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The Jewish Report Editorial

Downgrading the SA embassy in Israel would punish us

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As the Zimbabweans celebrate the resignation of Mugabe, we here in South Africa are looking forward to the upcoming ANC elective conference. We are desperately hoping it will herald a new and uncorrupted leader - one who will put the lives and future of the people of this country first.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Nov 23, 2017

Other than that, our particular community is very concerned about another issue that is due to be raised at the conference. That is the proposed downgrading of the South African embassy in Israel.

What is the big deal, you may ask (and many have)? Why is the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) making such a big song and dance about this?

Suffice to say, it is a very big deal for us.

This move - if made - would be a punitive step on the part of the South African government. The aim would be to punish Israel for being the “occupier” of the land on which the Palestinians live. The belief is that Israel is not doing enough, fast enough, to sort out this problem.

But is it actually Israel that is going to suffer if they do this or just us, the South Africa Jews, who have an allegiance - by virtue of being Jewish - to the Jewish State?

Frankly, it is obvious to me that the latter is true. I am not sure it will have any real impact on Israel, a country that doesn't rely on South Africa for much, if anything.

As much as Israel has said that it would like the South African government to help the Middle East with negotiating peace, I don’t believe they are holding their breath. They would also love to have more trade and improved economic ties with this country. But, again, I don’t think they are desperate for this either.

However, by cutting or “downgrading” diplomatic ties with Israel, it will hurt us a lot.

What the South African government may not understand is that our connections to Israel are not ties we willingly created in 1948 when the United Nations established a Jewish State. Our ties are religious, biblical, historical and familial and go back to Abraham and Isaac.

However, we are 100 per cent South Africans and, like all other citizens, we deserve to have our right to our cultural, religious and other ties with Israel respected.

Downgrading the embassy will alienate us and, as SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn so aptly put it, it would be undermining one of the pillars of our beliefs, practices and collective identity.

By downgrading the Israeli embassy, the South African government is punishing us - a people who are proud to be South African. We have a deep love of this beautiful, crazy, wonderful, diverse country we have chosen to call our home.

We may be a minority, but are deeply involved in the economy, law, social upliftment, politics and various other aspects of South Africa.

I do understand that a great deal of pressure has been put to bear on the government by the anti-Israel lobby. I also understand that there is a kinship between the ANC and the Palestinian people because the Palestinians supported the ANC when they were banned freedom fighters. There is a strong sense of loyalty to the Palestinians. I also understand that they believe Israel is the oppressor of the Palestinians.

What they don’t understand is that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is not that simple. It is not about one side being good and the other being bad. There is a much bigger and more detailed picture.

However, whatever your belief, the South African government needs to know that downgrading our embassy in Israel is going to harm us - loyal and dedicated South Africans - far more than anyone else.

And if they go ahead and downgrade, it won’t be so easy to upgrade again and we will be left with a long-term difficult and painful situation.

I can tell you that I may not always agree with everything that the Israeli government does, but that does nothing to sever my ties with Israel.

Most of the Jews in South Africa have relatives or friends who live in Israel. Most of us have visited a number of times and, like me, have spent a few years living there.

Before our government goes out to punish Israel by downgrading the embassy, please consider that it is us you will be harming and our rights to freedom of culture and religion that you will be infringing.

Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, the chairperson of the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Commission, made a point that hit home for me in a panel discussion on the proposed downgrading.

She was adamant that by downgrading the embassy, the government would be violating the constitution (see pages 8 and 9). She made it clear that the human dignity of a South African cannot be forsaken in the name of politics, otherwise the Constitution is meaningless. She reiterated that in this case, it is not just one person, but the dignity and rights of an entire community, that would be forsaken by downgrading the South African embassy in Israel. Please don’t let this happen!

Shabbat Shalom!

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