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Op-eds

Vilification of supporters of Israel threatens SA democracy

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Amidst all the negativity, it is uplifting to be reminded how much heartfelt support there is for the Jewish state beyond the confines of our own community. On Sunday, a rousing gathering of more than 700 Christian leaders took place at the Johannesburg City Hall under the auspices of the SA Friends of Israel.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Jun 14, 2018

SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) National Director Wendy Kahn, who attended the event, said it was heart-warming to be surrounded by fellow South Africans of all backgrounds who share our community’s commitment to and connection with Israel, and who are willing to stand up and declare it with pride.

Regrettably, the event has since become mired in controversy over the utterances of Dr Mpho Phalatse, the city's Mayoral Committee Member for Health. As a result of what Dr Phalatse is alleged to have said at the gathering, Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba on Tuesday suspended her pending an investigation into whether her comments were in line with party policy. For her own part, Dr Phalatse stressed that her comments were made in her personal capacity, and should not be seen as representing the policy of her party.

While the SAJBD agrees that the politics of the Middle East should be kept out of our own politics, we deplore the tactics of anti-Israel agitators who seek to punish, silence, and sideline anyone who presumes to challenge their grossly one-sided narrative.

In a media statement issued earlier this week, we criticised these intimidatory, bully-boy tactics. They are creating an environment in which Israel is “being demonised to a degree that bears no relationship to reality” the board said, the aim being to ensure that only one opinion on the subject will be allowed. Dr Phalatse is just the latest target of this totalitarian strategy. Anti-Israel bigotry does not merely threaten the rights of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Africans who are passionate supporters of Israel, it poses a serious threat to democracy in our country.

Keeping in touch with the community

So fast and so drastically is the communications revolution changing the way people interact with one another, it is difficult for organisations like the SAJBD to keep up.

We now rely primarily on electronic communications to keep the community informed. Useful though these platforms are, they should not be allowed to replace traditional, face-to-face interactions. In recognition of this, board members are going out to engage proactively with specific groups (most recently, the Pretoria Jewish community and congregations in Illovo and Sydenham) on issues of concern to South African Jewry, and what the Board is doing about them.

In coming months, we hope to engage with as wide a range of constituencies within our community as we can. It is relatively simple to arrange for a board representative to report-back at an upcoming event, whether it is a communal brocha, AGM, or similar gathering. In this regard, I invite all of our organisations to contact us at rosy@sajbd.org or on 011 645 2521.

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

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