Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, is effectively being barred from attending his grandson’s barmitzvah, due to be held in Johannesburg early next month.
Following negotiations between the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) and the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue in Sandton, the Johannesburg suburb where the event is due to take place, an agreement was reached with the family whereby Judge Goldstone would not attend the service.
The SAZF was “coming across most forcefully because we represent Israel”, said its chairman, Avrom Krengel. “We understand that there’s a barmitzvah boy involved — we’re very sensitive to the issues and at this stage there’s nothing further to say.”
He added that the SAZF had “interacted” on the matter with the South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the local Beth Din and others.
Beth Din head Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag confirmed that the Beth Din had been involved in “private talks” on the issue, but had not been asked by the synagogue to give a ruling.
“There was very strong feeling in the shul, a lot of anger” at the idea of Judge Goldstone attending, he said. “I heard that the SAZF wanted to organise a protest outside the shul, all kinds of plans. But I think reason prevailed.”
The SAZF would not confirm whether they had been planning a protest.
Rabbi Kurtstag said he believed Judge Goldstone had done “a tremendous disservice not only to Israel but to the Jewish world. His name is used by hostile elements against Israel and this can increase antisemitic waves.
“I understand that he is a judge, but he should have had the sense to understand that whatever he said wouldn’t be good and he should have just recused himself. People have got feelings about it, they believe he put Israel in danger and they wouldn’t like him to be getting honour [in synagogue].”
The agreement between the family and the shul “was quite sensible to avert all this unpleasantness”.
Reached in Washington where he is currently based, Judge Goldstone, who was a constitutional court judge in South Africa until 2003, said: “After my family consulted with the Jewish community leaders in Johannesburg, I decided, in the interests of my grandson, not to attend the barmitzvah ceremony in the synagogue.”
Rabbi Zadok Suchard of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol had no comment.
The former president of the Constitutional Court Judge Arthur Chaskalson said it was “disgraceful” to pressure a grandfather not to attend his grandson’s barmitzvah.
“If it is correct that this has the blessing of the leadership of the Jewish community in South Africa, it reflects on them rather than Judge Goldstone. They should hang their heads in shame.”