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An open letter to Judge Albie Sachs re the Goldstone barmitzvah debacle

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  • Maurice Ostroff
    Justice Albie Sachs was appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa by Nelson Mandela in 1994 and he retired in 2009. He was a prominent opponent of
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2010
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      Justice Albie Sachs was appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa by Nelson Mandela in 1994 and he retired in 2009.
      He was a prominent opponent of the apartheid government and was jailed in solitary confinement for his work in the freedom movement. Subsequently while in exile in Mozambique he lost an arm and an eye due to a bomb attack by South African security agents.

      He recently delivered a very thought-provoking address to the Cape Town Press Club  in which he dealt with the Goldstone barmitzvah debacle as well as some background to the ANC's history. His speech may be viewed in full on my web site at


      An open letter to Judge Albie Sachs

      cc. Judge Richard Goldstone

      From Maurice Ostroff

      April 30, 2010

      Although I am puzzled by the title "Tolerance in a time of cholera," I was fascinated by your April 22 address to the Cape Town Press Club, not so much by your stout defense of your colleague Richard Goldstone, as by the revealing sidelights you presented of the ANC's liberation struggle.

      Your description of Oliver Tambo's noble (and I use this word purposely) reaction to revelations of torture by the ANC, confirms the validity of the high esteem in which I have held the ANC's early leadership since my acquaintanceship with it as a young, low profile anti-apartheid activist and  member of the Wits University Federation of Progressive Students (founded by Ruth First) as well as an active member of the radical ex-serviceman's  Springbok Legion. It was then that I learned about and was inspired by the moral fiber of ANC leaders like Walter Sisulu, , Oliver Tambo, Albert Luthuli and of course Nelson Mandela. In the wake of the horrors of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, on receiving the Nobel Prize in 1961 Luthuli said

      "How easy it would have been in South Africa for the natural feelings of resentment at white domination to have been turned into feelings of hatred and a desire for revenge against the white community. Here, where every day in every aspect of life, every non-white comes up against the ubiquitous sign, "Europeans Only," and the equally ubiquitous policeman to enforce it - here it could well be expected that a racialism equal to that of their oppressors would flourish to counter the white arrogance towards blacks. 

      That it has not done so is no accident. It is because, deliberately and advisedly, African leadership for the past 50 years, with the inspiration of the African National Congress which I had the honor to lead for the last decade or so until it was banned, had set itself steadfastly against racial vain-gloriousness."

      You spoke eloquently about the ANC fighting a just struggle to create a democratic and non-racial society in keeping with the values of the Freedom Charter and I ask in all sincerity whether you and other ANC personalities who profess a loyalty to the Palestinian cause because of the history of being fellow freedom fighters, have ever compared the ANC Freedom Charter with the charters of the PLO and Hamas.  It is painfully obvious that the parallels that the ANC draws between it and the Palestinian struggle are far from congruent and deserve to be re-examined in order to gain a perspective on the lessons Israel can draw from the South African experience.

      Whereas the ANC Charter states "South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation - not war" article 9 of the PLO Charter bluntly declares the opposite, namely that for the PLO the armed struggle is not merely tactical, it is the overall strategy. (The emphasis is mine). The Hamas charter makes it even clearer that there is absolutely no room for peaceful negotiation. Article 13 unambiguously states, "Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.”

      It is difficult to understand the ANC support for the irrationality of the Hamas concept, so different from the sober tone of the ANC Charter, as illustrated by obsessive phobia about freemasons, rotary clubs, Lions and similar organizations, promising that the day Islam is in control, these organizations, will be obliterated.

       Nor would the ANC tolerate the incitement to indiscriminate violence against uninvolved civilians, (women, children and invalids alike), which continues in mosques and PA controlled media and is taught in schools from the earliest age.

       In fact, the ANC charter has much in common with Israel's Declaration of Independence that promises complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex and freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.

       When you spoke of your late Dad, Solly Sachs, the indefatigable trade union leader, I was reminded of what Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to Robert Hooke. "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."  By sheer coincidence, your dad was mentioned when I lunched two days a go with Barbara Brown, daughter of the late Leo Lovell, who was elected South African Labor Party MP for Benoni in 1949 and who became one of the most courageous anti-apartheid voices in parliament. In discussing some of the chicanery that took place during the nomination process, Barbara mentioned that some mischief makers had urged United Party leader Field Marshall Smuts to cancel an election agreement that then existed between the United and Labor parties unless Solly Sachs was dismissed as national treasurer of the Labor party. Lovell stood firm against Sachs' dismissal and to his relief the truce between the two opposition parties was nevertheless not cancelled.

      I was intrigued too, by your understanding of what it means to be a Jew and I was surprised by the seriousness with which you treated a British counsel's shallow rule of thumb about the three characteristics of a Jewish family: the mezuzah, regular attendance at synagogue and contribution to Jewish charities. Had he read your story of buying homentassen at a Sea Point deli, he might have added that too as an essential characteristic.

      More seriously, your mention of Rabbi Harris' tribute to Joe Slovo not only as a good Jew but an exemplary one because of his contribution to the struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights in South Africa was indeed highly relevant and important. In an essay "Lessons from South Africa" Joe's daughter Gillian wrote that Rabbi Harris' words have stayed with her more than most and that Joe’s political commitment that “ it was not enough to avoid harming others .. (but ) one had to strive to ameliorate widespread poverty and hardship, to build a society based on harmony and equality, in which every single individual would be respected,"  was at the very center of what being a Jew is all about.

      I agree with you completely that the story of Richard Goldstone effectively being barred from his grandson's barmitzvah is a profoundly sad one. In fact, although my severe criticism of the Goldstone Report is well known, I considered this linking of the barmitzvah to be a shameful act and I immediately made my views known to the South African Zionist Federation. I also wrote to Judge Goldstone expressing these views and I know that many other declared Zionists did the same. In the circumstances, your broad claim that Jews seek to dictate to Jews in a uniform manner how they should behave is an unjustified generalization.

      If you would visit Israel and study our vibrant free press that heavily criticizes our government daily you would soon revise the views expressed in your generalized statement "Any Jewish person who speaks critically of Israel in any way is automatically castigated as having internalised anti-Semitism and incorporated it into his or her system as a form of self-hatred." Nevertheless, it is perfectly reasonable to contradict Jews and non-Jews who criticize Israel (or South Africa for that matter) based on misinformation and at times more egregiously on deliberate disinformation.

      You told the Press Club the true test of tolerance is not how much you are willing to put up with ideas that you might disagree strongly with, but which do not rage against your soul. With this concept in mind I ask you to please consider that it is the biased nature of the Goldstone Report that has caused outrage, not the mere fact that he dared to criticize Israel as many imply.
      Although, using your own words, facing up to uncomfortable truths can be painful, I ask you in all sincerity to study the credible criticisms of the Goldstone Report leveled by highly responsible people that Judge Goldstone has refused to publicly answer. For example
      Gilad Shalit
      While fraternizing with his Hamas captors in Gaza, the Mission failed to take the opportunity to raise the grossest blatant human rights violation being perpetrated by holding Gilad Shalit, incommunicado and depriving him even of visits by the Red Cross, in contravention of international law. It would not have required much courage to ask his captors at the very least to produce some evidence of Shalit's condition and bring some slight solace to his long-suffering family. In this omission the Mission failed miserably to live up to the HUMAN RIGHTS banner of the HRC under which it was constituted.

      Human Shields
      The Mission failed to follow up on a public statement by Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Fathi Hammad, that Hamas created a human shield of women, children, and the elderly. Instead the Report acted as his defending counsel stating on his behalf, "Although the Mission finds this statement morally repugnant, it does not consider it to constitute evidence that Hamas forced Palestinian civilians to shield military objectives against attack"

      Rejection of credible relevant evidence
      The Report omits, without explanation, a great deal of highly relevant, credible information that would certainly have a bearing on the HRC's evaluation including inter alia a memorandum from a group of 15 eminent Australian lawyers.

      Colonel Kemp
      The Mission rejected recommendations to invite Colonel Richard Kemp, an acknowledged British expert on the type of warfare conducted in Gaza, to give evidence. The irrational stated grounds for refusal: "there was no reliance on Col. Kemp mainly because the Report did not deal with the issues he raised regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas and second-guessing decisions made by soldiers and their commanding officers in the fog of war.

      Not a single word is mentioned about the daily incitement against infidels, Jews, and Israel that continues unabated in PA mosques and schools and which is a basic cause of the conflict.

      Inability to distinguish between civilians and combatants
      The Report misguidedly applied rules of war that were designed for conventional warfare, where armies of both sides are clearly identifiable, to guerilla warfare where the combatants cannot be distinguished from the civilian population as reported by the London Times.

      A Hamas fighter told the Times that fighters wore civilian clothes, and concealed their weapons and that whole blocks of houses had been booby-trapped and that a mannequin filled with explosives was dressed in a Hamas fighter’s black uniform to attract fire. If Israeli soldiers had fired on it, it would have exploded and brought down the building. In the hallway of another house, a 30-gallon container of diesel fuel had been placed on two sacks of explosives.

       Lack of freedom to investigate in Gaza
      The Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported that the Mission was experiencing difficulties because Hamas-allied security forces accompanied the 15-member team. In view of this and the widely reported violent retribution inflicted by Hamas on dissidents, (including being thrown from tall buildings), the lack of testimony about storage of weapons in houses, mosques and schools cannot be accepted as evidence that this did not occur on a wide scale.

      Inaccurate information
      The Fact-finding Mission was extremely selective in the facts it chose to emphasize and those it chose to ignore. For example the report describes a mosque which it claims was struck by an Israeli shell with the deliberate intention of killing civilians. The report claims, further, that the mosque had no military significance whatsoever, discounting Israel's claim that mosques were used for military activities and weapons storage.

      But an Israeli expert points out that the mosque was controlled by Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades who used it to recruit operatives, and that several known terrorists who were operating from the mosque were killed in this attack, including Ibrahim Moussa Issa al-Silawi, an operative in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades

      In addition, a great deal of credible evidence that hospitals and ambulances were used for military purposes, was ignored by the report

      More detailed highly credible criticisms are available on the web site "Understanding the Goldstone Report" to be found at


       See also http://www.2nd-thoughts.org/id235.html

      Since you so perspicaciously said at the Press club that facing up to uncomfortable truths can be liberating, I suggest with great respect, that rather than accepting the Goldstone Report uncritically, as you appear to have done, you address the uncomfortable flaws revealed on  the web site, "Understanding the Goldstone Report", referred to above.

      This open letter is being publicized and I would very much appreciate a considered reply which will be similarly published.

      Maurice Ostroff

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