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Op-eds

No contradiction in being fully Jewish and fully South African

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
One of the Limmud sessions that attracted the most interest was the one addressing the complex, indeed fraught, question of how Jews (and whites in general) have adapted to the post-apartheid order in South Africa, and how they should relate to and interact with the greater society.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Aug 16, 2018

All this is inextricably bound up with the sensitive question of identity, and the need for people to find ways to reach beyond the confines of their particular racial-ethnic sub group if they wish to become part of the broader national project. As our Gauteng Chairman Marc Pozniak, one of panellists in the debate, aptly put it, “We need to understand what it means to be South African, rather than just Jewish.”

There need be no contradiction in being fully Jewish and fully South African. The beauty of this country is that we (as well as all other faith, linguistic, and cultural groups) are encouraged to be both. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) seeks to combine these two functions. On the one hand, it addresses issues of specific concern to the Jewish community (such as working to secure its religious rights, combating anti-Semitism, and fostering and safeguarding the South African Jewish heritage) while on the other, it ensures boots-on-the-ground Jewish involvement in national public affairs.

One practical way in which we can identify with the country is by participating in events organised around public holidays. The fact that whites are conspicuous by their absence at such gatherings tells its own story of alienation and disengagement. Through the SAJBD, we have been able to ensure at least a degree of Jewish participation in such events, including attending a commemorative gathering at Sharpeville on Human Rights Day, and Soweto on Youth Day.

On Women’s Day last week, our Parliamentary Liaison Chaya Singer attended the function in Paarl, and took the opportunity to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa and other senior government representatives. We further arranged for two members of the Union of Jewish Women (whose representatives sit on our regional and national councils) to attend the Gauteng Women’s Day Event at the Union Buildings on our behalf.

On a more sobering note, Tuesday this week marked exactly four years since we laid a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against then Western Cape Congress of South African Trade Union Chairman Tony Ehrenreich for incitement to cause harm against our community.

Despite the passage of time, we have no intention of letting this matter lapse, but continue to follow up with the SAHRC to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. Some progress has been made at last, and we are hopeful of receiving a final ruling within the next few weeks.

As frequently emphasised in this column, our anti-Semitism levels have consistently been much lower than those of other major diaspora countries, as those following the current debate over anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom Labour Party, and upsurge in attacks in Germany will readily understand.

However, we know all too well how easily the situation can change should we allow certain patterns of negative behaviour to take root by not confronted them firmly at the outset. This is why the Board will persist in pressing the cases it has laid against those who, like Ehrenreich, have chosen to defame or threaten our community in the belief that they can get away with such behaviour.

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

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