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What's in a Name? Foolishness from South Africa

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For years now I've found myself linked in the blogosphere with a number of namesakes. It's an odd set of coincidences, but I've followed their careers in a distant way. One is a sociologist studying religion and social theory, most recently (as far as I can tell) at the University of Central Florida; another hyphenated his last name, so it's actually Warren Goldstein-Gelb, and he directs The Welcome Project, a Somerville (MA)-based immigrant rights and community education project.

Every now and then email comes for one of us meant for one of the others, and while the three of us have never met together (I can't speak for the others), we know about each other's existence. I once arrived at a party on Long Island many years ago after one of my namesakes had just left, but that's the closest we've ever been.

There may be others of us running around, but all of us have to be aware of the guy that's getting the most press these days, the Warren Goldstein who's the chief rabbi of South Africa. And here the story gets a lot less fun. I'm no longer amused at having to share the name of this fellow--in fact, I think he's embarrassing all of us.

For years, now, Rabbi Goldstein has been making an international name for himself by defending every action of the State of Israel, no matter how widely condemned by Jews and non-Jews around the world. He full-throatedly defended the Gaza invasion, and routinely compares the state of Israel to the African National Congress, arguing that, like the ANC with regard to the apartheid government of South Africa, Israel has no negotiating partner, and therefore may engage in any armed struggle it wishes. It's a clever argument, but one that South Africa's black leadership finds deservedly ridiculous.

Most recently, the good Rabbi has directed a steady stream of predictable invective against Judge Richard Goldstone, a fellow South African and Jew, for his report suggesting that Israel and Hamas engaged in war crimes during the invasion. Since well over a thousand Palestinians (including hundreds of civilians) died during the invasion, along with 13 Israelis, it will come as no surprise that Israel comes in for the bulk of the criticism. How could it not? Its forces killed civilians--hundreds of them.

So it turns out that Judge Goldstone's grandson was to become a bar mitzvah this past Saturday in South Africa, and the South African Zionist Federation threatened to picket the synagogue if Goldstone attended. Great bunch, right? After several weeks of this huffing and puffing, they agreed to drop the protests if Goldstone would not attend. Nice occasion for religio-political blackmail, don't you think? Goldstone decided that rather than contribute to the circus, he'd stay away--sadly.

Finally, evidently shamed by the worldwide attention his community was receiving, especially among Jews horrified by this thuggery, Rabbi Goldstein stood up for the principle of "open synagogues." Sort of. Here's what he said, "And that is why I feel strongly that the synagogue should be open to Goldstone, even though, in my opinion, he has done so much wrong in the world."

What a guy.

Goldstone, to his credit, called Goldstein's statement so much empty rhetoric.

To its credit, and Goldstone's delight, Tikkun Magazine is giving Goldstone its annual Tikkun Award for 2011.

Fortunately, saner and progressive Jews in South Africa and around the world stood up for genuine religious principle, and South African Jewish groups brokered an agreement in which Goldstone would both attend his grandson's bar mitzvah and would then meet with organized Jewry, including the Federation, in South Africa, his homeland.

This entire shameful and shame-inducing story demonstrates the silly, idiotic, and embarrassing nature of too much knee-jerk Jewish insistence on defending Israel at all times, on all issues, no matter the truth.

Come Yom Kippur, the Chief Rabbi has some repenting to do. At least he's got months get prepared. He could start by apologizing to Goldstone. I'm hoping he eventually gets around to his namesakes.