Jonathan Berger
Jonathan Berger

As good as it gets?

For an apology, at least one issued by a senior politician, it’s not half bad. None of the “misquoted” or “quoted out of context” nonsense we have become accustomed to being dished. Instead, in a carefully worded statement, Fatima Hajaig, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, has gone some way in undoing the damage caused by her recent anti-Semitic rant.

So let’s start with the good stuff.

First, Hajaig has clarified that her opposition to all forms of racism includes opposition to anti-Semitism in “all its manifestations and wherever it may occur”.

Second, as much as she deplores “unmitigated state violence directed against unarmed [Palestinian] civilians”, she deplores “indiscriminate attacks against Israeli unarmed civilians”.

Third, she supports a resolution to the “Palestine-Israel conflict” that is “based on justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

Finally, she does “not believe that the cause of the Palestinians is served by anti-Jewish racism”.

So far, so good — all in line with official state policy.

But now for the bad …

First, the only unequivocal apology she offers is for the pain her statement “may have caused to the people of our country, and the Jewish community in particular” – not an apology for having made the offensive statements.

Second, despite any attempt to deny the contents of her racist outburst, she nevertheless refers to “some comments that … [she] was purported to have made”.

Third, the deputy minister appears to suggest that all Zionists attempt “to justify [Israeli] policies that have worsened the crisis in the Middle East”.

Finally, in stating that she “conflated Zionist pressure with Jewish influence”, Hajaig implies that Zionists control the US and other Western countries. Just replace “Jewish” with “Zionist” and you get my point:

“They in fact control [America]. No matter which government comes into power, whether Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush. The control of America, just like the control of most Western countries is in the hands of Zionist money and if Zionist money controls their country then you cannot expect anything else.”

On balance, I guess the glass is about a tad more than half-full. What worries me, however, is the implicit view that all those who support the existence of the state of Israel — also known as Zionists — are uncritical supporters of the Israeli government and its policies, having disproportionate influence on — perhaps even directing — American foreign policy. This is simply not true, not supported by the evidence.

Consider, for example, Habonim Dror in South Africa, J-Street in the US and a number of left-leaning political parties in the Israeli Knesset — all Zionists, all deeply critical of many Israeli policies, and all committed to a resolution of the conflict “based on justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike”. But try as they might, none of them appears — to date — to have been able to exert significant influence on the US or other Western countries.

So where does that leave the honourable deputy minister’s apology? Given what we usually get from our leaders, I guess it’s about as good as it gets. I’m just not sure that it’s enough, at least not for me.