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By Mary Kluk

Safe-guarding the Israel-South Africa Relationship

At the time of writing, Board primary focus is its response to a proposed downgrading of the South African embassy in Tel Aviv. The proposal was put forward at the ANC policy conference in June and will be voted on at the party’s much-anticipated elective conference in December. Much of our time and effort has since gone into conveying to the ruling party that such a step would not only be harmful to this country’s own interests – economic, diplomat, technological or otherwise – but would result in South Africa effectively precluding itself from playing any meaning role in furthering peace prospects in the region.

The campaign against the downgrade is itself just the latest instalment in what has been an ongoing political battle against BDS attempts to persuade government to adopt its hard-line anti-Israel agenda. While the outcome of this particular matter is still uncertain, we can nevertheless point to a number of positive developments in recent months. August saw a visit by a delegation representing various parties in the Knesset which, despite vociferous opposition, had positive meetings with political leaders from across the spectrum. In November, Israel’s Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi was in the country, inter alia meeting with Minister Edna Molewa, head of the ANC committee on International Relations and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe. The two initiatives constitute the most significant governmental level interaction between South Africa and Israel in a long time. When one adds to this the visit to Israel by the Zion Christian Church, Southern Africa’s largest Christian movement, we see that despite the incendiary anti-Israel rhetoric emanating from certain quarters, dialogue and engagement between the two countries is continuing. The Board will continue to work with all parties to help ensure that such interaction continues, and indeed is stepped up.

SA Jewry and International Jewry – Connected and Respected

The World Jewish Congress National Directors’ Forum, held in Cape Town from 22-24 October, combined focused formal discussions and presentations on core issues facing global Jewry with the equally important informal interaction that took place between individual delegates outside of the formal sessions. Representatives of Jewish communities numbering in the millions, as in the case of Israel, through to those numbering just a few thousand, took part in what was truly a memorable experience for all concerned. The conference was also an opportunity for us to introduce our own community - its history, structure and current activities - to our international colleagues. Visits to communal projects showcased three key aspects of what our community is committed to: outreach to disadvantaged South Africans in the wider society, imbuing the next generation with a knowledge of and attachment to their Jewish heritage and assisting those within our own community in need of a helping hand.

It was gratifying indeed to see once again how highly SA Jewry is regarded in global Jewish circles, to the point that we are described as being a model for other Diaspora communities to emulate. Delegates were astounded by how much the community, despite its relatively small numbers, is achieving, from the comprehensive range of communal activities and services it is able to maintain to the high level of on-the ground involvement by its members.