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Al Jama-ah hardliners put Jozi DA in tough corner

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The multi-party Democratic Alliance (DA)-led coalition in the City of Johannesburg hangs in the balance as the small Al Jama-ah party this week dramatically dropped out of coalition talks over ideological differences involving Israel.

This political snubbing by the anti-Israel party has left the DA three votes short of a majority going into the first sitting of the council on Thursday, 13 January.

The implications could be disastrous for residents of the city desperate for change and increased service delivery, say insiders.

At the time of going to press, the stakes were high for the DA-led coalition with the DA potentially finding itself in a tight corner, clinging to power.

“This is hardly surprising,” said election analyst Wayne Sussman.

“The Al Jama-ah party traditionally and currently prefers to work with the African National Congress [ANC], being ideologically closer to the ANC, so while this may be a setback for the DA, it should have been expected. The bigger news is that the DA thought it could count on the Al Jama-ah votes.”

Al Jama-ah turned down the DA due to its perceived support of Israel, taking its three seats with it.

Sussman said there were still a number of other smaller parties which the DA would be looking at, and would hope to get enough votes to get over the 50% mark.

However the situation remained unpredictable at the time of going to press, with the DA potentially finding itself short of vital votes in upcoming motions in the city.

The DA was forced to form coalition governments in Gauteng’s hung metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Ekurhuleni after the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) handed it the mayoral chains rather than support the ANC.

This week’s turn of events has potentially left the door wide open for the ANC to try to form a coalition to take power from the DA. This, however, won’t be possible without the support of the EFF, which this week said it would keep the ANC out of power. EFF leader Julius Malema said at the Siyabonga rally in KwaZulu-Natal on 8 January that the EFF would work with all opposition parties to keep the ANC out of power.

Insiders say that the EFF knows it’s better for the party’s growth trajectory and prospects to have a weaker ANC than a weaker DA, even if it’s not on the same page as the DA.

The question is whether the DA will have to, as it did in 2016, count on the EFF’s vote to govern the City of Johannesburg in order to pass the budget and elect chairpersons of oversight committees.

This all remains to be seen.

Sussman said the DA was “chancing it”.

“Three seats is important. Historically, Al Jama-ah has been much closer to the ANC. When coalitions are flimsy, parties will do anything to stay in power, even negotiate with parties that are unlikely to support it. It’s easier to speak to one party with three seats than three different parties with one seat.”

The DA has put itself in a tough corner, experts say.

Meanwhile, news that the anti-Israel party pulled its three votes has been met with disgust and disappointment.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) said it was “outraged” that Al Jama-ah had put a distant conflict above the interests of its own citizens.

“The political party Al Jama-ah is seemingly attempting to stonewall and obstruct the functioning of the City of Johannesburg by putting a foreign conflict above the interests of its own citizens. Our landscape is such that representatives from across the political spectrum are expected to work together to provide leadership and good governance. Joburg is struggling to provide its own residents with electricity, water, functioning transport infrastructure, healthcare, and other social services. If there ever was a time to for our politicians to roll up their sleeves and get work done, it’s now.”

“It is unclear what ‘supporting’ Israel means,” said Harold Jacobs, the Gauteng chairperson of the SAJBD. “The majority of countries, including South Africa, support a two-state solution, as do the majority of our political parties. The two-state solution is clearly not supported by Al Jama-ah, which is attempting to introduce extremist views into Johannesburg. In essence, it seems that Al Jama-ah wants no Israel. We want no potholes, functioning hospitals, and a world-class city that Joburg promises to be.

“We call on all our political parties to work together in the interests of their own citizens, and not allow an extremist, anti-peace, and single-focused issue to be the deciding factor in our local politics.”

Said DA councillor Daniel Schay, “I’m disappointed that a party has chosen to put a complex, 9 000km away conflict ahead of the residents of Johannesburg, where it has been elected to serve. I have full faith in the mayor and the chief whip and everyone else in power to assess potential coalition partners, and that they will engage with partners who are able to share our values and the values of the coalition, and put the residents of the city first. Also that they won’t simply allow people on board just for the sake of retaining power, but it will revolve around residents coming first and there will be no compromise on that, otherwise we are just repeating what the previous regime did.”

Insiders say clashes in ideology existed even before the coalition talks took place, and ask whether the coalition was stable to begin with or if there were instabilities at the time of announcing the multi-party government.

It’s understood that local Al Jama-ah councillors initially showed willingness to join the coalition, but when it reached the ears of its national leaders, it was considered unacceptable.

The first council sitting will, without doubt, be tough for the multiparty coalition at a time when stable coalition is vital to ensure service delivery.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Joanne

    Jan 13, 2022 at 10:52 pm

    Really !!! I cannot belive that the Al- Jama wants to link our local government issues with the issues in the Middle East that has absolutely nothing to do with the local South African, half of which have never even been to the middle east

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“We could do much more together,” Israeli ambassador tells Ramaphosa

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Israel’s new ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotsercovsky, rubbed elbows with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa when he presented his credentials to him on Tuesday, 25 January, at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House in Tshwane.

Ramaphosa was courteous and smiling as Belotsercovsky told him about how the relationship between their countries could improve and how Israel could help South Africa.

“We believe there’s tremendous potential in us working together,” the Israeli ambassador told Ramaphosa. “Together, we can share dreams and together, we can fulfil them.”

Belotsercovsky said that South Africa was a shining example of a peaceful and dignified transition under the enlightened and courageous leadership of Nelson Mandela. He said the country’s democratic transformation took place with an independent judicial system and a free press.

But most importantly, he said, it was achieved through dialogue and “Israel is looking forward to upgrading our bilateral dialogue. There’s so much we can do together in the future in science and technology, education and training, food security, and climate change.”

He used the example of South African and Israeli scientists working together to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak as an example of successful co-operation.

Israel’s government is based on “a rainbow coalition” Belotsercovsky said, which represents an excellent example of partnership between religious and secular Jews and Arabs, people of European and African origins, politicians and technocrats, all united in the task of fulfilling the dreams of the next generation.

He went on to tell the president about the phenomenal ways Israel is already using its technology and knowhow to work successfully in South Africa, and said he hoped there was much more they could do together.

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Legal amendment puts Lithuanian citizenship in reach

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Thousands of Litvak Jews around the world stand a much better chance at getting Lithuanian citizenship based on ancestry since the law was amended last week.

A bill to amend Lithuania’s Law on Citizenship was unanimously passed in Lithuania’s Seimas (parliament) last Thursday, 20 January. It will have far-reaching positive implications for future applicants, many of whom had unsuccessfully tried and lost hope of obtaining citizenship.

This follows a year of extensive lobbying efforts from many quarters. It involved various iterations of a draft bill which was revised and redrafted several times, according to those involved, leading to last week’s vote, in which 110 members of parliament from across Lithuania’s political spectrum supported the bill.

Lithuanian Ambassador to South Africa Dainius Junevičius said the bill clarified that anyone who was a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania before 15 June 1940 was eligible for reinstatement of their citizenship on condition that there were no decisions adopted on their loss of citizenship.

This is a huge relief to many whose applications were rejected by the Lithuanian migration department, some pending indefinitely with others being placed on hold.

The application jam stemmed from a Lithuanian Supreme Court decision a few years ago which opened the law up for interpretation, making it much tougher, and which dramatically slowed down applications, causing enormous frustration.

In addition to what was always accepted as sufficient proof of Lithuanian citizenship, applicants were also required to provide proof that their Lithuanian immigrant ancestors actively sought to maintain their Lithuanian citizenship once in South Africa (or their new country of residence) until 15 June 1940.

This was a dramatic departure from the original position, which never required proof that citizenship was actively maintained after leaving Lithuania.

“This was a major obstacle for applicants as in almost all cases, no such proof exists. It also had far-reaching implications for all future citizenship applications,” said Lithuanian emigration consultant Nida Degutienė from Next Steps. Her company assists South Africans and others to obtain Lithuanian citizenship by helping to source the required documentation for reinstatement of their citizenship. She told the SA Jewish Report many of her clients’ applications had been declined by the migration department because of this.

In some cases where families had applied at different times using the same source documents, some had been granted citizenship, while others had been rejected.

However, this will soon change, said an elated Degutienė, who believes last week’s vote will pave the way forward for many South African Jews to successfully apply for citizenship.

“Less than a year ago, I was telling a story of a ridiculous court ruling which was applied to an unlucky Litvak family whose application for Lithuanian citizenship was rejected. Now I’m so happy to announce that the law has been amended, and this particular family, as many more, will be free to receive their passports.”

Degutienė and many others including politicians and lawyers in Lithuania and members of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies campaigned tirelessly for the amendment.

“I was really frustrated about the grey zone in the citizenship legislation which was used by Lithuanian institutions to create rules and obstacles that made many South African Litvaks ineligible for a Lithuanian passport,” said Degutienė. “The only way to solve this impossible situation was to change the law as any other solution would have been too temporary, and we would have had to depend on court procedures which are lengthy and costly.”

She said it had been a tough road.

“Not many colleagues or competitors believed I would succeed, but now as you see, if you put all your heart and effort into something, sooner or later it results in positive developments.”

Said Junevičius, “As we welcome this move by the Republic of Lithuania, removing many barriers to apply for the reinstatement of Lithuanian citizenship, we anticipate deepening connection with ancestral land and fully expect an exponential growth in economic relations and tourism.”

The director of AccessEU, Nicole Marcus, said this week, “AccessEU looks forward to overturning the negative decisions and restoring our 100% success record. Over the years, we’ve experienced changes to the requirements and process, at times becoming very difficult if not near impossible, and at other times easing somewhat. We urge everyone who is eligible to use this opportunity to apply for Lithuanian citizenship before any new interpretations might close the doors once again.”

Before the bill becomes law, Lithuania’s president will need to sign the bill into effect, and this is expected to happen soon.

Once enacted into law, the effect of this amendment will be to remove the requirement that one’s Lithuanian ancestor must have actively maintained their Lithuanian citizenship until 14 June 1940. That requirement was strictly enforced by the migration department since December 2020 following the Supreme Court decision in November 2020, when an application for citizenship with no supporting Lithuanian documentation was brought, causing serious ramifications for many other applicants.

Many applicants were refused citizenship on the basis that their Lithuanian ancestor had naturalised prior to 15 June 1940. Now the prospects of success for those applicants have been revived.

According to insiders, many hundreds of applications are believed to have been waiting for years for a decision following various procedural and then interpretative changes. Hundreds of applications which are currently held in suspense pending queries from Lithuania’s migration department which had been almost impossible to satisfy will now need to be reconsidered.

The migration department will probably take some time to work through the backlog, and applicants shouldn’t expect immediate results. They should keep in mind that the change in the law doesn’t mean that every applicant will be successful as each application will depend on its own supporting documentation which varies from one family to the next, insiders say.

Applicants are still required to prove that their Lithuanian ancestor left Lithuania after 16 February 1918 (the Republic of Lithuania’s initial date of independence) and must still prove with Lithuanian documentation that they held Lithuanian citizenship and departed from Lithuania.

One of the questions still being asked is whether those whose ancestors arrived in South Africa prior to 1918 will be able to apply for a passport.

“The answer is no,” said Degutienė. “This law does not extend the right of applying to those who emigrated earlier than the State of Lithuania was established, and it’s unlikely this will ever change.”

Degutienė said the amendment wouldn’t have been made possible without the help of Lithuanian Member of Parliament Dalia Asanavičiūtė. “Without her persistence and resilience against huge pressure from the migration department and opposition, and her deep understanding and respect for Jews, this change would never have been possible.”

Junevičius said the amendment was a very positive development, and would probably ensure the success of many pending and future applications.

He encouraged prospective passport holders to show an interest in Lithuania, saying that amongst other things, the country offered a broad range of international study programmes taught in English in its 19 universities and 22 colleges at a highly competitive price.

Nearly 8 000 students from 127 countries in the world including South Africa and Israel studied in Lithuania in the 2020 to 2021 academic year, Junevičius said. “The reasons to choose Lithuania as your study destination are multiple, but the main ones are high quality world-class education for an affordable price in an attractive European country.”

As for business opportunities, Junevičius said that for the past 20 years, Lithuania had been the fastest growing economy in the European Union in terms of gross domestic product per capita, with a “highly favourable business environment” with top rankings and ratings.

“Things here get done quicker and better because the doers – from students and engineers to the go-to advisors at Invest Lithuania – are agile, ambitious, and driven by big ideas. And when it comes to big ideas, we don’t dabble, we explore, from gene and cell therapy to the latest in machine learning.”

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Terror accused in court

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Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie appeared in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 26 January 2022, where live broadcasting of proceedings and the setting of a court date were discussed. The twins are accused of terrorist activity targeting Jewish institutions in South Africa, amongst other targets. They have been in custody since their arrest in July 2016.

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