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Op-eds

Maintaining the Jewish connection to Africa

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev
Last week, Chaya Singer, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies’ (SAJBD’s) lobbyist in Parliament, returned from an 11-day programme to promote inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria. It was a rare opportunity to contribute a Jewish perspective on how to resolve what is emerging as one of post-colonial Africa’s most pressing challenges: the rise of religiously motivated violence and extremism.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | May 03, 2018

Coming as she did from a country where freedom of religious belief and practice is scrupulously upheld, it was a sobering eye-opener to learn first-hand about the daily threats facing faith communities in other African countries.

We all tend to take this somewhat for granted; indeed, the extent to which Jews in South Africa are able to practise their religion without being disadvantaged compares favourably with the situation even in Western democratic nations.

For many of Chaya’s fellow delegates, it was the first time they had interacted with someone of the Jewish faith. In a small but meaningful way, therefore, her presence demonstrated how Jews remain a part, albeit rather a small part, of the greater African community.

For many centuries, there was a large and thriving Jewish presence in the North African region, but few Jews outside South Africa live on the continent today. While much reduced compared with previous years, there nevertheless remains a Jewish presence in various southern African countries.

In the early 1990s, the SAJBD took the lead in establishing the African Jewish Congress (AJC) to represent these communities. Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the board’s long-serving Rabbi to the SA Country Communities, also acts as the CEO and spiritual leader of the AJC, whose head offices are based in Johannesburg within the administrative structure of the SAJBD.

The AJC, an affiliate to the World Jewish Congress, helps keep Africa connected with the greater Jewish world. This week, Rabbi Silberhaft attended the 94th birthday of Zambia’s former president, Kenneth Kaunda, a warm friend of the Zambian Jewish community who always acknowledged the enormous pioneering contribution that Jews had made to the young Zambian state.

Restorative justice preferable to punitive sanctions

As reported in last week’s issue of this paper, the board facilitated a guided tour of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre for someone who had been found guilty of tweeting grossly anti-Semitic comments against members of our community. The individual concerned had apologised unequivocally for his actions, and the visit formed part of an educational and rehabilitative process that he was required to undergo.

From the board’s point of view, it is always preferable to resolve anti-Semitic incidents in this manner, as long as there is a genuine willingness on the part of the offender to acknowledge wrongdoing, apologise for it and resolve not to repeat such behaviour.

That said, in the event of the offender refusing to apologise but instead standing by his or her offending comments, we will not hesitate to pursue the matter through official channels, including the courts.

This process inevitably takes a good deal longer, but as was shown in such long-running hate speech cases as those against Radio 786 and Congress of SA Trade Unions spokesperson Bongani Masuku, the board is more than prepared to dig in for the long haul until a satisfactory outcome has been achieved.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00 to 13:00.

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