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Standing by the values we hold

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It was heart-warming to witness a sea of South African faces as far as my eye could see, as I watched the South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) march to the Union Buildings this week. I was watching the march as it was being livestreamed on Facebook from Pretoria, as we put this newspaper to bed on Wednesday. I was choked up to see the huge support Israel has in South Africa.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Jul 26, 2018

On the flip side, we are all well aware of how fashionable it is to be anti-Israel in South Africa, but I had no idea it was government policy to prevent South Africans from supporting the Jewish State.

Apparently it is, according to those who run Freedom Park for the government.

SAFI had initially secured Freedom Park for a mass Christian Prayer rally in support of Israel, scheduled for Wednesday. It was all systems go for the rally this week and more than 5 000 people were expected from around the country.

However, just one week before the event, SAFI was notified that they were no longer free to use Freedom Park because “the government has taken a formal decision regarding Israel, hence we have to abide by government’s decision”. This, according to an email that Freedom Park’s events co-ordinator, Pamela Singh, sent to SAFI, when she cancelled the event with immediate effect, leaving SAFI high and dry.

Freedom Park is indeed a government establishment, and ironically, its mandate is to uphold the values of tolerance and diversity, among others. Amazing for an entity that is run by people who are so clearly intolerant of diversity, and especially of South Africans who choose to support Israel.

The vision for Freedom Park is to be a leading national and international icon of humanity and freedom, according to its website. Astonishing! Just how humane is it to refuse to allow people to hold a prayer meeting, and exactly what freedom are they talking about? To me, it looks like the park’s management were trying hard to prevent freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association, etc. I could go on and on. And on their website they do go on and on about these beautiful ideals they support and stand for. Clearly, these are only words…

This park falls under the ministry of arts and culture, and so Minister Nathi Mthethwa has executive authority over the park. I wonder if he supports this outrageous behaviour.

I don’t have a problem with people taking a stand; I do it all the time. I do have a problem with people standing for one thing and then changing their standpoint when it suits them.

In this case, it was certainly a good thing they put it in writing because no sooner had SAFI questioned them from a legal standpoint, they backtracked and found another, very tame reason to refuse the prayer rally. Why, you may wonder.

Yuck, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It is about integrity and honour and inclusivity and freedom – clearly, these are values those who made this decision do not espouse.

SAFI, however, would not be cowed and would not – as I guess the Freedom Park folk were hoping – just go away. No, if there is one exceptional lesson we have learned from the Jewish State, it is that no matter how many people want it to disappear, Israel just gets stronger and stronger.

In the same way, SAFI simply changed the tactic from being a controlled, insular mass prayer meeting – where people who didn’t want to see them, didn’t have to – to a bold march to Union Buildings.

Kol Hakavod to SAFI!

Do not do to your neighbour

While we clearly do have friends, we also have many people who don’t like us. This is all too evident on social media. The SA Jewish Board of Deputies are quick to take up these slurs and deal with them. So it did with the WhatsAppers we write about on page 3.

I have made it clear, though, that I don’t believe that anti-Semitism as such is growing at a pace, but rather, racism is. I am seriously distressed by the ugly racial comments coming from Jews about other races.

We cannot be racist and expect others not to be racist towards us. We cannot swear and demean other people for their beliefs, if we don’t want others to do that to us.

I am 100% behind rooting out anti-Semitism, but I am also for rooting out racism.

We can’t stand up and fight hate speech and be perpetrators of it. It reminds me of the Talmudic story of Hillel and Shammai, in which Hillel explained that the Torah was based on this precept: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour.” Whether you agree with Hillel or not, the essence of Judaism is to be a light unto the nations, and we cannot behave in a way that is the antithesis of how we want to be treated.

We go back to social media, a platform where people love to vomit out hatefulness. It is so easy, but so unacceptable. We are all individuals, and each one of us has the right to do whatever we wish within the law. I get that, but we cannot take people to task on the one hand for their hateful vitriol about us, if we are doing something similar.

Is it really acceptable to be so hateful? I am no angel and I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, but before we run down other people for their religion, race or way of life, we need to think twice.

Consider how we would feel if someone said the same about us. Let us try our damnedest to be better than that. Let’s set our personal moral bar higher. I am going to try.

Shabbat Shalom!

1 Comment

  1. 1 Ivan Basserabie 28 Jul
    Something that you might want to consider carefully....

    Racisism relates to RACE

    Anti-semitism relates to particular religion

    There is no connection whatsoever between race and religion

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