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Op-eds

We’ll stand up for Israel while building community morale

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Much-needed calm has fallen on the Israel-Gaza border, despite Hamas having threatened to continue to fan the flames of violent confrontation well into next month.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | May 24, 2018

We know now, as confirmed by Hamas, that over 80% of those killed in the recent clashes were known militants and that the “peaceful protests” were no more than a cover behind an attempted mass invasion of Israel.

Little, however, has appeared in our media to challenge the overwhelming perception – tirelessly promoted by large, influential and well-resourced anti-Israel factions – that Israeli troops deliberately massacred unarmed protesters.

If the way that the confrontations were reported and commented on in the mainstream media was relentlessly one-sided, in general Jewish community spokespeople were given an opportunity to respond. Board representatives and staff in Johannesburg and Cape Town were interviewed by dozens of different media outlets (mainly on radio) and our SA Zionist Federation colleagues were likewise engaged throughout last week.

The Jewish community at large can also play its part by disseminating information and viewpoints that provide a more thoughtful, dispassionate analysis of the Gaza-Israel question and the very real dilemmas that Israel must confront when preventing attacks on its citizens.

I would nevertheless urge people to avoid emotional, knee-jerk and ill-informed responses, whether in the electronic media or other forums, since these invariably alienate the general reader and ultimately do more harm than good.

The second area in which the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) involved itself was in the political sphere. We have, inter alia, communicated with ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule to strongly protest against the offensive tone and content of the ANC’s statement on the Gaza violence, and with Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba to get clarity on his statement regarding a BDS proposal on the status of visa regulations for Israeli citizens entering South Africa.

Just before Shavuot, I led an SAJBD delegation that met with Minister of International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu and South Africa’s ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane. In the course of the meeting, we reiterated our oft-expressed view that South Africa can only play a meaningful part in helping resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by engaging with both parties, not through one-sided boycotts that simply have the effect of confining itself to the sidelines.

There was, as expected, a spike in incidents of overtly anti-Semitic commentary in the social media, but fortunately, it was not as large as anticipated. We have further had no reports of direct anti-Semitic abuse against members of our community.

Traumatic as the last few days have been, we should not allow this to cast a pall over the many blessings that we enjoy as a Jewish community in South Africa. Over Shavuot, our shuls were once again teeming centres of vibrant activity, and it was inspiring to see how many of our young people, some still under barmitzvah age, participated enthusiastically in the various learning programmes.

Community morale, combined with a shared commitment to furthering the cause of Judaism and the broader Jewish heritage in this country, remains at an all-time high.

We will always stand up for Israel when we believe it is being unfairly attacked, while at the same time building on everything that we, as a community, have achieved.

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

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