Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I Feel So Much Better Now

Fatima Hajaig, the South African deputy minister for foreign affairs who claimed that "Jewish money" controls America, has come out with a ... apology? No, that's not quite right. An apologia, perhaps:
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.

Wow. It rare to see an "apology" that nearly matches the original statement in terms of its offense, but God bless her Ms. Hajaig gave it her best shot.

First of all, let's note something very important here. In an "unequivocal apology" to the Jewish community, the amount of time she spends talking about the offense and anti-Semitism is outweighed by at least a 2:1 margin by her "reiteration" of her pro-Palestinian position. The entire first paragraph, for instance, and much of the second and third. It's a strange sort of apology whose primary purpose is to reiterate a political position, rather than give redress to the aggrieved.

Second, notice how even her "apology" is framed in terms of what it means to the Palestinian people. Indeed, she barely is addressing South African Jews at all. "I do not believe that the cause of the Palestinians is served by any anti-Jewish racism." I happen to agree, but even if anti-Semitism was the best thing to happen to the Palestinians since sliced bread, it'd still be wrong. But it is beyond obvious that Ms. Hajaig thinks the real problem here is that she might have given the Palestinian solidarity movement some bad PR, and that's what she is trying to mitigate. The nod to Jews is almost entirely perfunctory.

Third, for an "unequivocal" apology, it sure is ... equivocal. As far as Ms. Hajaig understands it, the mistake was that she "conflated Zionist pressure with Jewish influence." As I've remarked, if she said "Zionist" instead of "Jewish", would it really have been better? Do you think it would have been interpreted differently? As the Z-Word bloggers put it, "instead of the word 'Zionist' being used as deliberate code for 'Jew,' the word 'Jew' is being - accidentally? - used as code for 'Zionist.'" It's bizarre, and it's even more bizarre that this is supposed to represent an explanation.

Likewise, she regrets "the inference made by some that I am anti-Jewish." Oh, suddenly this is my fault? She's sorry I inferred she was anti-Jewish? She also apologizes "unequivocally" for the "hurt and pain" her statement caused. What's missing is the idea that the statement itself was wrong. It's not just wrong because it hurts Jewish feelings. It's wrong because it was vile, reactionary, anti-Semitic, and unbecoming of a member of a liberal democratic government. It's wrong because it was an expression of anti-Jewish racism, not an "inference" of one. And yes, it'd still be wrong if she had subbed in "Zionist" and gotten her code right the first time around.

Fourth, there is no indication she, you know, learned anything from this. In the first paragraph, she talks how she has "long been cognisant of the immense suffering the Palestinians have experienced". The right move to make from that line is to say "I have not similarly been aware of the depth of Jewish feeling on this subject, or the historical and continuing prejudice which I tapped into when making my remarks. I commit myself to rectifying that gap immediately." But that, of course, is roughly the opposite of how her statement progressed. Indeed, there was no indication that Ms. Hajaig feels it necessary to engage in any sort of introspection (much less engagement with the Jewish community) at all. She just blandly affirms that she is opposed to anti-Semitism (if for no other reason than it's bad for the Palestinians), then pivots right back to saying that the main issue is how much the Palestinians are suffering.

This isn't an apology. It's a second insult, or it's a joke. Either way, it's past time Ms. Hajaig tender her resignation. Maybe she'll finally find the time to do the soul-searching that she so desperately needs if she wants to continue to call herself a progressive anti-racist.

1 comment:

Julie said...

This whole thing makes me ill...