s conscience. So disgusted is Masuku at the thought that he’s communicated with such people – despite the fact that they are far more representative of Jewish opinion than Ronnie Kasrils ever will be – that he engages in a chilling bout of Stalinist self-criticism in the penultimate paragraph of his email.

What’s impressive is that Masuku also manages to pack in the other standard tropes into a relatively economical word-count: comparisons between Israel and the Nazis; half-baked historical distortions which are characteristic of the infantile left (eg. his claims about Colombia); hysterical sloganeering with the requisite use of UPPER CASE LETTERS. I could go on, but I don’t want to give the impression that any of this is worth, in a substantive sense, taking seriously.

What is instructive is that an official of Cosatu – Masuku is, according to its website, international relations secretary – thinks in this manner and uses his official work email to spread this kind of antisemitic bile.

I wonder what those anti-Zionists who inhabit the more sophisticated end of the market would make of Masuku’s email. How, for example, would the academic boycotters – particularly those who insist that the only Israelis eligible for collaboration are those who sign a disloyalty oath – judge Masuku’s assertion that the only Jews one can talk to are anti-Zionist ones? Both approaches share the same underlying logic. Do they agree that Zionist Jews constitute a fifth column – "agents of apartheid and friends of Hitler" as Masuku so elegantly puts it – or is that going a step too far?

When anti-Zionist intellectuals like Tony Judt read the ravings of someone like Masuku, do they uphold the notion that Israeli policies are principally responsible for the spread of antisemitism? Or do they pause for thought? Do they try to hear and really feel the angry cadences in Masuku’s words? Do they think about where it all could lead?

Masuku has allowed us to hear how the mob interprets what Paul Berman correctly identifies as the lofty, universalist pretensions of antisemitism. I am grateful to him for that. Nevertheless, I hope that he will not poison my in-box again. It’s all down to my spam filter from now on.

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