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Aliyah Expos defy protesters at the gates

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Seeing a little girl, about eight years old holding a placard saying, “One Zionist One Bullet” outside Beyachad in Johannesburg, where the annual Aliyah Expo was being held on 7 April, was disturbing, say participants.

“This child encapsulates all that is wrong with the anti-Israel lobby,” says Wendy Kahn, the national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). “It inculcates hatred for Jews in children.”

However, as much as protesters tried to destroy or incite violence at the expos in Johannesburg and Cape Town last week, they failed dismally, said the SAJBD, which described the expos as a huge success.

Though the protesting groups were fairly small in number, they did their best to instigate violence, vandalise passing cars, and even tried to forcefully enter the community centres, damaging the property in their stead, according to eyewitnesses.

“Their vandalism of cars shows them to be the thugs that they are,” Kahn said. “Fortunately, their attempts to block people from entering Jewish community events were thoroughly unsuccessful, and the events proceeded without disruption.”

The protest in Cape Town occurred outside the Marais Road Shul. A small group of less than 20 anti-Israel protesters arrived at the shul, where the Aliyah Expo was being held, in the late afternoon with posters calling for the end of Zionism, and quickly turned aggressive, according to eyewitnesses there.

“At some point, the protest escalated and one girl showed up with a microphone and started yelling typical anti-Zionist chants,” said the shul’s rabbi, Pini Hecht.

“I did notice one or two of the protesters being more aggressive and antagonistic to people coming in,” Hecht said.

“The protesters chased a vehicle down the road and when it came to a stop, they smashed the side mirror and back lights of the car,” said Daniel Bloch, the executive director of the Cape SAJBD. “Then the vehicle drove off. How they knew that person was a ‘Zionist’ is unclear, as the driver was simply driving down the road. We’re investigating the matter further. Members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) were on the scene to ensure the safety of everyone inside.

“As far as we know, the Aliyah Expo was a success,” said Bloch. “Of course, anti-Israel activists will claim that the Zionists were aggressive, and tried to run them down. However, we know this is absolute nonsense. The protesters were standing in the road blocking things. So, cars probably had to slow down and edge forward slowly to get protesters to move out of the way – hardly trying to run anyone down,” he said.

“In spite of the efforts of these hoodlums to intimidate and bully, it had no effect on the community, and regular services resumed as the shul held its daily Mincha minyan.”

In Johannesburg, the Community Security Organisation (CSO) was informed that the Palestinian Solidarity Youth Alliance (PSA YL) as well as other anti-Israel activists knew that the Aliyah Expo, organised by the Israel Centre and Jewish Agency, was to be held at the Beyachad Community Centre. It’s still a mystery how they were made aware of the venue, as the information was given only to those who registered to attend, according to organisers.

That afternoon, the centre was confronted with a barrage of Israel haters, including children, waving Palestinian flags and holding signs saying, “One Zionist One Bullet” and “Free Palestine”.

Jevon Greenblatt, the director of operations at the CSO, said, “A relatively large and aggressive group of protesters arrived and attempted to instigate a confrontation. The protesters damaged several passing vehicles, vandalised property with spray paint and anti-Zionist slogans, attempted to force their way into a communal facility, and subjected community members and security personnel to verbal and physical threats.

“Together with SAPS and other security companies that operate in the area, the location of the protest as well as the surrounding areas were thoroughly secured.”

The CSO ensured the safety of all those at the expo by not allowing anyone in or out of the community centre until all protesters had left the scene, and did whatever it could to de-escalate the situation by getting protesters to move away from the community centre, Greenblatt said.

In spite of the protesters, the expo went on without a hitch, and attendees and delegates were unfazed by what was happening outside of the walls. In fact, few were even aware of the protests.

According to the CSO, there were no major incidents. Perpetrators of threats and vandalism were filmed, evidence was gathered, and the CSO will be handing this evidence to the relevant authorities.

Said Greenblatt, “It’s unfortunate that in such a highly charged environment, there are those who choose to come to Jewish areas in an attempt to escalate already heightened tension and potentially cause conflict.”

Said Kahn, “What the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions organisation] and anti-Israel lobby groups need to understand is that irrespective of people’s political views, our Constitution upholds our right to hold events of our choice.”

“In spite of this incident, which isn’t the first nor will it be the last, we have a message for our community,” said Bloch. “While these anti-Israel thugs will continue to try and intimidate and threaten, as a community, we must remain united and take strength from the fact that our Jewish way of life continues.

“Go to shul, frequent your usual social areas, visit our Jewish institutions, and continue to live as proud Jews and proud Zionists. We do ask that members of the community refrain from engaging with these obnoxious individuals,” he said.

“They aren’t interested in engaging in dialogue. Their only interest is to scream, swear uncontrollably, intimidate, incite violence, take your photos, and as we have now seen, vandalise and assault. It would be like speaking to a brick wall. What will frustrate them more is if you ignore them and don’t engage.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Shaun

    Apr 11, 2024 at 11:47 am

    Follow up and make sure prosecutions are implemented and consider conducting private prosecution if they issue a nolle prosequi.

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