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COMMUNITY NEWS

ABOVE BOARD

By Mary Kluk

Once again, our Jewish day schools recorded excellent matric results. To our successful matriculants, I say congratulations and everything of the best as you embark on the next stage of your lives. Amidst all the exciting opportunities and challenges awaiting you, I hope that you will also find ways to become involved in Jewish communal activities as well. We are fortunate in South Africa to have an enviable array of Jewish communal organisations, whether religious, educational, Zionist, welfare, social outreach, sporting/recreational or heritage-related. To find out more about what is available, please don’t hesitate to contact our offices.  
 
The year 2017 also ended with the election of a new ANC leadership. While it is still early days, we are seeing a renewed sense of purpose at the senior leadership level, and are hopeful that this will lead to positive results. Regrettably, the ANC electoral conference also saw the passing of a resolution to downgrade the South African embassy in Israel in response to strong pressure from anti-Israel factions within the party. In the months prior to this the Board devoted extensive time and resources to carrying out a comprehensive evaluation of the possible implications of such a step. The SAJBD, through a direct approach made to me in my capacity as SAJBD President, was invited by the ANC to give its input into the debate, and it was decided to provide the ruling party with as broad a range of relevant information as possible to assist it in coming to an informed decision.   
 
In compiling our recommendations, which were published in a booklet of submissions from a range of stakeholders, no area where a downgrade might impact was overlooked. There was, of course, the trade aspect, related to which was the question of what this country could gain from the technical expertise and know-how that Israel is willing and able to provide, such as in water management, agriculture, Hi Tec, communications and medical innovation. We commissioned the Tutwa Consulting Group, an apolitical academically-accredited research body, to provide an analysis of the possible economic implications. Next, we emphasized the religious-cultural importance of the Israel connection, for Jews and a significant proportion of the Christian population. Here, we received extensive support for our position from, amongst others, the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Commission. A third important area concerned the role that South Africa wishes to play in helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian question, something that a downgrade in relations would surely undermine. Through this process, we were able to present a multi-faceted case arguing that an embassy downgrade was likely not only to undermine South Africa’s own objective interests, but would do nothing to help the Palestinian cause.
 
Naturally, we were disappointed about the outcome of the debate, particularly as in the end what we saw was less of a genuine issues-based discussion than an outpouring of emotive, one-sided rhetoric. However, the issue is far from concluded. The fact that the ANC has voted for a downgrade does not automatically mean that it will become government policy. We remain confident that we have made out a cogent case against a downgrade, and will continue to engage with government and all stakeholder groups likely to be affected by it.