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- Mary Kluk

Last month, our community in Durban, as well as in Cape Town and Johannesburg, were honoured once again to be able to host Rabbi David Rosen. One of the foremost Jewish leaders in the field of interfaith dialogue, Rabbi Rosen was in the country as a guest of Religions for Peace to participate in the fiftieth anniversary commemorations of the Vatican’s famous Nostra Aetate declaration. Through this document, the Catholic Church decisively broke with various antisemitic dogmas that had from time immemorial been an intrinsic part of its theology, and ushered in a new era of reconciliation and dialogue between the world’s Jewish and Catholic communities. In this latter field, Rabbi Rosen has and is playing a decisive part, for which he is, amongst other honours, the recipient of a Papal Knighthood.

 

The importance of dialogue, bridge-building and understanding between the world’s various faith communities hardly needs emphasizing. Today, it is religion rather than ideology that would appear to be the number one threat to global peace, and specifically the emergence in recent decades of a violent, radically intolerant form of Islam. It is crucial to remember that adherents of these ideologies are not only hostile towards other religions and the secular liberalism of the West, but as much, if not more so, to fellow Muslims who do not adhere to their notions of how the Islamic faith should be interpreted and practised. As can be seen by the tragic events in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, to name just three examples, Muslims constitute the great majority of victims of Islamist violence.     

Religious hatred, historically and in our own time, is characterised by the demonization (often literally) of the ‘other’, through which people’s essential humanity is denied to the point that slaughtering them is seen as a holy act. Invariably, such crude ways of thinking are underpinned by simple blind ignorance, which fanatical leaders as a matter of course seek to perpetuate. As is true of all conflict situations – our own country’s history is proof of that – the antidote lies in honest, respectful dialogue. Once people are talking to one another, it quickly becomes possible to clear up misconceptions and find common ground, of which there is so much in all of the world’s great religions. This was the message that Rabbi Rosen brings to every platform he is given, and we are proud to have played a part in his bringing it to our own country as well.  

SAJBD in Parliament

 

At the beginning of September, SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn, assisted by Diplomatic Liaison Chaya Singer, presented the Board’s submission on the Films and Publications Amendment Bill to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications.  This follows our written submission to the Committee earlier this year. The presentation was very well received by those present and also featured prominently in the subsequent media reports on the hearings. Primarily, it dealt with the pressing need for our media law to come to grips with the realities created by the electronic communications revolution, particularly in the area of the social media. Just as traditional media providers are regulated so should there be some order on how the Internet is used by members of the public. As Wendy stressed, in order to prevent abuses, law enforcement agencies need to be much more involved in efforts to confront cyberhate, and better equipped to work with the relevant Internet service providers in obtaining the information necessary to pursue such offenders.


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Local Government Elections – A New Era? 

Regardless of which party one supported, last month’s local government elections were a welcome demonstration of the robustness of democracy in South Africa. The results of the elections themselves have created a new fluidity in our politics. Hopefully, this will generate a renewed sense of urgency and creativity on the part of the new leadership in confronting the very pressing challenges our society faces. 

For our own part, we are extremely pleased with the success of our ‘Make Us Count’ election education and awareness campaign. First launched for the national elections in 2009, this year’s Make Us Count campaign was our first for local and municipal elections. It kicked off in April with a drive to get our community properly registered on the voters roll, and was followed by lively pre-election debates in Johannesburg and Cape Town. As previously, the campaign culminated in the participation of a multi-faith and multi-ethnic Election Observer Team, which the Board put together to assist the Independent Electoral Commission on polling day. Once again, Alana Baranov did an outstanding job in heading up this initiative. The team comprised 130 observers and included Jews, Muslims, Christians and refugee and asylum seekers, in addition to SAJBD lay leaders and staff members from around the country. Its members monitored proceedings at polls in five cities across four provinces. Where isolated incidences of irregularities occurred, calls were put through to IEC headquarters and immediately dealt with. 

From our community’s point of view, involvement in the political process needs to go beyond coming on board only at election time. We need to constantly look find ways to be involved in political affairs, thereby empowering ourselves while also following in the footsteps of the many South African Jews who have contributed to our political culture over the generations.

 The 1956 Women’s March and its Heroic Legacy

A week after the elections, I was privileged, together with National Director Wendy Kahn and Diplomatic Liaison Chaya Singer, to take part in the Women’s Day commemorations in Tshwane. This year’s holiday was particularly significant as it was exactly sixty years since the famous protest march to the Union Buildings by 20 000 South African women, one of the iconic events of the anti-apartheid struggle. The three of us joined in a symbolic walk to the Union Buildings following the original route of the 1956 marchers. We were enormously honoured to be able to walk alongside Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, the only surviving leader of that history-making initiative.  

It struck me how important it is to see public holidays not only as an occasion for enjoying a day off work but for reflecting on why such days have been chosen as occasions for national remembrance. The essence of Women’s Day is to remember the events of 9 August 1956, what impact they had on our history and the lessons that can be learned from it in the here and now. It behoves us not only to remember the contribution made by those brave women of yesteryear, but to seek to perpetuate the example they set in our own circles today.   


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A striking feature of last month’s Yom Hashoah ceremony in Johannesburg was the large number of school learners in attendance, comprising over half the estimated 2000 people present. For the first time, it included a significant number of non-Jewish learners. All were provided with an innovative new Holocaust education pack produced by the SAJBD for the occasion. This tied in with the theme of ‘Dor l’Dor’ – Generation to Generation – that emerged in the various presentations given. I was one of the speakers on the programme, speaking on the theme of what specific lessons the Holocaust has to teach us as South Africans.

We are grateful to our keynote speaker for both the Johannesburg and Durban ceremonies, Veronica Phillips, for being willing to share her Holocaust experiences with us, painful though it clearly was to have to relive those harrowing memories. In doing so she provided a living link with the events being remembered, something that was particularly important for our young people to be exposed to. It will not be very long before no survivors are left to bear testimony to what they witnessed and experienced, making it that much more crucial to prepare the next generation for the solemn task of remembering the Holocaust remembrance in the future.

The significance of having young people from outside our community attending is that it underlines how in South Africa today, the Holocaust should not be interpreted as being a specifically Jewish tragedy that occurred over seven decades ago, but as an event that contains profound lessons for our own society. As Director of the Durban Holocaust Centre, I am very much involved in teaching about the Holocaust to non-Jewish school learners. In my Yom Hashoah presentation I strongly emphasized the risk that racist discourse and other forms of hate speech pose to our society. What began in pre-war Germany as hateful rhetoric paved the way in due course to legal discrimination, seizure of property, expulsion and eventually mass murder. For South Africans, and indeed the world at large, it should be an ever-present reminder of what the consequences can be when hatred of “the other” is allowed to run wild and of the responsibility that not only governments, but the person in the street has to strenuously oppose it wherever it surfaces.

As it happened, Yom Hashoah coincided with a renewed upsurge of outrage over yet more instances of racially offensive communications, including from, of all people, a High Court judge. Such rhetoric, even when it does not lead directly to violence, sows deep division, mistrust and resentment within our society, making it impossible to address, as a united nation, the serious challenges facing our country. As Abraham Lincoln famously observed, a house divided against itself cannot stand. The converse of that is that when people are united, they are able to achieve incredible things against seemingly impossible odds. South Africans can still do that, but only when prejudice, resentment and fear of the ‘other’ are thrust aside in favour of tolerance, mutual respect and recognition of the right of every human being to dignity and equality.


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At the time of writing, the regional branches of the Board are organising the Yom Hashoah ceremonies in their respective centres around the country. Perhaps more than any other date on the communal calendar, Yom Hashoah unites Jews from across the spectrum, whether they are strictly Orthodox, secular or somewhere in between. Merely to have been born Jewish in Nazi-occupied Europe was a death sentence, and that even meant those who had converted to Christianity. On Yom Hashoah, we come together as one people, committed to helping, supporting and safe-guarding one another wherever we might be and regardless of belief or affiliation.  

In addition to the local Jewish communities, the ceremonies will be attended by a range of political and religious leaders, diplomats and members of the media. In part, representatives of the wider society attend as a gesture of solidarity with the Jewish community, but it is also now joined with a growing recognition that the significance of Yom Hashoah goes further than that. On Yom Hashoah, we remember the six million Jewish victims of Nazi tyranny, as well as the millions of other innocent men, women and children who died at the hands of that regime. Just as importantly, we remember the ideology of racial, religious and ethnic hatred that ultimately led to these murders. The death camps were the culmination, not the starting point, of the Holocaust. What began as hateful rhetoric against the Jewish people paved the way to legal discrimination, seizure of property, expulsion and eventually systematic mass murder.

The lesson that all South Africans must take to heart is that words lead to action. In the past, and even in our own times, we have seen how verbal incitement to hatred, whether based on race, ethnicity, nationality or even political affiliation, has led to lethal acts of violence in this country. 

The upsurge of racism and racist incitement, particularly in the social media, earlier this year shocked the country into a belated realization that racism continues to pose a potent threat to our society, even 22 years after the transition to democracy. At Yom Hashoah, we are likewise reminded of the dangers of allowing racial hatred to run wild and of the responsibility of every one of us to take a firm stand against it wherever it surfaces. 

Last month, we were saddened by the passing of one of our community’s greatest philanthropists and Jewish communal leaders. Bertie Lubner, with whom I had the privilege of working with fir many years on the SAJBD National Executive Committee, was a successful businessman who devoted just as much, if not more, passion and effort to serving his community, country and beloved State of Israel. What was so remarkable about him, and which his fellow SAJBD members on our Gauteng Council and NEC found so inspiring, was that the word ‘enough’ was not in his vocabulary. Despite all he had achieved - even listing the highlights here would take up too much space - Bertie was always looking to do more. This was as true in his final months, when his health was failing. We will miss him greatly, but are in part comforted by the thought that the legacy he left will benefit ourselves, our country and the people of Israel for generations to come.


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South African democracy stands firm

In what was a dramatic week for our young democracy President Zuma, just days before he was due to deliver his State of the Nation address, was obliged to appear before the Constitutional Court over the Nkandla affair. There, after so many months of denial and evasion, he made a series of important concessions, hopefully paving the way to finally bring closure to this damaging controversy. Far more important than the amount that will ultimately be paid back the public demonstration that no-one in South Africa is above the law, and that our democratic institutions, from a vigorous political Opposition through to a free press, robust civil society and independent judiciary, are able when necessary to call to account government at the highest level.

The National Action Plan against racism and SA Jewry

Historically, the SAJBD has involved itself in various public policy initiatives aimed at combating all forms of racism, discrimination and the like. This included providing significant input into the South African Constitution of 1996 and the subsequent Promotion of Equality & Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000). Currently, we are preparing a submission on the recently released “National Action Plan to combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (2016 – 2021)”, whose aim is to provide “a comprehensive policy framework to address racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at both a private and public level”. This will address questions of prejudice and discrimination and how to deal with them from a specifically Jewish point of view. In addition to the Board’s input on behalf of SA Jewry, CKNJ Vice-President Alana Baranov is much involved in the preparation of the submission from the Hate Crimes Working Group.

Sign up to the ‘Code of Courtesy’

Overcoming racism in our society requires legislation, including having effective vehicles through which to enforce it. However, while laws and penalties help to discourage the public expression of racist sentiment, they do little to eradicate the underlying prejudice that gives rise to such incidents. For this to begin to happen, there has to be a profound shift in the way people – as individuals - think about and treat each other. Last month saw the launch of an inspiring initiative by the organisation Active Citizens, the aim of which is to encourage people at all times to respect the dignity of their fellow citizens, even (and indeed, especially) when disagreeing with them. SAJBD National Vice-President Zev Krengel was one of the masterminds behind the initiative, in which people are asked to sign on to a ‘Code of Courtesy’ encapsulating these principles. I strongly encourage everyone to sign this pledge and endeavour to apply it in all your dealings with others. Through this, we can do our part in helping restore the culture of respect that has been so severely undermined of late in this country. To do so, visit http://www.citizens. za.com/. 


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One of the main stories in the opening weeks of 2016 was the public’s outrage over various racist comments in the social media. For a long time now, we have seen a steady escalation in online platforms being abused by hate-filled individuals to propagate virulent racism against their fellow citizens. Rabid antisemitic discourse is especially prevalent in times of heightened conflict in Israel, but even in times of relative quiet, offensive comments continue to surface. One recent issue that the Board has taken up through the SA Human Rights Commission concerned Facebook comments by one Maureen Jansen, who inter alia referred to Jews as ‘monsters’ and who should be ‘exterminated’ for supporting Israel “by action or silence”. 

The process of naming and shaming those who propagate hatred on the basis of race, religion, or other such grounds is an effective ways of discouraging such offensive discourse. Another avenue for combating online hate is through reporting the offending site to Facebook or Twitter. Practical guidelines in this regard can be accessed on outr Facebook (June 2015).

What is nevertheless a cause for some concern is how certain community members have responded to antisemitism by posting blatantly offensive, including racist, comments of their own. This cannot be justified, no matter what the provocation. Moreover, it risks putting the entire Jewish community in the firing line (as the repellent ‘monkey’ remarks of Penny Sparrow evoked a furious reaction against white people in general), and all but sabotages our efforts to bring to public attention dangers of rising antisemitism in our country.

 Positive outcome in Snowy Smith Case

On 15 December, the Durban Equality Court handed down judgment in the Board’s long-running hate speech case against local resident Snowy Smith, in terms of which Smith was restrained from sending further antisemitic emails and directed to apologise to our community. The ruling demonstrates that racism in South Africa will not be tolerated and that religious, ethnic and minority groups are and remain protected within the laws of this country. My thanks to all those involved in pursuing this matter to a successful conclusion, in particular CKNJ member and attorney Susan Abro, who handled the case with such tenacity and commitment on our behalf.

 The Year Ahead – Challenges and Opportunities

Later this year, South Africa will hold its fifth municipal elections since the 1994 transition to democracy. For the 2014 national and provincial elections, the Board conducted a multifaceted election awareness campaign and volunteer drive for our community and, albeit on a smaller scale, we hope to do so again this time round. In general, I am firmly of the view that if we, as Jews, want to live in a successful South Africa, we need to start getting more involved in the fabric of South African society, be it in politics, social services, education, job creation, human rights activism or other such areas. We cannot stand back and wait for others to do what needs to be done; rather, we should try wherever possible to take the initiative and find ways in which to positively contribute to improving our country.


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We have just come to the end of the Jewish festival season, an uplifting time of reflection and celebration in which we both looked back on the year that had passed and drew from this the necessary insight and inspiration for the year that had just begun. I wish our community a sweet, peaceful, healthy and successful 5776 and pledge that whatever challenges it might bring, the SAJBD will continue to do everything necessary to ensure that our civil liberties are upheld.  

This is my last column for Hashalom before I step down as National Chair of the SAJBD at our conference on 22 November. It has been a great privilege for me to have served South African Jewry in this capacity over the past four years. Throughout this time, I have been blessed to have the friendship and unstinting support of innumerable community members, and in particular of the leadership of our wonderful Durban community. To everyone who has been a part of this exciting and deeply rewarding journey, my sincerest thanks.

Last month, I reported on the controversy then raging over Deputy Minister Obed Bapela’s suggestion that dual citizenship might be abolished to prevent South African Jews from serving in the IDF. Since then, we have met with Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba to discuss this issue. Our delegation comprised myself, SAJBD President Zev Krengel, Vice Chairman Jeff Katz and Director Wendy Kahn and SAZF Chairman Ben Swartz and President Avrom Krengel. The Minister re-emphasized that dual citizenship was governed by the Citizenship Act and that no review of it was underway or anticipated by his Department. He also reiterated Government’s zero tolerance of antisemitism and any other form of racism. We note that Mr Bapela has now been replaced as chairperson of the ANC’s international relations subcommittee.

On 24 September, our community took part in a rousing Heritage Day parade through the streets of Pretoria/Tshwane. The Jewish community float built for the occasion was an Ark – the letters standing for Acts of Random Kindness – housing a library filled with educational and inspirational books for an underprivileged community donated by Jewish day school learners. Our Ark travelled the 5km route to the Union Buildings and from there to Arcadia school, the recipient of the library. The project, undertaken by the SAJBD in collaboration with Chabad and the schools, was an inspiring experience for all involved. Some of the excitement of the day is captured in a youtube presentation, which can be viewed on the Board’s Facebook site.

 

A few days prior to this, I attended a function commemorating the role played by the Soviet army in liberating the Nazi concentration camps seventy years ago. The event was jointly organised by the Board, the Israeli and Russian Embassies and the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre. Speakers included Ambassadors Arthur Lenk and Mikhail Petrakov, Doctor Tsipra Boudnitski, a Jewish Red Army veteran who helped care for the camp survivors and JHGC Director Tali Nates. A documentary by journalist Paula Slier, which records her journey and that of her father, Lionel, to discover what happened to their family during the Holocaust, was screened. The event was unique in that it was the first time that the Jewish community and representatives of the Russian state had collaborated in remembering and paying tribute to the Red Army for their part in defeating Nazi Germany and its allies. For political reasons, such a coming together between ourselves and representatives of the Russian government had not been possible. Hopefully, we will see further such collaborative projects taking place in the future. 


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We have just come to the end of the Jewish festival season, an uplifting time of reflection and celebration in which we both looked back on the year that had passed and drew from this the necessary insight and inspiration for the year that had just begun. I wish our community a sweet, peaceful, healthy and successful 5776 and pledge that whatever challenges it might bring, the SAJBD will continue to do everything necessary to ensure that our civil liberties are upheld.  

This is my last column for Hashalom before I step down as National Chair of the SAJBD at our conference on 22 November. It has been a great privilege for me to have served South African Jewry in this capacity over the past four years. Throughout this time, I have been blessed to have the friendship and unstinting support of innumerable community members, and in particular of the leadership of our wonderful Durban community. To everyone who has been a part of this exciting and deeply rewarding journey, my sincerest thanks.

Last month, I reported on the controversy then raging over Deputy Minister Obed Bapela’s suggestion that dual citizenship might be abolished to prevent South African Jews from serving in the IDF. Since then, we have met with Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba to discuss this issue. Our delegation comprised myself, SAJBD President Zev Krengel, Vice Chairman Jeff Katz and Director Wendy Kahn and SAZF Chairman Ben Swartz and President Avrom Krengel. The Minister re-emphasized that dual citizenship was governed by the Citizenship Act and that no review of it was underway or anticipated by his Department. He also reiterated Government’s zero tolerance of antisemitism and any other form of racism. We note that Mr Bapela has now been replaced as chairperson of the ANC’s international relations subcommittee.

On 24 September, our community took part in a rousing Heritage Day parade through the streets of Pretoria/Tshwane. The Jewish community float built for the occasion was an Ark – the letters standing for Acts of Random Kindness – housing a library filled with educational and inspirational books for an underprivileged community donated by Jewish day school learners. Our Ark travelled the 5km route to the Union Buildings and from there to Arcadia school, the recipient of the library. The project, undertaken by the SAJBD in collaboration with Chabad and the schools, was an inspiring experience for all involved. Some of the excitement of the day is captured in a youtube presentation, which can be viewed on the Board’s Facebook site.

 

A few days prior to this, I attended a function commemorating the role played by the Soviet army in liberating the Nazi concentration camps seventy years ago. The event was jointly organised by the Board, the Israeli and Russian Embassies and the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre. Speakers included Ambassadors Arthur Lenk and Mikhail Petrakov, Doctor Tsipra Boudnitski, a Jewish Red Army veteran who helped care for the camp survivors and JHGC Director Tali Nates. A documentary by journalist Paula Slier, which records her journey and that of her father, Lionel, to discover what happened to their family during the Holocaust, was screened. The event was unique in that it was the first time that the Jewish community and representatives of the Russian state had collaborated in remembering and paying tribute to the Red Army for their part in defeating Nazi Germany and its allies. For political reasons, such a coming together between ourselves and representatives of the Russian government had not been possible. Hopefully, we will see further such collaborative projects taking place in the future. 


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The Jewish community and the “Dual Citizenship”question

At the time of writing, much of our focus is on responding to certain outrageous comments, as reported in the Sunday Times, by Deputy Minister Obed Bapela suggesting that the ANC was considering abolishing dual citizenship in order to prevent South African Jews from serving in the IDF. Bapela was also quoted as expressing his party’s support for boycotting certain businesses because of their dealings with Israel.

The Board has conducted an active campaign in the media to denounce these undemocratic and grossly discriminatory proposals. In numerous interviews, as well as in an on-air debate with Mr Bapela, our President Zev Krengel pulled no punches, saying that they overtly targeted the Jewish community over and above all other South African citizens and invoked against its members the classic antisemitic “dual loyalty” canard. In our press statement, we also stressed the sobering historical lesson that while discriminatory acts might begin with the Jews, they seldom ended with them. Our forthright message has been that we are proud South Africans who have as much right as anyone to take a position on Israel or anything else and that we will not be intimidated by threats or defamatory suggestions that our loyalty to our country is suspect.

Dedication of Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre

At the end of August, I attended the dedication of the new premises of the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre. It was an extremely moving and uplifting occasion, and from my own point of view a great pleasure to be with my colleagues from both the Board and the SA Holocaust and Genocide Foundation. From its very establishment the JHGC, under the exceptionally capable leadership of Tali Nates, has been a dynamic presence on the Jewish communal and general educational scene. We are delighted that it now has a wonderful new base from which to continue the outstanding work it has been doing.

Durban Jewry’s AGM – Taddy Blecher’s inspirational message

At the 84th AGM of the CKNJ, keynote speaker Dr Taddy Blecher stressed that every one of us is capable of contributing to their society and should strive to do so. Taddy himself is well-known for the outstanding work he does in the field of education for those from under privileged backgrounds. In this regard, he had a wonderful role model in his father Dr John Blecher, a gynecologist who in addition to putting dozens of members of his own family through university devoted two days of each working week to treating inmates (including political prisoners) in the women’s gaol. As he spoke about this remarkable individual, it struck me once again how many unsung heroes and heroines we have in our community, people who without ever seeking any kudos for themselves and regardless of race or creed selflessly devoted themselves to helping the needy and vulnerable in their society. Just as Taddy Blecher was inspired to accomplish what he has by the example set by his father, so can we likewise be inspired by the plethora of projects and good works carried out by such individuals and look for ways in which we ourselves can become more involved.



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Collective responsibility needed to ensure Jewish security 

Over the past month, there has been a worldwide upsurge in terrorist attacks, including the massacre of dozens of tourists and others in Tunisia. This has brought home yet again the vulnerability of all global citizens in the face of a threat that knows no boundaries, and can manifest without warning anywhere and at any time. As ever, our response has to be one of constant vigilance, combined with taking responsible measures to enhance the security of our community and its installations.

We are fortunate in South Africa to have the CSO, a dedicated and professional body committed to protecting our community against attacks. The CSO is in a continual process of monitoring the socio-political environment to identify potential threats and fine-tuning the systems it has in place. Forestalling potential attacks means having to constantly think ahead, considering what could happen and developing contingency plans for all possible scenarios. This, in addition to ensuring that there is on-the-ground protection at installations and communal events, constitutes the day to day work of the CSO. In all of its endeavours, the CSO needs the full support and cooperation of the Jewish community, and I again urge everyone to assist in this regard. 

Confronting the hatemongers

 Just as the CSO works to ensure our physical safety, the SAJBD’s mandate is to protect our community against all forms of antisemitism, including verbal abuse, unfair discrimination or the propagation of antisemitic slurs in the public realm. The work of the two organisations complements one another, and hence the Board and CSO maintain a close working relationship.

 

Maintaining a safe environment in which Jews live also means confronting blatantly antisemitic rhetoric. In addition to the emotional and psychological hurt that this inflicts, we know that, left unchallenged, words can easily lead to action. Last month, the Board laid a charge of criminal incitement against former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamini for, inter alia, referring to Jews as “devils” in a radio interview. We already have a hate speech case against Dlamini before the SA Human Rights Commission, and have asked that this latest outburst be added to the record. 

The Freedom Charter – 60 Years On

On 23 June, the Board held a special commemorative evening to mark the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, that visionary blue-print for the democratic, non-racial society we enjoy today. It was a moving and inspiring event, with veteran anti-apartheid activist Leon Levy and former President Kgalema Motlanthe sharing their insights regarding this formative period in our history. Mr Levy, in his capacity as President of the SA Congress of Trade Unions, was an original signatory to the Charter. He was one of many members of the Jewish community who participated in the consultation and drafting process, whose names include those of Lionel Bernstein, Michael Harmel, Alan and Beata Lipman, Joe Slovo, Ben Turok and Ruth First.


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- Mary Kluk

The SAJBD and World Jewry

In fulfilling its mandate as the spokesbody and civil rights lobby of South African Jewry, the Board benefits greatly from its relationships with international Jewish organisations. Through our maintaining contacts with these bodies and participating in global forums dealing with issues of concern to world Jewry, we have ready access to the skills, expertise and knowledge that our counterparts abroad can provide. The relationship is by no means a one-sided one, since we bring to the table our own insights and experiences. Indeed, our community plays a very active role in international Jewish affairs, well out of proportion to its relatively small numbers.

Last month, our Cape Vice-Chairman Eric Marx, National Director Wendy Kahn and Head of Communications Charisse Zeifert attended the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington DC. Wendy gave presentations on antisemitism in South Africa to the AJC and the Anti-Defamation League, and also met with SA Ambassador MJ Mahlangu.

During this time, I participated in an International Conference on Genocide Prevention, Culture of Peace Education and Holocaust Education in Africa, held in Dakar, Senegal and hosted by UNESCO and the Aladdin Project. The subject of the presentation I gave was ‘Racism, Discrimination and the Holocaust: the South African Experience’. It was inspiring to see a roomful of Senegalese students coming together to learn about the Holocaust, which increasingly is being included in the school curricula of African countries.

WJC President Ronald Lauder to speak at SAJBD Conference

The SAJBD’s 48th biennial national congress will take place on 22 November. I am pleased to report that Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress has agreed to be the keynote speaker. The WJC is at the forefront of international efforts to promote the welfare and ensure the safety and security of Jewish communities everywhere. The Board has a close working relationship with the organisation and is an active member of its executive committee (a meeting of which I also attended last month). We expect the theme of the conference to very much revolve around the rise of global antisemitism and how to counter it, and here it can be anticipated that Mr Lauder will provide us with many crucial insights into what is taking place.

Jewish Affairs - An invaluable communal resource

Jewish Affairs has been brought out under the auspices of the SAJBD since 1941, and is widely recognised as being South Africa’s leading Jewish historical, cultural and current affairs journal. It appears thrice annually (Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah) and publishes articles dealing with Jewish history, literature, art and religion. This coming Rosh Hashanah issue will have a special feature on South African Jewry and World War II, to mark the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of the war. Jewish Affairs is now also available electronically on the SAJBD website: www.jewishsa.co.za. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this invaluable communal resource, which records the myriad activities and achievements of our community.


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Durban and the Xenophobia crisis 

South Africa is only now emerging from a prolonged period of xenophobic attacks against foreign migrants, the worst to have taken place since the first major explosion of anti-foreigner agitation back in 2008. Sadly, Durban and its environs was especially hard hit by the unrest, with a number of lives being lost and many thousands of people being left homeless and destitute. 

The fact that the victims were targeted solely on account of their foreign nationality added an especially dismaying dimension to the unrest. This, after all, was South Africa, whose people came together twenty years ago to create a society committed to upholding the fundamental right to dignity and equality of all its members, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality or creed. 

I was nevertheless very proud at the way Durban Jewry, as on previous occasions, came forward in their numbers to assist the victims. Local relief efforts were spear-headed by the Council for KwaZulu-Natal Jewry, under the dedicated leadership of President Ronnie Herr and Vice-President Alana Baranov, while the National Board elicited the generous assistance of the Jewish community in Johannesburg. The materials donated by community members in Durban were ultimately amplified by an additional truckload of essential provisions collected by Johannesburg Jewry over and above what was required to assist local xenophobia victims. I commend and thank our community for this wonderful and heart-warming response.

In the short term, addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of those left homeless and destitute had to be given priority. The real challenge, however, has to be finding ways to eradicate the kind of hatred that led to their being victimised in the first place. Much of the responsibility for this falls on government, but the various faith communities and civil society also have a crucial role to play. In this regard, the Board is working closely with bodies like the Hate Crimes Working Group, Peace Action and refugee social services.

Antisemitism on University Campuses

During this same period, we experienced another display of antisemitism involving student leaders, this time by the President of the Student Representative Council at Wits University, Mcebo Dlamini. In an exchange with others on his Facebook site, Dlamini made a series of hateful comments about Jews, including endorsing assertions that Hitler knew what he was doing in perpetrating the Holocaust and expressing agreement with the notorious “Christ killer” deicide libel. He further expressed unabashed admiration for Adolf Hitler. Vice Chancellor Adam Habib was quick to come out with a statement deploring these comments and unequivocally dissociating the university from them. In addition, the Board has lodged a formal complaint of antisemitic hate speech against Dlamini with the SA Human Rights Commission. The core mandate of the SAJBD is to protect SA Jewry against antisemitism in all its forms. We will not, indeed cannot, allow people to get away with such defamatory attacks, especially when they hold representative office. Such overt incitement to hatred, in addition to being offensive and hurtful in and of themselves, is also dangerous in the country where, as the xenophobic violence so starkly demonstrated, hate speech can easily lead to acts of violence against those targeted. 


Community News

Above Board

Yom Hashoah is a day that unites Jews from right across the religious, political and ideological spectrum. Seven decades have passed since the terrible war in which six million of our people died, but the duty to remember has not lessened with the passage of time. Indeed, the contrary is true. With the World War II generation passing into history, it becomes incumbent on the present and future generations to take responsibility for ensuring that those events are not forgotten. Those survivors who remain need – indeed, are owed – the firm assurance from all of us that their stories will not be forgotten when they are no longer amongst us.

This year, we were honored to have as our keynote speaker Hugo Marom, one of those whose lives were saved through the Kindertransport. Born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, he and his brother, Ruby, arrived in London on the last transport before war broke out. Their parents, like those of nearly all other Kindertransport children, died at the hands of the Nazis. One can but imagine the trauma and dislocation they must have felt, transplanted to a country where they had no friends or family, where they did not speak the language and whose inhabitants for the greater part did not want them. What is inspiring about Hugo Marom is that notwithstanding these harsh experiences, he went on to build a successful life for himself, serving with distinction in the British and Czech air forces and thereafter becoming a pioneer of aviation in the newly created State of Israel. We are very grateful to him, as we are to all those survivors who have addressed us over the years, for undertaking this arduous and emotionally demanding visit, one involving not only speaking to our community but engaging extensively with the media as well. For our part, we can only take to heart the message he had to share and to resolve in turn to pass what we learned from him on to the next generation.

The Community’s Conduit to Government
There exists in our community an impression that government is hostile to Jewish interests, but I can state unequivocally from our own experiences that nothing could be further from the truth. Government representatives with whom we have met have consistently shown an appreciation for what Jews have done and are doing to build up our country, and been very understanding of the concerns we have regarding security and antisemitism. In addition to government meetings, we have also over the past month been engaging with constituencies with whom we had previously had little dealings and where in fact a fair amount of antagonism has existed. These include the Young Communist League, ANC Youth League, National Union of Mineworkers and the ANC Veterans association. It has come as a pleasant surprise to find that notwithstanding our differences over the Israeli-Palestinian question, there is at the end of the day far more that unites than divides us. We share the same vision for achieving a prosperous, just and united South Africa, and would like to find ways in which we can assist one another in furthering these goals. With regard to the vexed Middle East question, the stance of the Board is that while we can agree to differ on the rights and wrongs of the conflict itself, using it as an excuse to threaten, denigrate or otherwise cause harm to our Jewish community is a red line that cannot be crossed. Here, too, I can confidently say that the Board and government are on the same page, and remain committed to working together to address such problems whenever they occur.


COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

This year’s annual hate fest known as “Israel Apartheid Week” has come and gone. Once again, our university students were on the frontlines, and we can be very proud of the commitment and resilience they showed in the face of so much ugly invective. This firm, principled and dignified response was in evidence on all campuses where SAUJS had a presence. It was heartening to see how our community’s future leaders are prepared to stand up for their convictions in so hostile and unpleasant an environment. They have countered the slanderous “Israel Apartheid Week” with their own, “Israel Awareness Week”, and have eschewed their opponents’ tactics of smears and vitriol with constructive calls for civilised dialogue. The positive response that greeted their campaigns from both Jewish and non-Jewish students was well-deserved reward for their efforts. 

The Board, in addition to supporting the students, was also very active on the media front. Here, we worked closely with Bassim Eid, a visiting Palestinian human rights activist who believes, as we do, in the creation of a democratic Palestinian state co-existing in peace alongside Israel. While the other side continued propagating their rejectionist message, we ensured that the media was also provided with our perspective. 

Another important Board focus has been to bring home the extent to which the inflammatory and dishonest tactics of BDS et al, while doing nothing to resolve the Middle East conflict, are fostering overt antisemitism while undermining relations between South Africans in general. At the official launch of Israel Apartheid Week by BDS at the historic Liliesleaf heritage site in Rivonia, our National Director Wendy Kahn led a counter-demonstration conveying the message that BDS, despite claiming to be a human rights organisation, was responsible for provoking, and also condoning, gross acts of antisemitism by its supporters. Recent such cases include the Durban University of Technology incident, where a call was made by the SRC for Jewish students to be ‘deregistered’ and the depositing of a pig’s head in a Woolworths store in Cape Town last November.             

Last month, together with CKNJ President Ronnie Herr, Vice-President Alana Baranov and Chairman of the KNZC Antony Arkin, I attended a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of the Durban University of Technology to discuss the way forward in the wake of the SRC’s shocking demand. We were encouraged by the abhorrence felt by the DUT leadership regarding this call, and will be working with them in formulating an envisaged new social cohesion program to foster the values of tolerance, diversity and freedom of opinion on campus.  

On 8 March, I also attended, and brought a message to, the SA Zionist Federation conference in Johannesburg. This was combined with a South Africa-Israel Expo, which exhibited 109 Israeli and local companies, communal organisations and food stalls. The day was a resounding success and very well attended, notwithstanding a rather poorly attended BDS-led demonstration outside the venue. Some of the participants in the latter were recorded making threatening and antisemitic comments, and we made sure to publicise these in the media as a way of further exposing the real agenda of these self-styled “human rights activists”.  


COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

One of the main issues that the Board has been involved in this year was the visit to South Africa, under the auspices of BDS-SA, of plane hijacker and People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine politburo member Leila Khaled. This visit impacted directly on Durban Jewry when the student leadership at the Durban University of Technology sent a memorandum to the Vice-Chancellor inter alia demanding that Jewish students be ‘deregistered’ because of their links to Israel. It is hardly coincidental that this shocking ‘Juden raus’ call, something we have not seen in this country for many a decade, was made immediately following Khaled’s speaking on DUT campus. 

It was nevertheless heartening to see the outpouring of support and sympathy for our community following the DUT call, both locally and from our Jewish counterparts abroad. I commend our Council for KwaZulu-Natal Jewry, in particular President Ronnie Herr and Vice-President Alana Baranov, for the strenuous, but always measured and dignified manner in which they dealt with the matter, in the media and in their interactions with the university itself. Shortly afterwards, our community took to the streets to participate in a rousing Hachnasat Sefer Torah ceremony to celebrate the addition of two new Sifrei Torah to the Umhlanga shul. It demonstrated in a very meaningful way our ability in this country to live a full, unfettered Jewish life, regardless of the efforts in certain quarters to make us feel unwelcome. 

A few days after the DUT call, Denmark experienced something very similar to what took place in Paris earlier this year, with the murder of someone adjudged to have offended Islamic sensibilities being quickly followed by a lethal attack, in this case by the same individual, on a Copenhagen synagogue. In both cases, avenging a perceived slur against Islam was combined with an attack against people solely on account of their being Jewish. It shows how deeply rooted has become the notion in radical Islamist circles that Jews are complicit in the myriad ills being experienced by the Muslim world. Such a mind-set puts Jews everywhere at risk.

As events around the world show, the hostility we are experiencing is not new to South Africa but part of a global trend. Seen in this perspective, we can take heart from the fact that despite the virulent nature of much of the rhetoric we are dealing

with, acts of violence against our community have been virtually non-existent. In Cape Town, I took part in a protest organised by the SAJBD against the Khaled visit. In taking to the streets, whether to protest against the glorification of violence and

terrorism or to celebrate the enrichment of our religious heritage, we are able to send a forthright message that we are proud Jews and proud South Africans, and that we will not be intimidated, whether by BDS or any other lobbies who seek to deny us our

fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association.


COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

- Mary Kluk

2014 was a years of contrasts. Its first few months had a very positive focus, with the celebration of twenty years of democracy in South Africa culminating in the holding of the country’s fifth post-apartheid elections. The Board coordinated a wide range of events aimed at making our community an active, identifying part of the process. They included a Freedom Seder, a pre-Purim evening celebrating the role of women and pre-election “Great Debates” between some of the competing parties. We were particularly proud of the success of our “Make Us Count” campaign, which included putting together an IEC-accredited observer team from across the religious and ethnic spectrum to assist election officials on polling day.

Identifying with South Africa and its achievements helped to foster a sense of optimism and belonging amongst our community. However, the atmosphere changed for the worse with the outbreak of the fifty-day Gaza conflict. Adding to our anxiety over the safety of fellow Jews under constant threat were concerns over events closer to home. The war provoked this country’s worst outpouring of antisemitic sentiment in decades, something greatly facilitated by the role played by the now ubiquitous social media. The central mandate of the Board is to protect Jewish civil rights and combat all forms of antisemitism. This dominated our work throughout the Gaza war period. Every incident that came to our attention was thoroughly investigated and evaluated. In many cases, it was not possible to take action, but such a conclusion was only reached after careful deliberation. Amongst other responses, we laid criminal charges, lodged a number of complaints with the Human Rights Commission and maintained a vocal presence in the media. Several of the matters have since been resolved while others are ongoing. Regardless of how long it takes, we will pursue each and every one of them until they have been suitably concluded. 

Global terrorism: Not in our back yard!

For the Board, the start of the year was dominated by the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, with the murder of seventeen people in attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket. The first atrocity was provoked by anger over a

cartoon lampooning Islam; the second was motivated solely by the fact that the targets were Jews. It was just one instance of terrorist acts carried out by Islamic extremists in recent months. The worst of these occurred at the same time, with the massacre of a reported 2000 people by Boko Haram in Nigeria. It was precisely at this time that the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement - BDS - announced that it will be bringing notorious plane hijacker Leila Khaled to South Africa. Far from playing down her terrorist background, moreover, BDS made it a selling point. In a press release, we said it was appalling that any organisation, especially one purporting to be a human rights movement, intended bringing a known perpetrator of terrorism to this country. Terrorism was a crime against humanity and a threat to world peace, regardless of whether it was carried out for political, religious or other reasons. By depicting Leila Khaled as a heroic figure, BDS was sending out the worst possible message at a time when our country needed to stand with the global community in confronting the scourge of terrorism. Our statement and related items can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/SAJBD 


COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

Taking a stand against Anti-Semitism

This year, as a result of the conflict in Gaza, anti-Semitism in South

Africa reached its highest level since detailed records began to be

kept some three decades ago. In October, the SAJBD held a protest

demonstration in Cape Town against this worrying phenomenon.

This took place outside the Woolworths store where the previous

week, a pig’s head had been deposited by the Congress of SA

Students in protest against Woolworths’ stocking Israeli produce.

We were gratified by the media coverage generated by this initiative,

and we also saw the ANC come out and condemn Cosas’ action.

This year in particular, we have witnessed mounting instances of

anti-Israel activism crossing over into overt anti-Semitism aimed at

the local Jewish community, and we felt that it was important for us

to take a public stand against it. Thanks to the Board’s professional

team for the swift and efficient manner that the protest was planned

and executed.


Jewish Detainees of Mauritius Remembered

Last month, I participated in a very moving and uplifting series

of events on Mauritius in memory of the more than 1500 Jewish

refugees who were interned on the island during World War

II. The main event was the official opening of a memorial centre

and exhibition recording that story. We also visited various sites

associated with the detainees, including the Beau Bassin Prison

where the men were held and the cemetery where 126 of those

who died on the island are buried. It made me very proud to

remember how during those difficult years, the SAJBD provided

so vital a source of support and comfort to their incarcerated

brethren. Amongst other things, it provided such material support

as siddurim, essential medicines and other provisions. After the war,

the Board’s connection with Mauritius continued through ensuring

the upkeep of the Jewish cemetery, which is today fully restored

and beautifully maintained.


One regrettable aspect of the visit was that Mervyn Smith, a

founder and long-serving President of the African Jewish Congress,

could not, for health reasons, be with us. Sadly, Mervyn passed

away shortly afterwards in Cape Town. His passing occasioned a

flood of fulsome tributes from throughout the Jewish world for

the magnificent contribution he had made, to South African and

international Jewry. Space does not permit me to detail these

achievements, which are summarised in our obituary to him on our

website (www.jewishsa.co.za).


Another Memorable Shabbat Project

This year’s post Yom Tov ‘high’ was prolonged on the weekend

following Simchat Torah through the holding of the second ‘Shabbat

Project’. All those involved in the inaugural project will remember

what an inspiring success it was. Remarkably, it has resulted in our

community becoming international trailblazers, since this year our

counterparts in dozens of cities around the world followed our

example. Congratulations to Chief Rabbi Goldstein and his team

for introducing this wonderful initiative, an unequivocally ‘Made in

South Africa’ export that has brought countless Jews together in

a very special way. Whatever hostile fringe elements exist in this

country, it remains a place where the Jewish religion and culture

as able to thrive, while at the same time allowing Jews to fully

participate in and identify with the broader national ethos.


COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

Mary Kluk

Shortly before Rosh Hashanah, the senior leadership of the Board and representatives of the SAZF met with President Zuma and members of his Cabinet in Pretoria. I had met briefly with President Zuma prior to this, but this was my first formal opportunity of engaging with him as National Chairman of the Board. Our delegation comprised National President Zev Krengel, executive members Eric Marx and Raymond Goss, National Director Wendy Kahn and Advocate Jonathan Silke and Ben Swartz from the SA Zionist Federation and myself. Also present were the Ministers of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, and the Ministers in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe and Susan Shabangu.

The meeting was an extremely important one in light of the recent sharp rise in antisemitism in South Africa and of the increasingly hostile stance taken against Israel by the ANC. The two issues, of course, are closely inter-related. Most antisemitic activity in this country is in some way connected to the Middle East question and, as we saw during the Gaza war, it intensifies at times of increased conflict in the region. It is therefore naïve for anti-Zionism and antisemitism to be treated as two completely separate things, and it is just as unrealistic to maintain that constant attacks on the Jewish homeland, particularly when perceived to be coming from government, will not negatively impact on our community. Our comfort and security, and how we feel about our place in South Africa, is unavoidably tied up with Israel and our government’s relationship with it.

During the Gaza period, we were encouraged by the generally balanced stance taken by government, which focused on calling on both sides to cease their attacks rather than playing the blame game. During our meeting, President Zuma reiterated his strongly-held view that there can be no military solution to the conflict; rather, there has to be a negotiated process aimed at achieving a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with an Israeli and a Palestinian state co-existing in peace alongside one another. He also expressed a strong desire for South Africa, with its experience in conflict resolution, to play a role in this process if possible.

Government’s re-affirmation of its support of the two-state process and of its wish to engage with both parties in helping to advance it is particularly welcome given various contradictory messages emanating from the ANC. Shortly after our meeting, the ANC announced its support for a cultural, academic and education boycott of Israel, including travel bans for party members and government officials, and it has also co-signed a declaration describing Israel’s very establishment as being illegitimate. While we understand that there is a difference between government and the ruling party and that it is the former which determines official policy, we are much concerned about this clear shift in the ANC’s and are in communication with the party’s leadership to obtain further clarity on their position.

Overall, we came away from the meeting feeling that the President genuinely understood our concerns, and that South Africa’s policy on the Israel-Palestine question remains unaltered, despite the pressure brought to bear on it during the Gaza war to break off its ties with Israel. We were also very warmly received, and assured of how much the contribution our Jewish community is making to building South Africa is appreciated.



COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

- Mary Kluk

At the time of writing, yet another ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has been broken, resulting in a renewal of a conflict that has generated so much suffering over the past six weeks. The SAJBD can but endorse the standpoint of our government, namely that an end to the violence and the commencement of negotiations is the only way forward if peaceful co-existence between the two peoples is to be achieved.  

I was recently interviewed on SAFM along with a representative of the group Jewish Voices for a Just Peace, and it was put to me that that no space is allowed for dissenting views on Israel in our community. I emphasised that, on the contrary, there are various avenues and forums through which community members can express themselves. What we need to ensure, rather, is that people are not demeaned and insulted because of the positions they choose to take. Our challenge is to embrace and continue the age-old Jewish tradition of debate where all viewpoints are dealt with on their merits and minority voices are not excluded from the dialogue.     

Tony Ehrenreich, COSATU’s Western Cape Provincial Secretary, is an example of someone who regards dissent from the view he holds as a punishable offense. This he has made clear in a number of highly inflammatory post on Facebook, whereby he, inter alia, accused the SAJBD of being “complicit in the murder of the people in Gaza” and that the time had come for it to “feel the wrath of the people of SA with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye” whenever a woman or child is killed in Gaza. The Board has since lodged both criminal charges and a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission in response to this overt hate speech and incitement to violence. This is in addition to a number of other such cases we have lodged recently. Freedom of expression, even in the most democratic societies, does not extend so far as to allow people to incite violence or overt hatred against their fellow citizens. Unfortunately, the Gaza conflict has seen these boundaries continually breached in this country, with various individuals having gone beyond mere anti-Israel rhetoric to the levelling of overt threats combined with the propagation of virulently antisemitic sentiments. Such discourse has no place in our society, which is underpinned both in law and spirit on the values of non-racialism and intergroup harmony. The activities of the Board are wide ranging, including outreach and bridge-building initiatives and the safeguarding of the Jewish heritage in this country. Its primary mandate, however, is to protect the civil liberties of South African Jewry, and our community can rest assured that to this end, we will continue to leave no stone unturned in dealing appropriately with each and every case of antisemitism that comes to our attention.          

Despite the threats and intimidation emanating against them from some quarters, highly successful solidarity rallies for Israel were held in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. Our community came out in force at both events, and were joined by thousands of others from outside the ranks of the Jewish community. We can take heart from the wonderful and continuous expressions of support that we have received during this time from so many of our fellow South Africans, while praying that a lasting and peaceful solution will soon be found to the conflict in the Middle East.      


COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

Given the deep emotional ties between South African Jewry and Israel, along with the fact that so many of us have family and friends living there, times of heightened conflict between Israel and its neighbours are always very distressing for our community. Such anxiety is bad enough in itself, but as we have learned by bitter experience, it does not stop there. Today, any upsurge in violent confrontations involving Israel invariably leads to a corresponding upsurge in antisemitism throughout the world. Such has been the case with regard to the latest period of conflict between Israel and Hamas. Regardless of the facts that brought about this tragic situation, there has been a truly frightening outpouring of hate speech against Jews in the Diaspora, and in a number of cases - examples are Morocco and Paris - violent attacks. A situation is developing whereby in order to avoid being thus targeted, Jews are required not merely to desist from standing up for Israel’s right to defend itself, but to join in condemning her for doing so. 

I was in Israel, participating in the 9th International Conference on Holocaust Education held under the auspices of Yad Vashem, when the conflict erupted. I thus experienced at first-hand what the Israeli people are going through in being constantly subjected to deadly missile fire. Despite such flagrant provocation on the part of Hamas, one nevertheless constantly comes up against a pronounced reluctance on the part of Israel’s detractors to sympathise with Israel’s plight nor even to acknowledge that such attacks are taking place at all. Such was the case with a truly repugnant statement issued, in the name of the ANC, by the party’s Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte. Somehow, this managed to omit any mention of the hundreds of Hamas rockets that had triggered off the Israeli response, nor those that even then were raining down on Israeli towns right up to the country’s northern border. Even worse was Duarte’s likening Israel’s actions to those committed by the Nazis, a wicked untruth that not only grossly libelled the Jewish state but at the same time minimised the true horrors of the Holocaust. In our media statement, we commented that Duarte was well aware that the two situations could not remotely be equated to one another but had chosen to make such a comparison solely in order to cause the maximum hurt and offense.

What has also been truly appalling has been the flood of naked antisemitic vitriol that has appeared throughout the social media. Time and again, we are seeing members of the public posting comments applauding the Holocaust, and expressing the wish that Hitler had finished the job. This was in addition to the usual allegations of Jewish exploitation and behind-scenes conniving at the expense of the rest of the population. The Board has already laid formal charges of hate speech against two of the perpetrators, and we are currently evaluating which other cases merit following up. 

Had it not been for Hamas’ reckless acts of aggression, every one of those who lost their lives over the past week would still be with us. Regardless of who is responsible, every innocent life lost is a tragedy, and we empathise with those on both sides who have suffered so needlessly. I can only hope that by the time this column appears, calm will have been restored.

The Board provides regular updates on what it is dealing with via its electronic and social media outlets. Community members are urged to follow us on twitter@sajbd and to ‘like’ us on the SAJBD Facebook page so as to remain continuously informed.


COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

Mary Kluk

New Era inaugurated for Durban Jewry

Launched four years ago on the initiative of Chief Rabbi Goldstein, the Sinai Indaba quickly established itself as one of the most keenly anticipated events on our community’s calendar. The Durban event this year was particularly special as it took place in conjunction with the dedication of the new Umhlanga Jewish centre. The establishment of this wonderful new facility represents a true beacon of confidence in the future of Jewish life not only in KwaZulu-Natal but countrywide. Faced with the challenge of reducing numbers and changing demographics, the Durban United Hebrew Congregation and other far-sighted community leaders whole-heartedly backed the creation of this vibrant new campus. Today, it provides amongst other facilities a thriving Jewish day school, a shul and a Kollel. Having been much involved with the project from its inception, it has given me enormous pride and pleasure to witness its coming to fruition and to see how Jewish life has started to blossom anew in our city. 


American Jewish Committee Conference

Last month, I was one of some 2000 Jewish leaders in attendance at the American Jewish Committee in Washington. We were treated to an impressive array of top speakers, including international statesmen, academics and senior Jewish communal leaders. Added to this was the uplifting experience of engaging with colleagues from all over the world and seeing how much we share with one another, even where we speak different languages. While each community is different, we are united by our common religious and ethnic heritage, by the centrality of Israel in our lives and by our mutual commitment to assist one another in ensuring our common safety and well-being. During my stay, I took the opportunity of visiting the US Holocaust Museum, one of the most outstanding institutions of its kind, and was able to compare notes with what is being done by our own Holocaust centres in Durban Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.   

Antisemitism on the Rise

One of the main focuses of discussion at the AJC conference was the rise in antisemitism in Europe. The reality of this threat was tragically borne out by the murder of four people in a terror attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels and, that same day, the brutal assault on two youths in Paris. While governments have a responsibility to combat these trends, Jews too must do what they can to protect themselves. This entails both a short-term and a long-term strategy, the first dealing with the symptoms and the second with the underlying causes of antisemitism. Thus, we must as a matter of course adopt what measures we can to ensure the security of our installations and individuals. At the same time, we must recognise that the underlying cause of antisemitism is irrational prejudice based on ignorance. Here, we must make a difference through promoting human rights education, something I am fortunate enough to be involved in through my work with the SA Holocaust and Genocide Foundation. It makes me very proud that in South Africa, there is a great deal of political will to deal with all forms of prejudice, through the political and law enforcement structures as well as in the civil society arena. As Jews, we are beneficiaries of, and participants in that culture, but it is something that has to be constantly safe-guarded to ensure that the iniquities of the past are not revisited on future generations. 



COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

Mary Kluk, National Chairman

Sharing the Lesson of Pesach

Shortly before Yom Tov, the Gauteng Council of the SAJBD held a special ‘Freedom Seder’, bringing together a wide range of political and religious leaders, members of the media and civil society to celebrate twenty years of South African democracy in the context of the traditional Passover narrative. The event provided a distinctively Jewish vehicle through which we could participate with our fellow South Africans in celebrating this important milestone. Following my introductory remarks, presentations were given by Chief Rabbi Goldstein, SAJBD President Zev Krengel, anti-apartheid activist Mac Maharaj, former trade unionist Johnny Copelyn and CNN’s Robyn Curnow. All provided moving and thought-provoking insights on the legacy of our democrat struggle and the responsibilities that this attainment of freedom had brought with it.

One of today’s educational challenges today is to imbue our youth with an appreciation of what it is to live in a society where discrimination is illegal and all fundamental democratic freedoms are upheld. For that, they need to remember the circumstances that gave birth to a free South Africa, and realise that without the sacrifices made by previous generations, they would not be enjoying the basic democratic freedoms which are today all but taken for granted. 

Election Fever - Making our Community Count 

There were excellent attendances at the Board’s pre-election inter-party debates in Durban and Johannesburg. The moderator at the CKNJ event held at the Durban Jewish Centre was Sunday Tribune Deputy Editor Greg Arde and the high-level line-up of political leaders included Mosioua Lekota (COPE), Willies Mchunu (ANC), Wilmot James (DA), Jo-Anne Downs (ACDP) and Narend Singh (IFP). Various members of the press, civil society and religious leaders attended. All present enjoyed the robust but always respectful exchanges as representatives of the competing parties gave their views on how to take South Africa forward.

Finality at Last in the Radio 786 Case

Last month, the SAJBD and Islamic Unity Convention (IUC) formally agreed to a settlement of the Board’s complaint of anti-Semitic hate speech against Radio 786. Both parties signed a joint statement in which inter alia Radio 786 conceded that parts of the offending programme had been nonsensical and anti-Semitic, and that this had caused offence and distress to members of our community. From our point of view, the settlement brought to a satisfactory conclusion what has been an extraordinarily complex and arduous process. Ultimately, we have achieved what we set out to achieve, namely to bring our grievances before the broadcasting regulatory body, to show why the programme was so defamatory and offensive and to ensure that there was some form of acknowledgment by the broadcaster that this was so. During this time, I was overseas attending the meeting of the World Jewish Congress executive committee. The discussions around the alarming rise of global anti-Semitism brought home once again how vital it is for us to be vigilant and to oppose without compromise all anti-Semitic acts. This is why the Board never wavered in pursuing the 786 matter, despite the many obstacles, delays and dead-ends that it involved.


COMMUNITY NEWS

Above Board

IAW - The Circus comes to town

The annual propaganda circus known as ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ hit our shores last month, with the usual series of public relations stunts aimed at heaping as much calumny on Israel as possible. Again, the area of activity was on the university campuses. Notably absent once again was any expression of support for initiatives seeking a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian question; instead, the intention was to simply demonise Israel with a view to persuading the public at large to support a boycott of the Jewish state.

In sharp contrast, our Jewish students chose in response to run a “Give Peace Wings” campaign, one emphasising the need for building bridges of understanding and mutual acceptance. We can only commend them on the resilient and dignified manner in which they stood up to the whole well-resourced hate fest, one that relies not on reasoned, civilised debate but on misinformation and invective. We can take comfort from the fact that for all the noise they make, the IAW crowd have, in practical terms, made little headway. It was also encouraging that this time round, we did not witness the kind of acts of disruption and intimidation that took place at Wits last year. In large part, this was due to the firm stand taken by the university leadership against any behaviour infringing on the right of others to freedom of expression.

International Relations Portfolio Committee rejects boycott of Israel

At the beginning of March, the International Relations Portfolio Committee convened to discuss resolutions emanating from the previous month’s Solidarity Conference in support of the people of Palestine [and others]. In the weeks leading up to this, the SAJBD and SAZF worked closely together in confronting this disturbing initiative. Inter alia, we met with the senior leadership of all the major political parties to convey to them our position regarding the Solidarity Conference and why it was not in the interests of Palestinians, Israelis and South Africa itself for this country to endorse its recommendations. We are happy to report that all the parties involved clearly heard and took on board our concerns. This is reflected in the final statement adopted at the conclusion of the discussions. We may not agree with every point, but as a whole it is a reasonably balanced document, one that emphasises the need to support the peace process with a view to achieving a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict and which nowhere calls for boycotts against Israel.

Build-up to the Election

In previous columns, I wrote about the Board’s ‘Make Us Count’ pre-election initiative, whose purpose is to encourage our community to get involved in the upcoming elections. Initially, the focus was to encourage people to ensure that they were properly registered. Now, we are in the process of hosting a range of events aimed at educating the community on the issues of the election and the policies of the political parties contesting it. Last month, we hosted an evening where Minister FikileMbalula spoke on government’s policies and vision. At the time of writing, we are finalising arrangements for public debates in Durban and Johannesburg between representatives of some of the main parties. The Durban debate, to be moderated by Sunday Tribune editor Jovial Rantao, is to take place on 1 April.


COMMUNITY NEWS

ABOVE BOARD

Mary Kluk,

Early last December, South Africans woke to the sad news that their beloved former President Nelson Mandela had passed away after a prolonged illness. Understandably, this came to be the dominant story of the following two weeks, with tributes pouring in from every quarter and statesmen from every corner of the world arriving to attend the funeral. Balancing the inevitable sorrow people felt was the spontaneous outpouring of love and gratitude shown by all South Africans for a man who perhaps more than anyone else brought freedom, democracy and reconciliation to our country. We were as much celebrating Madiba’s extraordinary life as we were mourning his passing, and at the same time we were celebrating the fact that thanks to him and people like him, we are today a free and united nation.

Two themes that will feature prominently in 2014 are the national elections and the marking of the first twenty years of democracy in South Africa. Both provide an ideal opportunity for South Africans to engage in a process of self-reflection regarding the road they have travelled, the successes and failures of the past two decades and what still needs to be done to realise the hopes, dreams and ideals that the transition to democracy brought with it.

The SAJBD will be running a range of projects to stimulate Jewish interest and involvement in these events. Regarding the elections, it will include introducing community members to the relevant parties and creating an environment of robust consideration of the election issues. We intend highlighting these issues through debates, panel discussions, the use of the Jewish traditional media and social media and other innovative vehicles.

We started the ball rolling towards this end of last year with the launch of our ‘Make Us Count’ election awareness campaign. As previously reported, this included a campaign through the Jewish and social media to encourage community members, in particular young first-time voters, to ensure that they are registered to vote in the elections. There was an enthusiastic response to this, and in addition we have seen an equally encouraging response to our calls for people to assist the Independent Electoral Commission in its work, including serving as election monitors. In Durban, the ‘Make Us Count’ initiative is being coordinated by Alana Baranov, who is a member both of the Board’s professional staff and of the Council for KwaZulu-Natal Jewry. Those interested in becoming involved in the project can get in touch with her through the CKNJ’s offices or at alanapughjones@gmail.com.

I conclude by congratulating the latest crop of Jewish matriculants, who once again recorded superb results throughout the country. In wishing them all success as they embark on the next exciting phase of their life’s journey, I would also strongly encourage them to maintain and build on their connections with the Jewish community and their Jewish heritage. When young Jews leave their parents’ homes, maintaining their Jewish affiliations becomes a matter of choice. We hope that you will choose to remain involved, and look forward to your participation in all aspects of Jewish communal affairs in years to come.


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

Mary Kluk,
National Chairman

The importance of partnerships

At the time of writing, the secular year is drawing to a close with a flurry of communal events, whether relating to civil society activities, Holocaust commemoration, the forthcoming Chanukah festivities and inter-faith initiatives. The Board has been, and continues to be involved with these, in partnership with other Jewish organisations as well as with organisations outside the Jewish communal fold. Last month, we were involved in organising two very powerful and moving events related to Holocaust remembrance. In the first, we partnered with the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre and the Hungarian Embassy to commemorate the start of the Holocaust in Hungary. This is the first of several envisaged events that will be taking place in 2014. Shortly thereafter, we organised a Friday evening event at the Mizrachi shul in Johannesburg to mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. A delegation from the German Embassy, headed by Ambassador Horst Freitig were also present. What is noteworthy is that the original approach to attend a synagogue service on the anniversary came from their side.
The Cape Board, in tandem with leaders of other faith groups, was again much involved in putting together the annual interfaith Reconciliation Day Walk in Cape Town. Participants gathered outside the St George's Cathedral and from there proceeded to the Gardens shul and finally to the Auwal Mosque. At each stop they are addressed on topics relevant to the theme of reconciliation and understanding between different groupings by religious and civic leaders.
All of these and many other events in which the Board was involved last year were organised in collaboration with a variety of other organisations. The latter represent a range of different interests, from the religious through to those with a human rights, youth, civil society or political focus. This underlines how the Board sees itself, namely as a broad tent that facilitates and involves itself in the complete spectrum of Jewish life in partnership with its constituent bodies.

Good Citizenship
A continual challenge for Board is to combine addressing the internal needs of the Jewish community with helping its members to also identify with and contribute to the greater national debate in South Africa. To this end, we encourage and facilitate the community's participation in a range of initiatives addressing issues of wider public concern, such as combating hate crimes, voter education, social outreach and governance and constitutional questions.   
One of the recent Board projects geared towards this was its national election awareness campaign. The first step was to conduct a vigorous drive in the Jewish and social media to encourage community members, in particular our young first-time voters, to ensure that they are registered to vote in next April's elections. In addition, we have encouraged people to volunteer as election monitors, an area in which we have seen an encouragingly high level of participation by our community in the past. Voter apathy needs to be countered very strenuously; our hard-won democracy is not something to be taken for granted, but on the contrary must be constantly invigorated through the active participation of all South African citizens.        


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

Mary Kluk, National Chairman

Community embraces Shabbat Project
The idea of encouraging the entire Jewish community to join in celebrating a Shabbat together along traditional halachic lines was truly an inspired one. From the outset, it was apparent that  the project had touched a powerful chord within our community, from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Durban to Port Elizabeth and elsewhere in the country. It all culminated in a Shabbat that all of us will remember, a time of togetherness, celebration and learning that has enriched and galvanized our Jewish community to a degree not seen in many years. Durban Jewry was abuzz, with both the Durban Hebrew Congregation and Umhlanga shuls being a hive of activity. I myself was in Cape Town, attending services and other events (including a talk by guest speaker and Shabbat Project participant Tony Leon) at the Claremont Wynberg synagogue.
I congratulate Chief Rabbi Goldstein and the many other dedicated men and women whose efforts brought the project to fruition. I further commend our community as a whole for its enthusiastic response. It was, all in all, an inspiring demonstration by South African Jewry of how much their Jewish heritage means to them, regardless of the participants’ individual levels of observance. That Jews from right across the religious spectrum responded the way they did also says something about the overall spirit of unity, tolerance and good fellowship that has always been the hallmark of this Jewish community.

Enthralling community engagement at SAJBD Cape conference
We have come to expect robust, challenging and diverse debate at the biennial Cape Board conferences, and the latest such gathering, held on 5-6 October, certainly lived up to those expectations. The conference theme was ‘Safe Spaces’, referring to the importance of allowing community members to hold and express different viewpoints without feeling threatened or excluded. A core part of the Board’s mandate is to provide a truly representative forum allowing for as broad a range of views as possible to be expressed, and this aim was certainly achieved at the Cape conference. One of the panels featured four members of the Cape Town Jewry who felt disconnected from the mainstream community, whether because of the views they held, issues relating to their personal identity or a combination of the two. Their views were from across the right to the left of the spectrum regarding Israel and Zionism. What was particularly encouraging to see was that while there was plenty of disagreement amongst the participants, this never descended into personal abuse. People spoke their minds without feeling threatened, and could differ with one another without being prescriptive or judgmental.
I congratulate Li Boiskin, who stepped down after serving two terms as chairman of the Cape Council, on her many achievements over the past four years and congratulate newly-appointed chairman Gary Eisenberg. The new Cape Council was also elected, with three new members being elected by the community at large through a postal ballot and the remaining 12 by the delegates. All in all, much credit is due to the Cape Council for the robust democratic culture it is fostering within its constituency.         


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

AdMary Kluk,
National Chairman

Grand Celebration of the Board’s 110 Years
On 25 August, the Board held its 47th national conference and post-conference 110th anniversary gala dinner. Both were the culmination of many months of hard work and I pleased to report that both were very successful. The dinner was a wonderful celebration both of what the Board has achieved over the past eleven decades, and of what it is doing in the here and now, on behalf of the Jewish community and for the wider society. What made it additionally special was how many of our good friends outside of the community – in the political arena, media, academia, interfaith realm, diplomatic fraternity and other sectors – were there to celebrate with us. It enabled us to reciprocate the friendship that we have received from them over the years.
The main conference tackled the tough issues of creating safe spaces for freedom of expression and how to deal with hate crimes in South Africa. Given concerns over what has transpired at Wits University, delegates much appreciated the input of Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Rob Moore and to receive from him the unequivocal assurance that Wits is as committed as ever to the principle of freedom of expression on campus. Joanmarie Fubbs provided us with many enlightening insights into how our Constitution allows for participatory democracy, thereby allowing the public to have input into public policy. Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe shared with us his Department’s envisaged new strategy for dealing with incidents of hate crime, which he defined as a crime committed on the basis of the victim’s “inherent characteristics or membership of a particular group”.     
Following the conference, Zev Krengel and myself were elected to serve a second term as National President and National Chairman respectively, while David Simpson, Li Boiskin and Doron Joffe will serve second terms, as the Vice-chairmen from Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Raymond Goss has replaced Gerald Leissner as National Treasurer, after Gerald had held that position with the greatest distinction for many years. We are all looking forward very much to the challenges that lie ahead, just as I look forward to sharing with you how we, as the body representing the Jewish community, are doing to address them.
Winning back Wits
On 28 August, the Daniel Zamir jazz quartet from Israel entertained a crowd of over a thousand in the Wits Great Hall. In addition to its intrinsic artistic worth, the concert was an unequivocal demonstration by Wits of its support for the principle of freedom of expression. In March, a recital by Israeli pianist Yossi Reshef was shamefully disrupted by anti-Israel radicals, led by members of the then Student Representative Council. This resoundingly successful follow-up event represented a forthright rejection by the Wits community of this kind of behaviour.
The one negative outcome of the concert was that some of the demonstrators chanted ‘dubula e juda’, meaning ‘shoot the Jew’. As Jews and as South Africans, we cannot tolerate this kind of inflammatory discourse. Indeed, the Equality Court has already ruled that publicly chanting this slogan when it refers to Afrikaners should be regarded as prohibited hate speech. The Board is gathering as many of the facts of the situation as it can to determine how best to proceed.


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

AdMary Kluk,
National Chairman

A busy few weeks for Durban Jewry
This year’s Limmud festival has just concluded in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, and by all accounts was once again an outstanding success in all three centres. With its outstanding speakers from both locally and abroad, and multiple opportunities for multifaceted Jewish learning and cultural enrichment, it attracts high attendances representing a broad spectrum of political and religious views and has become one of the most eagerly anticipated events on our communal calendar. As in the past, many Board members attended and in some cases took part as speakers. I commend the organisers for all their hard work in bringing this event to our shores.
In addition to Limmud, Durban Jewry was abuzz with a range of other activities that took place around that time. This commenced with the AGM of the Council for KwaZulu-Natal Jewry, at which former Durbanite Tony Leon was guest speaker, and was followed by the SA Rabbinical Association’s annual conference at the Izinga campus in Umhlanga. I had the opportunity of meeting with some of the delegates and addressing the event on the work of the Board. It was inspiring to see the calibre of our religious leadership, which shows just why South African Jewry enjoys so high a reputation abroad. Immediately afterwards, the SA Holocaust and Genocide Foundation held its annual education workshop at the Durban Holocaust Centre. In all, it was an exciting time for Durban Jewry, which despite its small size relative to Johannesburg and Cape Town continues to maintain a vibrant Jewish communal life.

SAJBD National Conference
At the time of writing, final preparations are underway for the Board’s 47th biennial conference, to be held in Sandton 25 August. It is, as always, a very busy time for our staff and leadership, but it is exciting as well. Whereas the bulk of the SAJBD’s day-to-day work takes place out of the public eye, conference time gives us with a suitably prestigious platform through which to present to our constituents what we are all about and provide a window into some of the important issues that we are dealing with. What makes this year’s conference special is that it marks the 110th anniversary of the SAJBD. To celebrate this milestone, we are holding a special post-conference gala dinner. I look forward to reporting back on these events in my next column.  

Welcome to Israel’s new Ambassador to South Africa
Last month, we welcomed newly-arrived Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk. It is significant that one of the first places that he Lenk visited was Liliesleaf, one of the most significant heritage sites associated with the struggle for democracy in our country. In general, we have been impressed at how he has gone about educating himself regarding the history and current situation of this country and we look forward to working with him now that he has taken up his post. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution made by his predecessor Dov Segev-Steinberg and wish him all success in his future assignments.


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

AdMary Kluk,
National Chairman

Mandela Day

Last week, South Africans marked Nelson Mandela’s birthday by involving themselves in a range of outreach and upliftment initiatives. In Durban, a large amount of foodstuffs was collected on behalf of the Issy Geshen Old Age Home in Lamontville. The management of the home had requested groceries for the residents (especially something sweet as a teatime treat), and Durban Jewry did just that. Outside KZN, projects included the Board in Gauteng joining with others in launching an educational initiative in Alexandra.    
Prior to this, to show solidarity with Mandela and his family, the Gauteng Board arranged for dozens of Jewish women to bake challahs in a traditional Jewish gesture of prayer for someone who is ill. The challahs were delivered to two aged homes in Alexandra, where participants joined with the residents in praying for the recovery of our beloved former president. I warmly everyone involved in putting together this beautiful initiative.

National Congress: Honouring our top achievers
The Board traditionally uses its national conferences as an opportunity to honour community members who have rendered outstanding service to South Africa and to SA Jewry. The SAJBD Human Rights Award recognises those who have contributed significantly to the struggle for justice, with previous recipients including Arthur Chaskalson, Albie Sachs, Helen Suzman and Arthur Goldreich. At this year’s post-conference gala dinner on 25 August, we will be presenting the award to Benjamin Pogrund, some who  was at the forefront of those journalists who exposed the injustices of apartheid and who in recent years has also consistently made himself available to helping us combat anti-Israel propaganda.
In 2003, the Board introduced the Eric Samson Mendel Kaplan Communal Service Award. This year, the recipients will be Isla Feldman and Professor Michael Katz. Isla has served for over three decades as head of the Jewish National Fund and latterly at the head of the SA Zionist Federation as well. Michael’s service to our community likewise goes back over thirty years. In addition to the official positions he has held, including as National Chairman of the SAJBD, he has played an invaluable role in an informal capacity, placing his valuable time and professional expertise at the disposal of the Jewish community.

Gathering of World Leaders in Jerusalem
Israel’s Presidential Conference, a gathering of world leaders, celebrities and thinkers hosted by President Shimon Peres, took place in Jerusalem last month. There was a strong South African presence, including members of the SAJBD from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The event itself was enormously inspiring, not just in the way it showcased the extraordinary achievements of the Jewish State, but in the wonderful spirit of pride, enthusiasm, unity and continual desire to learn from and share with one another that was so manifest throughout. It demonstrated, in a most uplifting and joyous way, why we so treasure our Jewish heritage and feel so strong a commitment to being a part of it.


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

AdMary Kluk,
National Chairman

Sinai Indaba
The third Sinai Indaba has just taken place in Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Once again, it was a resounding success, with speakers of the highest calibre and attracting capacity attendances from across the spectrum of our community. This demonstrated how for Jews, Torah learning has never been regarded as the preserve of a few elite scholars. Rather, it has always been an eternally relevant spiritual heritage in which everyone is encouraged, indeed is duty-bound, to share in. I commend Chief Rabbi Goldstein and his office on this wonderful initiative. It brings our community together for a festival of Jewish learning that is both intellectually challenging and celebratory. The Chief Rabbi is therefore to be further congratulated on the appearance of his new book, The Legacy: Teachings for Life from the Great Lithuanian Rabbis. Co-written with the world-renowned historian and speaker Rabbi Berel Wein, it was launched at the Sinai Indaba, in the presence of both authors.

Nelson Mandela – Everyone’s President
At the time of writing, our beloved former President Nelson Mandela is still in hospital following a serious downturn in his state of health. It can safely be asserted that South Africans across the board are feeling the same sense of concern over the situation. It is a testimony to Mandela’s generosity of spirit and full-hearted outreach to all the peoples of this country that each and every one of us, regardless of race, creed or ethnicity, genuinely feels that he belongs to them. He was able to transcend all these differences to become a leader loved, trusted and revered by all. We pray for his recovery while accepting that the day must come when he is no longer with us. Our great challenge as the South African nation is ultimately to strive to live up to the example he set.

The International Jewish Scene
The past month been an unusually busy one for Board lay leaders and professional staff in terms of participating in international Jewish events. To list just some of these, National President Zev Krengel and senior professional staff attended the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington DC, Cape Executive Director David Jacobson attended the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s 3rd Delegation of Muslim and Jewish Leaders from Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand and Steve Gruzd from our Johannesburg staff team represented us at the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Israel. Most recently, along with our National Director Wendy Kahn, I attended the President’s Conference in Israel, a gathering of world leaders, celebrities and leading thinkers hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
The Board’s participation in forums like these provides us with important insights with regard to the thinking and strategizing of world Jewry. In addition, it has been gratifying to note the increasing extent to which the value of our own contribution, as South African Jewry, is being acknowledged. Despite the relatively small size of our community, it is recognised that we have a meaningful and distinctive contribution to make in terms of our own experiences.
 


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

AdMary Kluk,
National Chairman

An alarming upsurge of antisemitism in Europe
Last month, together with our National Director Wendy Kahn, Cape Chairman Li Boiskin and Cape Director David Jacobson attended the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in Budapest, Hungary. There was also an African Jewish Congress delegation, led by its President Mervyn Smith and Spiritual Leader and CEO Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft. The meeting was held in Budapest on this occasion in order to show solidarity with the local Jewish community, which has of late experienced an alarming resurgence of right-wing antisemitism. In the course of our stay, we indeed witnessed at first-hand the severity of this problem. Whatever threats that we might face in South Africa, it bears no relation to a situation where overt anti-Semitic rhetoric features continually in the public domain. We certainly cannot deny the high level of security that was provided for the conference by the authorities, yet the very fact that such comprehensive measures were deemed necessary tells its own sad story. One cannot imagine a Jewish leadership gathering in South Africa ever having to be protected in this way. 
In the firing line is Hungary’s 100 000-strong Jewish community, one of the largest in Europe. We were heartened to see how, despite the negative propaganda against them, its members are going about fostering a broad-based renewal of Jewish life in the country. At the same time, it was evident how pervasive is the legacy of the Holocaust within the community. It was only near the end of the war that the Nazis extended their programme of mass extermination to Hungarian Jewry, yet even in the short time available, and despite the heroic efforts of Raoul Wallenberg, they succeeded in shooting and gassing of more than 600 000 Jewish men, women and children. Unlike in Poland, Lithuania and elsewhere, however, a significant minority was liberated, and they and their descendants are acutely aware that they are a community of Holocaust survivors.
The conference provided an inspiring display of Jewish solidarity, as well as strong messages of support from other European leaders. No matter where they might be, Jews everywhere know that their fellow Jews, whether under the umbrella of the WJC or other influential world bodies, will exert themselves to the utmost on their behalf in confronting anti-Semitic threats against them. This was the strong message that was conveyed to Hungarian Jewry, as well as to the government of that country.

Cyril Karabus: Home at last
The story of Dr Cyril Karabus has gripped the Jewish world, and particularly our own community, during the nine months in which he was unjustly imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates. We applaud everyone involved in bringing this saga to a happy conclusion, with a special mention of the role played by Dr Karabus’ legal representative in South Africa, Michael Bagraim. Michael has rendered extensive service to South African Jewry over many years, including as National Chairman of the SAJBD. The part he played in bringing Cyril Karabus home will certainly be ranked as one of his finest achievements.  


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

AdMary Kluk,
National Chairman

Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut

The period immediately following Pesach is a time when the Jewish people observe three commemorative days relating to their collective experience in modern times. The first is to remember the near-annihilation of European Jewry in the Shoah, the second remembers those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of the Jewish State and the third celebrates the creation of Israel.
Yom Hashoah ceremonies were held under the auspices of the Board in all the main Jewish population centres. In addition, and possibly for the first time ever, a ceremony was held in Grahamstown as part of a visit by a delegation from the Board, SAZF and SAUJS to meet with the staff and students of Rhodes University and other members of the local community.
This year’s keynote speaker in Durban was Rena Quint, a survivor of forced labour camps, Bergen-Belsen and the Death Marches. What made her survival so extraordinary was the fact that she was a young child during those years. A series of ‘foster mothers’ – fellow prisoners – provided her with life-saving care before they died. It was deeply inspiring to hear how, despite her harrowing experiences, Rena was able to go on to build a successful, fulfilling life for herself, including raising a family of committed, involved Jews. As she observed, it was this continuation of a vibrant Jewish life, particularly in Israel where she now lives, that demonstrates how the Nazis ultimately failed in their efforts to destroy the Jewish people. As result of being interviewed on Radio SAFM, she was even invited to speak to women prisoners in Durban-Westville on behalf of the Department of Correctional Services. By her example, she was able to show that no matter how low we fall, or are made to fall by others, we have the capacity to pick ourselves up afterwards and rise to undreamed of heights.
At the Durban Yom Hazikaron ceremony Greg Bass, past chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Zionist Council, gave a most moving address recalling former Durbanites Dudi Silbowitz and Neil Freed who both perished in the Yom Kippur War. The following day, our community turned out in large numbers to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut at the Durban Jewish Centre. KNZC chairman Prof Antony Arkin gave the welcome address, which was followed by a flag bearers’ procession and fun activities for the children.
Fortunately, there were no attempts by demonstrators to disrupt the proceedings, as happened at the Johannesburg ceremony. Today, we have to deal with the reality that anti-Israel campaigners are no longer content merely to malign Israel from the sidelines but are increasingly seeking to undermine any public event that has an Israeli connection, however tenuous. The SAJBD stands fully behind its sister organisation, the SA Zionist Federation, in recognising the deep emotional bonds between our Jewish community and the State of Israel and in its commitment to upholding its right to express this attachment under all circumstances. There will always be those seeking to undermine our support, but neither their noisy protests nor any other disruptive tactics they might engage in will stop us from demonstrating our full-blooded support for Israel, the great miracle of national Jewish rebirth that we are privileged to witness in our time.


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

AdMary Kluk
National Chairman

Playing our part in the wider society

The role of the Board, in addition to its core mission of safeguarding Jewish civil liberties, very much includes leading the Jewish community participation in initiatives aimed at the upliftment of the wider society. The Council for KZN Jewry has traditionally involved itself in these initiatives. One of its flagship projects is to obtain reconditioned computers and donate and installed them in schools and adult education centres that need them. Most recently, fifteen were donated to Queen Kamsweli Primary School, whose principal is Queen Nompumelelo Mchiza.

The SAJBD Cape Council is also especially active in this sphere. Recently, it participated in a silent interfaith vigil against the sexual violence so tragically endemic this country. It is further engaged in mentorship and training programmes, and has run successful joint programmes with the Black Management Forum. Nationally, we are finalising our ‘Jubuntu’ project, which documents Jewish involvement in social upliftment and identifies possible avenues of expansion.   

Marlene Bethlehem and the CRL Commission
Last month, Board representatives took part in the three-day national consultative conference of the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Commission in Pretoria. With National Director Wendy Kahn, I attended the gala banquet. It was inspiring to be part of a gathering representing so full a spectrum of cultural, religious, ethnic and linguistic groups that make up our population. Our community has from the outset had a special link with the CRL Commission, mainly due to the pivotal role played on it by Marlene Bethlehem. Marlene’s extraordinary record of communal service stretches back more than five decades, during which she has served, inter alia, as chairman of the SAJBD. It was gratifying to witness at first hand the enormous respect and affection with which ‘Commissioner Mama Bethlehem’ is regarded. I can only commend her on having discharged so successfully her challenging, sensitive duties, and warmly thank her for her selfless efforts, not just on behalf of SA Jewry but for our country as a whole.

A Tribute to SAUJS
The annual anti-Israel jamboree known as ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ has now come and gone. Once again, we are proud of our Jewish students for the way they responded. Confronted with a well-resourced campaign whose distinguishing feature is to engage in scurrilous, accusatory rhetoric rather than in promoting constructive debate, they stood their ground with courage and dignity. As our community’s representatives on campus, SAUJS is at the coalface when it comes to defending Israel. It is to their credit that it has not this to divert them from its many other activities, including partnering with other sectors of society in outreach and upliftment projects. 
    
The Israel connection
Last month, in partnership with the American Jewish Committee and the SA-Israel Forum, the Board took nine journalists on a five-day fact-finding visit to Israel. This was the fifth such media tour that the Board has involved itself in. All that we ask for regarding Middle East reporting is that it be balanced and to achieve this, there is no better way of having journalists see and hear for themselves what is happening. We have since seen nearly all the participants present thoughtful, fair perspectives on the Israel-Palestinian question in the respective newspapers or radio stations with which they are associated. 


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

AdMary Kluk,
National Chairman

Antisemitism in South Africa

One of our regular exercises at the start of each year is to look back on the previous twelve months and conduct an audit of antisemitic incidents during that period. Have antisemitism levels risen, dropped or remained more or less the same and has the way in which anti-Jewish behaviour manifests changed at all? These are some of the questions the Board needs to consider when carrying out its mandate to combat antisemitic and safeguard Jewish civil rights.

Part of our analysis involves making comparisons with other Diaspora communities. Here, we have consistently noted the remarkable fact that South Africa’s antisemitism levels are much lower than those experienced elsewhere. Countries like Australia, Canada, France and the UK consistently record annual totals of antisemitic incidents ranging from ten to well over twenty times higher. In addition, those incidents often include serious of assault and arson attacks on synagogues, something very rare in this country.

It seems to me to be incontestable that the fundamental reason for this extraordinary divergence lies in the robust ethos of antiracialism that continues to underpin our national culture. It is this culture, backed up by its bedrock laws and infrastructure, which enables us to live a fully integrated, observant Jewish life to an extent that one seldom finds anywhere else. That being said, we must avoid complacency but on the contrary continue to maintain a high level of vigilance to ensure that antisemitism remains a low-level threat. The Board will always act in cases where we feel that someone has been unfairly targeted for being Jewish. In return, we ask that the community itself assists by keeping us regularly informed whenever such instances arise.

A tribute to our volunteers

On 7 Adar, as has become traditional on this day, the Chevra Kadisha in Johannesburg held a function honouring those who have volunteered their services to the organisation. The largely unsung heroes and heroines who render such dedicated service in the realm of Jewish welfare have their counterparts in all spheres of Jewish communal activity. Through my involvement with the Durban Holocaust Centre, I am especially aware of how much our volunteer guides contribute. Taking on this role requires both a sound knowledge of the historical background and an ability to convey with appropriate insight and sensitivity the deeper lessons that those sombre events encapsulate for ours and future generations. Thus, our guides devote considerable additional time to research and educational training, motivated not by any expectation of financial or other reward but out of a passionate desire to add value in a worthy cause.

As those who have served the community in various capacities will undoubtedly testify, the real rewards gleaned lie in the emotional satisfaction and enhanced sense of self-worth that one receives through going beyond the boundaries of one’s own personal needs to be of assistance to others. Our Jewish tradition stresses that the key to attaining happiness and fulfilment is through giving, in whatever form this might take. I believe that the remarkable success of the South African Jewish community has been that so many of its members have taken this lesson to heart.


Above Board

A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

AdMary Kluk,
National Chairman

2012, while in many ways being a very testing year, at least ended on a high note for the Board. In the area of combating antisemitism, which is the SAJBD’s core mandate, we saw the convening of a four-day hearing into our complaint against Radio 786 for antisemitic broadcasting by the Broadcasting Monitoring and Complaints Committee. The very fact that such a hearing even took place was a significant victory. To bring it about, the Board had to fight a long series of court cases as the Islamic Unity Convention, under whose auspices Radio 786 falls, raised one technical-procedural issue after another in a bid to prevent the complaint from being heard at all. Amazingly enough, the hearing was the first time in nearly fourteen years that the ICU actually attempted to defend the substance of what it broadcast rather than seeking to prevent any debate on it.

From our side, expert testimony was provided by Dr David Hirsh, Professor Milton Shain, Rabbi Yossy Goldman and Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, step-sister of Anne Frank. Eva’s first hand testimony as to the kind of horrors that unrestrained hate speech can lead to was particularly relevant. The hearing will resume sometime in the near future, and we will continue to keep our community thoroughly updated regarding how this landmark case is developing. For on-the-spot overviews of what transpired during the first four days, I invite you to see our website (http://www.jewishsa.co.za/category/media/).

It was also encouraging, after enduring a number of previous dead ends and disappointments, to end the year with several very positive meetings with government. This included meetings with the Office of the Presidency and with Minister of Trade and Industry Dr Rob Davies. The latter meeting addressed the question of labeling Israeli products emanating from the West Bank, one of the most pressing issues we had to deal with last year. It at last proved possible for us to discuss this complex issue in a cordial and constructive manner, and we are optimistic at this stage that we will see a mutually satisfactory resolution to it.

The big story for the country as a whole was the ANC’s much anticipated Mangaung conference. Our President, Zev Krengel, attended the proceedings as an observer, and had many opportunities of engaging with some of the country’s present and upcoming leaders. The long-term impact of this important event will become evident over time, but we can at this stage welcome the appointment of several highly capable new leaders to the top echelons of the ruling party’s leadership structure. We are hopeful of being able to establish constructive working relations with them in the coming years.

Jewish matric candidates throughout the country, both those within the Jewish day school system or in other institutions, again recorded outstanding results. It is inspiring indeed to see how our youth are being provided with the best of both worlds by our schools, which are able to provide an excellent Jewish education without compromising on their high standards of secular instruction. That being said, a great deal of the credit is due to the learners themselves, who put in so many dedicated hours to achieve the superb results they did. I congratulate all our successful matriculants and wish them every success in whatever field they are now moving into.


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A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

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Mary Kluk, National Chairman

Conflict in Gaza

At the time of writing, Israel once again embroiled in a bitter conflict with its Gaza neighbours.

This is a war that was forced on Israel, instigated by ruthless fanatics opposed to the very existence of the Jewish State. We can only hope and pray that calm will be restored soon without further loss of life, and that a more rational, pragmatic leadership that realises the futility of endless conflict will come to the fore in Gaza.

It has been a tense time for us all, not only because of the anxiety we feel for our brothers and sisters in Israel, but because of the inevitable negative backlash our local Jewish community is feeling. The reality is that in times of heightened conflict in the Middle East, levels of hostility towards Jews everywhere rise sharply. The CSO has requested that proper security measures are implemented at communal buildings and events. In an emergency or to report suspicious activity, contact the CSO on: 086 18 000 18.

In a joint SAJBD-SAZF communiqué to our community, we affirmed our solidarity with the Israeli people, while also expressed sympathy for all innocent victims. Our role needs to be to provide a humane voice of reason at a time when extremist voices are at their loudest.

Avoiding Hate Speech is a Two-Way Street

In a society such as ours where there is so much sensitivity and polarization between people of different race, ethnicity, faith or culture, people have a responsibility to weigh their words carefully and not say things that may be unnecessarily hurtful and divisive. In this regard, I wish to address a most unfortunate case of anti-Muslim hate speech being disseminated, via Facebook by certain members of our Jewish community. Having read the posts, I can only imagine how offended our community would be if they had referred to religious Jews rather than Muslims. The SAJBD is fully committed to combating all forms of antisemitism, but in doing so we must also take a strong stand whenever prejudice and racism manifests within its own constituency.

The Labelling Saga – One Final Effort

Last month, the Board made another submission to the Department of Trade and Industry on the projected new policy to re-label products originating from Jewish West Bank settlements. This was the fourth formal submission on the matter, and it can be read in full on our website (www.jewishsa.co.za). We cannot in all honesty say that we are feeling optimistic about the outcome, given the cavalier way in which our concerns have been dismissed to date, but we know at least that we have conscientiously complied at every step with the requirements of the consultation process, thereby demonstrating throughout our readiness to engage, participate and contribute in good faith. Should it become necessary to go to the courts, however, we will have no hesitation in doing so. I commend all those professionals and lay leaders who have devoted so much effort to putting forward our case, despite seeing so little reward for their efforts.


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A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

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Mary Kluk, National Chairman

The ongoing battle against relabeling West Bank products

We were aware that when we decided to join with other organisations in opposing the Department of Trade and Industry’s proposed new labelling legislation for products emanating in Jewish West Bank enclaves that the process would be lengthy and complex. Perhaps the most frustrating obstacle we would have to contend against was the attitude of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, whose actions and statements clearly intimated that he had prejudged the issue in favour of the pro-Palestinian lobby and was simply not interested in engaging with alternate views.

Given this background we welcomed the opportunity of participating in the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry’s public hearings on the Notice. Overall, we were much encouraged by the Committee’s willingness to listen to our concerns and to try and find constructive solutions. It was agreed that further submissions would be made by stakeholders, outlining what were the minimal demands that each felt would be satisfactory in resolving the matter, before any final Notice was put out. Unfortunately, the ink was hardly dry on this agreement when we learned that a second Notice had been issued. It represented yet another circumvention of the consultation process by Minister Davies, who in his obsession with forcing through the measure demonstrated that he was not only uninterested in our concerns but was also quite happy to disregard his own Parliamentary Portfolio Committee’s recommendations.

Notwithstanding this setback, we remain committed as ever to fighting this battle, and in this regard will continue to explore all available diplomatic and legal avenues.

Jewish Affairs –  Recording the South African Jewish Story

Now into its eighth decade, the Board’s prestigious journal Jewish Affairs is widely recognised as being the Jewish community’s leading historical and cultural publication. Today, it is available in both print and electronic form. Those wanting to subscribe to the latter version can do so free of charge, and in addition each new issue is immediately uploaded onto the Board’s website (www.jewishsa.co.za). Many people still prefer to pay an annual subscription to receive the hard copy version, however, and in addition a subscription makes an ideal Yom Tov gift.

I invite anyone to consider becoming a subscriber, ideally to the printed version or at least to the electronic one. For more information, write to the editor at david@beyachad.co.za.

Acknowledging our Jewish communal workers

During Succot, the Council for KwaZulu-Natal Jewry were again honoured by the Durban United Hebrew Congregation. This annual occurrence initiated by the DUHC thanks the CKNJ for the work undertaken both in the Jewish community and civil society. Following this, Council members participated in a Durban Holocaust Centre “thank-you” tea honouring volunteers and staff. Both events provided an important reminder that the strength of our Jewish communal organisations is dependent on what their lay and professional leaders put into them.


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A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

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At the time of writing, we have just observed Rosh Hashanah and are looking ahead to Yom Kippur, Succot and Shemini Atzeret. This is the most intense and concentrated period of Chagim on the Jewish calendar, marked by turns by the utmost solemnity and introspection and by the heights of joyousness, but always underpinned by a profound sense of unity, whether at the family or communal level. It is a time for looking back and forward, of taking stock and putting right what needs to be corrected and of looking ahead to build on past achievements..

Just over a year has passed since my election as National Chairman of the SAJBD. It has been in many ways a difficult period for our community, particularly during the last six months, but there was also much to feel positive about. I have been much heartened by the way in which our community has been able to work together in confronting the challenges that have confronted us, particularly in the area of South Africa-Israel relations and in responding effectively to the increasingly sophisticated, well-funded propaganda efforts of the anti-Israel lobby. That enhanced sense of unity has been one of the silver linings of the difficult times we are living in.

The Jewish community is served by a range of different organisations, each focusing on a particular area of communal concern. However, in the face of a common threat, these have been able to transcend the normal turf or personality issues that so often feature in communal life and join forces in working for the best possible outcome for the greater community. The SAJBD has worked especially closely with the SA Zionist Federation, Fairplay SA and the SA Union of Jewish Students, and of late with the Office of the Chief Rabbi as well.

What has also been very encouraging for us during these trying times has been the more outspoken and meaningful support we have been receiving from outside the confines of the Jewish community. Many Christians share our love and concern for Israel, and are becoming much more active in standing up against hard-line anti-Israel activists. Most memorable was the march in Pretoria earlier this year by some 2000 mainly black and Christian South Africans to protest against the anti-Israel policies of the current government.

Throughout all of this, South African Jews have continued to strengthen their connection to their Jewish heritage. Never before in our community’s history have we seen such impressive levels of Jewish learning and practice. It has been most heartening to see how much Durban Jewry has made itself so much a part of it all. No less than the larger Jewish centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town, our community has shown that it, too, can reinvent itself and embark on challenging and exciting new projects. Here, I am obviously referring particularly to the multi-faceted Umhlanga initiative, now comprising a full-time Kollel, Jewish day school, new shul and community centre. This has already done much to transform the nature and general outlook of Durban Jewry, and we have high hopes that it will mark the beginning of a new era of growth for the community. When one adds to this the ongoing vibrancy of our other communal organisations, including our other shuls, outstanding welfare bodies and Holocaust Centre, we can truly look with confidence to the year ahead of us. Whether it is in the religious, educational, welfare, Zionistic or any other field, I hope to see as many members of our community taking the opportunity to get involved.


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A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

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As I write, South Africans are still trying to come to terms with the Lonmin shooting tragedy. It was profoundly shocking to all of us to see that deadly confrontations reminiscent of some of the darkest corners of our collective past can still take place in our country. Another very disturbing incident was the death of Fayaaz Kazi, who was fatally injured in an assault clearly motivated by his being a Muslim. The Board issued press statements on both of these cases. We believe that it is important for us, as the spokesbody for SA Jewry, to sometimes participate in the broader national conversation, especially when issues of prejudice and discrimination are concerned.

The most serious issue currently confronting us as a Jewish community concerns attempts by certain factions in government to promote an anti-Israel boycott. Specifically, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ebrahim stated that his department discouraged South Africans from visiting Israel, not just at the official but even the individual level. In response, the Board joined with the SA Zionist Federation and Office of the Chief Rabbi in releasing a strongly-worded press statement slamming his comments. For us, moving from critical rhetorical to active boycott crosses a red line. Just as we pulled out all the stops to confront the Department of Trade and Industry’s heavily politicised relabeling policy re products from West Bank settlements, so have we been drawing on all available resources to counter-act this dangerous foreign policy trend. The work we are currently doing through our diplomatic channels aims both at achieving clarity on the question and a confirmation that South Africa remains committed to maintaining full diplomatic relations with Israel. Hopefully, I will be able to report next time on real progress made in resolving the whole unfortunate situation.

Visit SAJBD’s Revamped Website

I am pleased to report that we have completed our long-running website upgrading project, and that at last we are able to direct people to a website that we feel does justice to the Board’s multifaceted work. We invite you to avail yourselves of everything it has to offer, and use the opportunities it provides to give us feedback, whether on how to improve the website itself or on the work of the Board in general. The website (which includes links to the Cape Board website and information on all our other branches) can be accessed at http://www.jewishsa.co.za/.

Jewish Boer Monument

I was privileged to take part in a moving ceremony in Ladysmith, where a memorial to twelve Jewish fighters who died in the service of the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War was unveiled. Joining me were the President and Vice-President of the CKNJ Jewry, Linda Nathan and Ronnie Herr, Country Communities Spiritual Leader Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft and Associate Director David Saks. We all participated in some way, from delivering messages, laying a wreath or speaking at the luncheon function afterwards. The function took place under the joint auspices of the SAJBD and the Ladysmith Siege Museum Trust, with Jewish attendees being far outnumbered by local enthusiasts. It was indeed a remarkable display of warmth and friendship towards our Jewish community. I extend my heartfelt thanks to all concerned, in particular to Dr Eugene Campher and Jan Human, and to the Victor Daitz Foundation, Aaron Beare Foundation and Jakamar Trust for sponsoring the production of the monument.


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Jewish Boer Memorial in Ladysmith

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Of all South Africa’s provinces, KwaZulu-Natal probably has the most noteworthy military history heritage. Every year, its world-famous battle sites attract a stream of visitors, both local and from abroad. At the time of writing, preparations are underway for the official unveiling of a memorial to Jews who died serving on the side of the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War. This will take place at the Burgher Memorial on the Platrand, Ladysmith, on 6 August, under the joint auspices of the SAJBD and the Ladysmith Siege Museum Trust.

Three years ago, we collaborated with the Trust in commemorating the 110th anniversary of the action at Surprise Hill, during which Harry Spanier became the first Jewish Boer to be killed in action. A plaque to Spanier, in Afrikaans and Hebrew, was amongst the new memorials unveiled.

A number of Board representatives, will be participating, including myself, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Associate Director David Saks and CKNJ President and Deputy President Linda Nathan and Ronnie Herr. We are hopeful that other members of our community will be able to join us for what promises to be a memorable, as well as unique, occasion.

Social Cohesion Summit – Recapturing the Spirit of the New South Africa

At the beginning of July, the two-day National Social Cohesion Summit was held in Kliptown, Johannesburg. Participants included President Zuma, various cabinet Ministers and party leaders. The Jewish community was represented by our National Director Wendy Kahn. In the course of delivering her opening prayer message, she stressed the historic importance of Kliptown, where the famous Freedom Charter was endorsed at the Congress of the People 57 years ago.

The concept of social cohesion has obvious resonance for South African Jewry. We, too, need to continually look to foster an over-arching sense of unity that transcends our differences, be these geographical or ideological. Diversity itself need not be a source of weakness – indeed, the opposite is the case – but at the same time we must always remember to emphasise the things that unite us as a community.

Beware of Overreacting

Members of our community are justifiably upset when confronted with the public display of Nazi symbols, particularly swastikas. When this entails actually propagating the Nazi ideology (rather than in an educational context), the Board will always take steps to counter-act it. However, misunderstandings can occur. The swastika is in fact a very ancient symbol, and prior to its misappropriation by the Nazis its meaning was essentially benign. It is an important symbol within the Hindu faith (unlike the Nazi version, it is decorated with dots and displayed upright rather than at an angle). Recently, we had to diffuse a potentially unpleasant situation when a Hindu woman was (inexcusably) abused and threatened by a Jewish colleague for displaying the sign. I would like to urge our community to learn the differences between the two symbols. While some may be uneasy about something so reminiscent of the Nazi scourge, we need to respect the right of others to identify with their culture and recognise when no malice is intended.


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Proposed Re-Labelling of West Bank Products

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Much of the Board’s focus since my last column has been on responding to an announcement by the Minister of Trade and Industry to the effect that products originating from Jewish settlements in the West Bank cannot be labelled products of Israel since they originate in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”. The relevant Government Gazette notice called for the public’s input, and the Board intends making such a submission. We are working closely with other Jewish communal organisations with an interest in the matter, as well as consulting with the relevant experts in the field, including trade lawyers.

Our objections to these developments have as much to do with procedural as substantive questions. The decision taken by the Minister was based solely on representations made to him by a single lobby group with a pronounced anti-Israel political agenda. Despite repeated approaches from the SAJBD, he declined to allow us an opportunity of participating in the conversation. From the politically loaded wording of the Gazette notice, there is no doubt that the Minister has largely prejudged the issue and in doing so politicised what should be considered a technical trade-related question.

Because of the sensitive nature of the processes involved, both from a legal and a political point of view, I cannot at this stage provide details regarding the strategies we are adopting. What I can do is assure the community that we view this latest challenge to the South Africa-Israel relationship in a serious light and will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to address it.

ANC Centenary Flame

On 14 June, the Board had the great honour of hosting one of the stages on the journey of the Centenary Flame of the African National Congress, which is travelling the length and breadth of SA to celebrate 100 years of the ANC. The theme for that day was “celebrating the contribution of white democrats” and it culminated in a ceremony at the Great Park Synagogue. Our National Director Wendy Kahn formally accepted the symbolic hand-over of the torch on behalf of the Jewish community. The ceremony was a very poignant and moving one. It was not about expressing support for the ANC as a political party – the SAJBD is and always will be strictly a-political in that regard – but to acknowledge and pay tribute to what the organisation has achieved in the successful struggle to bring non-racial democracy to our country.

Remembering Phillip Tobias

Our community, and indeed our country, suffered a grievous loss with the recent passing of Professor Phillip Tobias. The status of this illustrious academic and humanitarian was shown not just in the fulsome tributes paid to him, from President Zuma downwards, but by the stature of those, including former President Thabo Mbeki, who attended his funeral. KZN Jewry can take additional pride in the fact that he grew up in this community, and that he remained throughout his life a strongly identifying Jew with an abiding interest in the South African Jewish heritage.


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A column of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

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At the time of writing, the Board is wrestling with the complex question of how products originating from Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank should be labelled. This is in response to a notice in the Gazette issued by the Department of Trade and Industry to the effect that such products should not continue to be labelled products of Israel since they originate in “occupied Palestinian territory”. The notice called for the public’s input, and the Board intends making such a submission. We are working closely with other Jewish communal organisations and consulting with trade lawyers. A report-back on developments will feature in my next column.

South African Jewry in the Global Village

The SAJBD maintains close working relationships with our counterparts abroad, particularly in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. In addition to continually consulting with one another, we collaborate in important projects in the areas of combating antisemitism, Holocaust restitution and commemoration, Israel advocacy and the promotion of Jewish history and culture.

Recently, our President Zev Krengel, National Vice-chairman Li Boiskin and Cape Executive Director David Jacobson attended the American Jewish Committee (AJC) conference in Washington. Our relationship with the AJC was much strengthened by the establishment a few years ago of the AJC Africa Institute, the purpose of which includes educating American Jews about the continent’s challenges and opportunities and involving itself in human rights lobbying. Li and David also met with a wide range of senior Jewish communal leaders and journalists and editors. Around the same time, National Director Wendy Kahn was in London, where she met with the Jewish Leadership Forum, Board of Deputies of British Jewry and Community Security Trust. She also spoke at the UK launch of our book Jewish Memories of Mandela.

Presidential Awards, 2012

Were very pleased that two community members nominated by us for the Presidential Awards were amongst those honoured this year. They are world-renowned virologist Professor Barry Schoub, who received the Order of Mapungubwe (Silver) and aviation pioneer Scully Levin, who received the Order of the Baobab (Bronze). I commend the awardees on their achievements and for the credit they have brought to our Jewish community.

Harold Pupkewitz – Giant of Namibian Jewry

Recently, Southern African Jewry suffered a sad loss with the passing of Harold Pupkewitz in Windhoek. I was privileged to meet this formidable Jewish leader on a number of occasions, including at the United Nations Holocaust Memorial Day function in Windhoek on 27 January 2010. Harold was a business leader second to none, pioneering some of Namibia’s most important industries, a giant in the philanthropic field, a leader within civil society and a stalwart member of the Namibian Jewish community. His example will indeed be a source of continued source of inspiration for all who knew him.