28 June 2007 - "A very strange character"
Recently, South African intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils visited the Hamas leadership in Gaza and invited then-Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to visit South Africa. A few weeks later, following months of skirmishes in the streets of Gaza, in which both Hamas and rival Fatah committed war crimes, Hamas staged a coup d’état, launching a string of executions and prompting thousands of refugees to flee.
Kasrils has had nothing to say about any of that, but he did go on Channel Islam International, a Johannesburg-based radio station, to denounce Israel in familiar terms. Channel Islam is a noted source of radical propaganda and was reprimanded by the normally reticent Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa in 2002 for hate speech when it broadcast calls for Muslims to kill Jews.
At one point in Kasrils’s interview, he was asked to respond to something that I had posted on this blog—specifically, my criticism of his use of a government website to promote his personal views and campaigns. A friend of mine obtained a transcript of the interview—there are media monitoring services in South Africa that allow you to do that—which makes for interesting reading:
PRESENTER: Now Minister Kasrils, I know the views that you have held actually haven’t gone well with a number of people, they’ve actually looked at it as highly controversial as well, and just today I was actually passed a document where you know, somebody by the name of Joel Pollak, has been highly critical of you, and he says that Minister Kasrils claims to speak, you know, on behalf of the ANC, but he’s actually talking in his personal capacity using the Government office as his official website. How do you react to that?
KASRILS: Well that’s a load of rubbish. You see this Joel Pollak is a very strange character. He is writing from America. Do you know that when we organised in 2002, when we established Not in my Name I had given a speech in Parliament condemning Israel and made a call with Max Ozinsky to obtain the names of Jewish people who would support that statement.
This man, Joel Pollak arrived at my office pretending to be a supporter of this cause, its absolutely clear to me from his behaviour that he actually came here to be some kind of [a number of words unclear] Zionist, that he was an absolute hypocrite and fine, let him have the right, of freedom of expression, he can throw his sticks and stones at me, there are plenty of others who have done it, he is in good company with Verwoerd and Vorster and all the racists in the past who condemned me, from my student days. He is shrieking against the wind. What I express is an expression that is genuine, that is honest, that is my own particular conscience, and it has great support from within the ANC and the Government. He must look and see the speeches of both Premier, sorry the President in the, sorry the Minister in the President’s office, Dr Essop Pahad, and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Azziz Pahad, together with myself, just three weeks ago we spoke at a United Nations Conference in Pretoria on the Defence of the Inaliable Rights of the Palestinian People. They came out as strongly as me, and in fact they were castigated and attacked by the usual suspects of the Zionist Federation, Jewish Board of Deputies – attacked them. So, is Joel Pollak trying to say that the three of us now are somehow acting in some cunning manner to pretend to be expressing statements of the South African Government. Yes, there are certain statements that I will make. I happen as an individual to be very much in support of the worldwide campaign of boycott against Israel, I believe that’s an important weapon. The Government’s position, in fact the ANC’s position is not that, but they allow me as an individual with those strong feelings to express myself that way. They don’t curb me from making statements as a Government Minister.
I travelled to the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza a month ago, both as Government Minister and as an ANC National Executive Committee member. The ANC accepts these things. Joel Pollak is an apologist for Zionism and for Israel, and I actually dismiss his statements with utter contempt, and I am sure that anybody who stands honestly in terms of justice will do the same.
Now we know why Kasrils can’t get the basic facts right in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He can’t even remember the basic facts of his own campaign against Israel. Kasrils and Ozinsky organized “Not In My Name” in 2001, not 2002; Kasrils’s infamous speech to Parliament was on the 23rd of October of that year and he formally launched his campaign at the District Six Museum on the 7th of December.
I did volunteer my help to Kasrils early in his campaign—not because I was “pretending to be a supporter” of the cause, but because I genuinely believed in the need for a peace movement among South African Jews. I was concerned, however, that such a movement should not attack the Jewish community or its institutions, and presented a memorandum to that effect to Kasrils and all present.
Later, after contributing several improvements to Kasrils’s “Declaration of Conscience,” I formally and publicly distanced myself from Not In My Name over the way in which Kasrils and Ozinsky were conducting their campaign. Not only did they persist in attacking the Jewish community in defamatory terms, but they insisted on attacking Israel in extremist terms, using gross distortions of the facts.
In late December, I was invited, along with analyst Hagai Segal, to debate Kasrils and Ozinsky at Habonim camp, near Hermanus. Kasrils and Ozinsky were so woefully unprepared that Ozinsky at one stage asked to borrow a map I had brought along. It was an entirely lopsided affair. Towards the end, each of us was given a chance to make a closing statement.
I stood up and said: “I can’t help but like these guys [at which point Kasrils leapt up to smile and put his arm around me], and I admire their contributions to the struggle against apartheid, but I feel that they’ve blown the chance to create a real pro-peace movement among South African Jewry, and instead they’ve just created another opportunity for people to attack Israel and the Jewish community.”
I sat down, and as the audience broke out into applause, Kasrils hissed under his breath: “Why don’t you just say, ‘Fuck you, guys’? That’s what you’ve always wanted to say, isn’t it?”
“What?” I asked, astonished.
“You’re a mole. You’re an infiltrator. That’s what you’ve been since the beginning.”
“What?” I asked again, confused.
Later, after the debate was over, I went up to him: “Minister Kasrils, I’m a 24-year-old freelance journalist. I’m not a—“
“It’s not me that says it,” he backtracked. “It’s other people.”
But that is what Kasrils believed, and still believes, because he can’t grasp the possibility that someone could be both pro-peace and pro-Israel—or pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel, or enthusiastic about post-apartheid South Africa but opposed to the ANC. He’s just a crude ideologue—and if it had been left up to the likes of him, the South African “miracle” would never have happened.
Kasrils goes mad anytime someone describes any criticism of Israel as antisemitic, even if the charge is well-founded—and yet he likens me to Verwoerd and Vorster, the architects of apartheid. (Would that make him Pol Pot, or Jabba the Hutt?) He never bothers to address the substance of my criticism, and in fact confirms my contention that he uses his government office and resources to speak “in his personal capacity.”
I suppose I might be “a very strange character.” But unlike Kasrils, I have never hobnobbed with terrorists or hung out with Stasi agents. I have never condoned human rights abuses I could have personally stopped, I have never led marchers to their deaths, I have never defended the Hitler-Stalin pact, and I have never offered military assistance to dictators that dispossess and murder their own citizens.
The only act I have cause to regret is lending my help to Kasrils, believing that he and his followers might be serious about peace. What hopeless naïveté! What a joke!