At the conference luncheon, Ronnie Kasrils, South Africa’s minister for intelligence services, hurried over to grab a seat next to us. Kasrils, a Jew, had never been to Israel (where he has relatives) until his visit to the territories earlier in the month, when he invited Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to his country. He then made his first, quick trip to Tel Aviv, saw Rabin Square and ate fish in Jaffa. “It was the most pleasant evening I had,” he acknowledges.
Tom Segev once wrote that he is “a guy I wouldn’t choose to be stuck in an elevator with,” but I would be glad to get stuck with Ronnie Kasrils, inside or outside an elevator. He is a Jew in conflict with his people, perhaps also with his identity – a courageous freedom fighter and communist, who joined the oppressed race in its struggle, was exiled from his country for 27 years and is now a minister.
A son of Lithuanian Jews, who had a bar mitzvah and belonged to Jewish youth movements, Kasrils is one of the most fascinating characters to come out of the local Jewish community – which now thoroughly denounces him. He brandishes his Jewishness openly, perhaps defiantly, even when he recently made an official visit to Iran and Syria. He once founded a movement called “Not in My Name,” to underscore his disassociation from the injustices committed by Israel in the territories. Ronnie Kasrils hates the Israeli occupation.
When we talked he said the Israeli occupation is worse than apartheid: The whites never shelled the black neighborhoods with tanks and artillery.