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SA Organisations

Matza pudding over Fed's election ads

The SAZF has come under criticism from all sides for an advert they placed in the Pesach edition of the Jewish Report – see below story – and an e-mail campaign they sent out to a community mailing list last week. SAJR Online has published all sides of the debate verbatim and, in the words of Judge Dennis Davis, a leading SA Jewish Jurist in closing his weekly TV programme ‘Judge for yourself’: “You be the Judge!”
by ANT KATZ | May 07, 2014

The SA Zionist Federation has come under fire in the community for encouraging Jewish voters to Vote for the “fundamentalist Christian party” - the ACDP, according to an article published in the Israeli daily Haaretz and written by one of the top SA Jewish journalists, Jeremy Gordin.

Gordin’s comprehensive piece in Haaretz appears below, as does a letter written by SA Jewish Report reader Bernard Katz. This is followed by a response by Fed director Benji Shulman to both items and, finally, a copy of the advert that ran in the Jewish Report.

Thereafter, in the words of well-known Jewish Jurist Judge Dennis Davis in closing his weekly TV programme ‘Judge for yourself’: “You be the Judge!”

 

SAZF: Vote for fundamentalist Christian party

South Africans go to the polls on May 7 for the fifth election since the end of White rule in 1994.

By Jeremy Gordin and originally published in Haaretz

The South African Zionist Federation, one of the leading representatives of South African Jewry, has recommended that the country's Jewish community vote for a fundamentalist Christian party with minimal public support in next week's general election.

South Africans go to the polls on May 7 for the fifth election since the end of White rule in 1994. But it is the first time that the ruling African National Congress finds itself under serious pressure from an increasingly angry and restive population.

The country is bedevilled by a lame economy, massive unemployment (the official figure is 25 percent, but is understood to be some 15 percent higher in reality), and inflation. South Africans are increasing blaming ANC corruption for failures in the delivery of housing, education, medical treatment, clean water, sewage and electricity.

In an email titled “Are you voting for a friend of Israel?” the Zionist Federation recommended that voters choose the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP,) which is given 10 out of 10 points by the federation's researchers for its attitude to Israel.

The ACDP is a tiny party, consisting, according to Wikipedia, of “mainly conservative Christians and its doctrine concentrates mostly on social issues, such as abortion, homosexuality and pornography.”

Led by Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, the ACDP garnered 0.81 percent of the national vote in the 2009 general election (down by some 50 percent on its 1, 6 percent in the previous election) and thus holds three seats in the 400-seat national assembly.

If the ACDP is a little much for South Africa's Jews, the federation's second choice is the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which receives 9 out of 10 points for its attitude to Israel. Both the ACDP and the IFP are classed as “good friends” of Israel in the email.

The IFP is a Zulu nationalist party, headed from inception by the aging Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, 85. In 2004 it won just under 7 percent of the vote and held 28 seats in parliament, slumping to 4, 6 percent of the vote and 18 seats out of 400 in 2009.

The ruling ANC received just two points from the federation and was classed “not a friend” of Israel. The Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa's official opposition with 67 seats and just under 17 percent of the vote in 2009, received a lukewarm seven points.

Traditionally, the DA has been “the Jewish party” – given that its forerunner was led by the iconic Helen Suzman and its previous leader, Tony Leon, was Jewish. Its present leader, Helen Zille, a former journalist, notes very proudly that her maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother were Jewish.

But the DA has apparently irritated the established Jewish community with certain criticisms of Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians. It has also become apparent that members of the DA’s parliamentary caucus, especially young black ones, are not prepared to rubberstamp Israeli policy.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a new party which is tipped to surprise everyone with widespread support from the dispossessed, was apparently not considered “kosher” enough as an option for Jewish voters. Nor was the Dagga (marijuana) Party.

The federation's allocation of points was based on three criteria: Policy and Approach to Israel (accepts Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, etc.); Public Support for Israel (senior party members attend Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations [sic], etc.); and Combating anti-Israel Activities (youth groups have opposed anti-Israel actions at universities, etc.)

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said last night: “You know, I am a friend of the established Jewish community, so I don’t want to embarrass anyone. But I really think this sort of shallow research is the kind of thing that bedevils our politics." Maharaj was the keynote speaker at the recent public Pesach Seder held by the Jewish Board of Deputies.

“I’ll tell you why," Maharaj continued. "Because it raises the question: where does the first loyalty of South African Jews lie? I would say that Jews should be patriotic, especially if they live in a democracy. And therefore their concern should be, in terms of their vote, what’s good for the country – not what’s good for Israel. You have to vote in the country in which you live – it has nothing to do with Israel.”

Asked whether the research did not run contrary to the board of deputies’ 20-year policy of establishing close ties with the ANC, board president Zev Krengel said: “Well, a lot of work went into that research. And we don’t have to kowtow to the ANC – or the DA. Fact is, they have not been such good friends to Israel."

Asked whether it was not a little farcical to recommend to Jewish South Africans that they vote for a minor, fundamentalist Christian party, Krengel said: “Well, the obvious ‘absurdity’ of this whole thing is maybe something of a saving grace…”

Irwin Manoim, co-founder and former co-editor of the famous anti-apartheid Mail & Guardian newspaper, said: “This e-mail is surrealist and astounding. But then again, maybe it’s not. This community just seems to have gone off the rails – it’s turned frighteningly fundamentalist in all senses. If this wasn’t May, I’d say it was an April Fool’s Day joke.

“Anyway, none of this is going to make the slightest difference to the ANC who are far more interested in the much larger and more strategic Muslim vote. The other irony is that the ACDP and IFP probably don't have a single Jewish official between them. The purpose must be to slap down the DA which has historically had many Jews in leadership positions and been the default choice for most of the community. But the DA can’t be too outspokenly pro-Israel because it too needs the Muslim vote to hold the Cape …”

Jack Bloom, caucus leader of the DA in the Gauteng provincial legislature and long-time DA Gauteng health spokesperson, said: “If it’s of use to someone, somewhere, what the hell. But it is condescending – I think most people can make up their own minds.”

 

Bernard Katz of Johannesburg writes:

By the time this letter is published the South Africa’s 2014 elections will be over and the result will be known.

Nevertheless, I was extremely disappointed and angered to receive an e-mail from the South African Zionist Federation last week Thursday which can only be interpreted as a call for Jews to vote for the ACDP and avoid the ANC, based purely on the SAZF’s assessment of who is a friend of Israel.

I have no doubt that South African Jews were capable of deciding who to vote for without the advice of the SAZF and that the e-mail’s impact on voting habits was close to negligible. But that is beside the point.

For purposes of this letter I have ignored the dubious scientific method applied by the SAZF, where attending Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations and participating in a pro-Israel demonstration get equal ranking with eight other categories, presumably selected by the SAZF.

Is the SAZF really trying to suggest that Jews in South Africa should vote in a South African election based on the SAZF’s assessment of a party’s friendship towards Israel? Should we ignore jobs, the economy, corruption and service delivery and vote for the party who in the opinion of the SAZF ranks as the friendliest to Israel?

Surely when one votes in a South African election the test must be to vote as a good citizen of South Africa and in the best interests of South Africa.

How would we Jews feel if the Muslim community had put out an e-mail titled “Are you voting for a friend of Palestine?” compiled with a similar bias to the survey produced by the SAZF?

The SAZF e-mail serves no benefit to the South African Jewish community or Israel and can only have the effect of increasing friction between population groups and irritating the ruling party.

As King Solomon may have said: “There is a time for defending Israel and a time to remain silent.”

Meddling in a South African election is surely not in the ambit of the SAZF’s jurisdiction. The SAZF e-mail is an embarrassment and counterproductive to the interests it is attempting to serve.

It should be retracted with an apology with immediate effect.

 

Benji Shulman, director, SAZF responds:

There has been much discussion regarding the SAZF advert that has been run in major Jewish publications for the last month.

Interestedly up to his point nobody has yet to argue that the information presented by the SAZF is in fact false only that it should not have presented it

The SAZF is apolitical and has not in any way endorsed any party for the election. It has simply compiled information over the time period of the current election cycle presented it to members of the public who are interested in this issue.

Proof of this is the varied reaction to the advert from a number of political quarters.

One writer to the Jewish report last week suggested we were trying to assist the DA by publishing this advert, another recent columnist says this is an endorsement of the ACDP, a member of COPE responded saying that they have been better on this issue recently and the anti-Israel BDS group has commented that this advert supports the three top pro-Israel parties whilst attacking the ANC.

In actual fact the SAZF has just provided information and people have used it to discuss their own views of the election, which is exactly the point.

The SAZF’s mandate is to promote Israel in South Africa. We do this in all sorts of spheres including academia, media, civil society etc. It would be unusual to exclude parliamentary elections especially since in the last 5 years this issue has become increasingly pollicised in various political parties in ways that have the potential to also affect the Jewish community generally.

This is even more important during an election when voters are supposed to assess the claims of political parties and values they promote. There are people who argue that Israel should not be part of their voting decision in South Africa. That is their right and they are welcome to not use the advert as basis on which to vote. They also argue that the SAZF has ignored other policies of these parties and that the SAZF is asking people to vote for the “friendliest” Israel parties.

The SAZF’s focus is Israel and voters are welcome to interrogate the policies of parties in their decision making process and decide how to weigh these in their deliberations. Nothing in the advert suggests people should vote for only one party or that Israel should be the only consideration.

Lastly people have taken issue with our choice and weighting of the attributes in the survey. The SAZF welcomes debate on how we can measure support of Israel and if people have alternative suggestions they should by all means voice them.

All the information used in the survey is open source, documented and generally freely available. Should anyone want us to cite the evidence we used to for the statistics we are happy to provide it.

 

The advert published in the Jewish Report

SAZF Election Advert fullThe above advert appeared in the Pesach edition of the Jewish Report

4 Comments

  1. 4 Gary Selikow 07 May
    Irwin Manoim claims the Jewish community has become fundamentlaist on Israel. And what about the FUNDAMENTALIST violently anti-Israel; approach of the Muslims and the hard left (IN SA represented by the ANC/SACP) who are obsessed with venomous rage against the tiny country Israel. 
  2. 3 Gary Selikow 07 May
    I dont see why it should be a problem-this advert. The Muslims push the ANC for being pro-Palestine so why cant supporters of Israel push pro-Israel parties
  3. 2 Elona Steinfeld 09 May
    I believe that Jewish South Africans are an informed and educated group and would treat any advert with the circumspection it deserves. Voting for the party of your choice is a fundamental right in a true democracy and trying to influence voters choices is suspect.
  4. 1 Philip Mayers 11 May
    Well done SAJR. I respect your honest reporting. The advert tells it like it is and doesn't pander to sycophants who want to run with horses and hunt with hounds.

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