Ambassador’s speech to diplomats on YH67
Speech by Ambassador Arthur Lenk at Yom Ha’atzmaut event at embassy on 29 April 2015 to over 300 members of the diplomatic corps and prominent members of government, SA Jewry and SA’s Israeli population. Before proceedings began, Lenk asked everyone to send their “thoughts and prayers to the people of Nepal. It has been an awful few days there and we wish a quick recovery and rebuilding. They are in our hearts.”
AMBASSADOR ARTHUR LENK
My friend Acting Chief Director, Roy Seplhathelo, Ambassadors and colleagues from the diplomatic community and representatives of the South African government and civil society.My South African Jewish and Israeli brothers and sisters, Friends of Israel,
Hag atzmaut sameach everyone!
RIGHT: Lechaim! Ambassadors Lenk and Setlhapelo toast Israel
Please join me in thanking the outstanding choir from the King David Victory Park School. These children who sang our two anthems so beautifully are a wonderful human bridge that personify the connection between Israel and South Africa.
I am so glad you are with us again this afternoon.
It is clear that our two countries have more in common than sometimes meets the eye. Both of us have diverse, vibrant democracies born out of great tragedy which offer inspiration, hope – and even sometimes frustration – across the globe.
Both of our democracies held closely watched elections during the past year and what was most notable about the elections, in the end, was their lack of news: they were normal, standard, trustworthy… in areas of the world that such events are abnormal, rare and often suspect.
The KDPS Linksfield choir opened proceedings by singing the national anthems of SA and Israel and, later, entertained guests with a Hebrew song
Both of us care deeply about peace, security and development in the Middle East and across Africa.
We agree that a negotiated settlement for a two-state solution is the best path for Israelis and Palestinians. We both hope for the growth of more stable, moderate governments that share our values.
Both Israel and South Africa have vocally rejected terrorism in Africa and across the Middle East.
Israel certainly fully agrees with the words of President Zuma following the horrific terrorist attack in Kenya earlier this month: “Terrorism in any form and from whichever quarter, cannot be condoned.
South Africa stands firmly with the international community in condemning all terrorism.”
RIGHT: DIRCO Mid-East Desk Ambassador told guests at the posh garden party about the long, strong ties between the two countries – and the huge and disproportionate contribution SA Jewry had made in building SA and in the struggle.
Friends, There have been some very interesting visits of prominent Israeli public figures to South Africa during the past year including the Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, Deputy President of our Supreme Court Amnon Rubinstein, who met with the President of your Constitutional Court and Member of Knesset Dov Lipman who visited Parliament and had excellent meetings across the political spectrum. We have welcomed excellent visits to Israel from President Zuma’s esteemed envoys to our region and prominent Parliamentarians. Israel remains hopeful that these interactions will further develop as part of our interest in a widening conversation between our governments and people.
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The reason that extending our dialogue is worthwhile is that there is a genuine interest between our peoples. Israeli pavilions at the Africa-com telecommunications exhibition and the Nampo agribusiness fair drew significant traffic and exchange. This week in Israel, South Africans are attending the Agritech fair in Tel Aviv and in October, others will participate in Israel’s water and greentech exhibition, Watec. Significant numbers of Israeli visitors bring income, investments and know-how to South Africa. According to SARS, Israeli imports grew again in 2014, for the fifth consecutive year.
Our Embassy’s “Start-up Tel Aviv” contest attracted dozens of top young South African innovators who competed for a chance to learn from Israeli creativity. We will have a second such contest starting next month. Our friends at the South Africa Israel Forum and Investec took two delegations of innovators on study trips to Israel to inspire the developing of new ideas here in South Africa.
LEFT: Ambassador Lenk handing his credentials to President Zuma
Cooperation between the SAPS and Israel’s Police has grown significantly in the past year. Joint efforts on investigations both in South Africa and in Israel paid dividends. I am proud that Israel’s Police representative to South Africa, Superintendent Nir Gambar, born in Ethiopia and today, a senior officer in our police force, is with us here this afternoon.
Cultural cooperation grew, too. An Israeli-SA co-production was a hit at the recent Dance Umbrella and Israeli artists participated in the 2014 Oppikoppi music and Franchoek book festivals and have been invited again for 2015.
Ruth, Aiden and I are no long surprised how much people – from all walks of life, from all faiths, all backgrounds are open and interested in partnerships between Israel and South Africa. And that is what all of us at the Embassy work on throughout the year. We are proud tell Israel’s story: on Facebook and on Twitter, on university campuses and in the media, about our successes and challenges. We seek out opportunities to emphasize Israel’s interest in finding additional topics and partnerships that will resonate with South Africans and help people here and in Israel.
And Israel is very much here in South Africa. I am glad that so many friends from different communities are here today: My brothers and sisters from South Africa’s impressive Jewish community who are such a key to this country’s future. Faith leaders from a variety of Christian churches. Representatives of a wide range of political parties. Business partners and leaders from both sides.
RIGHT: The basket of fruit and veg that Lenk handed to Zuma as a gift on presenting his credentials. The produce was grown in all 9 SA provinces and all with Israeli assistance
Many of you here today were with thousands of friends at solidarity rallies in Johannesburg and Cape Town last year, standing with Israel and calling for peace in the midst of the conflict in Gaza. I remain grateful. It was a clear message of how many people here see positive synergies and shared interests between our countries.
Before I close, I want to note that today is the 40th anniversary of the murder of Giora Raviv, the Chief Security Officer at our Embassy here on 29 April 1975. As I mentioned on Yom Hazikharon, last week, we are erecting a memorial to Giora on the grounds of the Embassy, together with his family, in late June. May his memory be a blessing.
So thank you all for being with us this afternoon. Toda raba to my Embassy partners who did such a great job putting today’s celebration together.
Please join me in raising a toast… To friendship, cooperation and success. To the President and the people of South Africa. L’chaim!
Israel’s status on agenda of AU executive
On the eve of the meeting of the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) this week, there has been much speculation about whether Israel’s recent granting of observer status will be debated, and if calls for the decision to be rescinded will be heard.
The announcement in July that Israel had been granted observer status at the AU drew sharp reaction from several countries on the continent, including South Africa.
Last week, International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) Minister Naledi Pandor met her Palestinian counterpart, Riad Malki, and again expressed dissatisfaction with Israel’s status. (See story on page 1.)
During the official bilateral talks held at Dirco, Pandor said South Africa wasn’t party to the AU’s “shocking” decision to grant Israel observer status.
In July, Pretoria moved swiftly to lobby other Southern African Development Community states against the decision.
Many said the decision had been taken unilaterally by AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, and expressed solidarity with Palestine.
Out of 55 member states, 46 enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel. There are about 17 member countries opposing observer status.
It’s understood that the matter was placed on the agenda of the AU executive council following complaints by some member states.
Professor Hussein Solomon of the University of the Free State wrote recently that South Africa was “out of sync” with the views of most African heads of state. “Isolating Israel won’t work in promoting the well-being of Palestinians. This was tried for decades by Arab countries and has failed.”
Jean-Pierre Alumba Lukamba, the international director of the African Diaspora for Development, (ADD), told the SA Jewish Report this week that according to the guiding principles of the AU, Israel should be at the opening of the AU’s executive council meeting this week as an observer member for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The ADD has reiterated its call to African heads of state to maintain unanimously the admission of the state of Israel as an observer member.
In a statement, the ADD said, “The African people will derive great benefit from the state of Israel, which has notably established agricultural co-operatives, youth training centres, and medical facilities in countries such as Ghana, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Côte d’Ivoire.
“Israel supported the use of technology for the sustainable development of Africa in accordance with a resolution adopted by the United Nations,” it said, and it was “convinced” that admission to the AU of Israel would help to advance the African continent towards a better future for the well-being of African people.
The ADD joined its voice to those of other civil society organisations, and asked the African heads of state to include it on its agenda this week.
Earlier this week, the ADD held a peaceful rally in Abuja in support of Israel’s observer status.
Olubunmi Fagbuyiro, the Economic Community of West African States representative of the ADD, said that there was still concern about countries who opposed this observer status. “The AU should embrace Israel, as the country has already demonstrated its willingness for fruitful partnership with Africa,” Fagbuyiro said.
He said Israel had been pivotal in the provision of green energy, health infrastructure, and infrastructure for sustainable water supply in many countries on the continent. He noted Israel’s contribution to the fight against Ebola in Africa.
“It’s our view that the AU can play an important role in bringing about peace between Israel and Palestine, drawing on lessons from the African nationalist movements and the experiences of decolonisation and reconciliation following various conflicts can be used to inspire negotiation and peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
Meanwhile, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) has joined various African civil society organisations from across the continent in their call for African heads of state to reaffirm unanimously Israel’s admission as an observer member of the AU.
“Israel has had a mutually beneficial relationship with African states for more than 70 years. It has been at the forefront of efforts to help solve some of the most important developmental challenges on the continent. These include the areas of health, agriculture, youth development, water, education, and energy.
“The admission of Israel as an observer to the African Union, alongside more than 70 other countries, is a historic and welcome development. It should be celebrated and not undermined by those who aren’t interested in peace and prosperity on the continent,” it said.
The SAZF called on other organisations connected to Africa and its diaspora to sign a letter of support to the AU.
The letter is signed by prominent progressive international African organisations, companies, leaders, activists, youth movements, and trade unions. It says Israel’s admission seeks to “enhance the work of Israeli African co-operation on development programmes at bilateral and multilateral levels. Admittance is in the interests of peace and dialogue.”
Faki Mahamat accepted the credentials of Aleligne Admasu, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, on 22 July.
He said at the time that he hoped the move would contribute to the “intensification of the advocacy of the AU for the fulfilment of the principle of two states and the restoration of peace between Israel and Palestine” and reiterated the “unflinching commitment” of the AU to the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.
This included their “right to establish an independent national state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, within the framework of a global, fair, and definitive peace between Israel and Palestine.”
Faki Mahamat said the reservations expressed by “a few members” about this decision justified his intention to include it on the agenda of this week’s session of the executive council.
Israel obtained AU observer status after 20 years of diplomatic efforts. It had previously held the role at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but was long thwarted in its attempts to regain it after the OAU was disbanded in 2002 and replaced by the AU.
Apart from South Africa, other countries opposing Israel’s member status include Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
Most other countries on the continent have sought closer ties with Israel, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda, and have secured Israeli help, expertise, and investment in many areas from water and agriculture to tech start-ups.
Arab-Israeli gangsterism a massive security threat
The current violence in Arab-Israeli cities is a greater threat to the state of Israel than Hamas and Hezbollah. The comparison might sound dramatic, but since stating it earlier this week, Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has only reinforced his concerns.
As many as half-a-million illegal weapons are estimated to be in the hands of the Israeli-Arab sector. Their prevalence is widely attributed to the killing of more than 90 Arab citizens since the start of this year in shootings and stabbings. Though some of these deaths have been the result of warfare before mafia families, others involved unlucky bystanders struck by a stray bullet or female victims of domestic violence. Of these cases, less than a quarter have been solved so far, compared with more than 70% in the Jewish community.
Many Arab Israelis say the identities of killers and crime families are well-known to residents and authorities. They complain that the lack of arrests reflects a double standard when it comes to Israeli police dealing with Arab communities.
The problem is further compounded by the lack of faith many Arabs have in the Israeli police’s will and ability to address the problem. A recent survey found that only 17.4% of Israeli Arabs said they trusted the police. The result is a Catch-22, as this lack of faith leads to fewer people being willing to risk co-operating with the police, who in turn have a more difficult time enforcing law and order.
For months now, the Israeli government has been trying to get a grip on the deteriorating security situation. Even the head of the United Arab List, parliamentarian Mansour Abbas, this week again stressed his concern about crime and violence in Arab communities.
But how to deal with it has created problems, with Arabs divided over Jerusalem’s recent announcement that it plans to involve the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in assisting the Israeli police. While some Arabs firmly oppose the idea, others are desperate for any solution that could help quell the escalating violence.
It’s difficult trying to gauge opinion on the Arab street. Most people I approach are afraid to comment. Should they be seen to support the Shin Bet, they could face reprisals in their communities; and should they be seen to publicly oppose its involvement, they could – they tell me – be targeted by Israeli security authorities. The best answer, encapsulating what most people feel, is what one elderly man told me, “I’m doomed if I support the move, and I’m doomed if I don’t!”
As for the Shin Bet itself, its officials say they prefer not to be involved in anything beyond their more regular counter-terrorism missions. These are usually across the Green Line, in Palestinian territories, where suspects can be held for years without charge and prevented from meeting with lawyers.
Jerusalem has consistently argued that such measures are necessary to prevent Palestinian terror attacks, but implementing them against Israeli citizens, albeit against those who are engaged in criminal activity, is a completely different ball game. The major concern, for Jews and Arabs alike, is that it could turn Israel into a police state. Many also question how a technologically advanced country like Israel, that was recently able to catch six escaped Palestinian prisoners within a week, has been unable to break up a few local criminal gangs. Some Arab citizens even suspect the government of deliberately letting the violence run amok in order to weaken the Arab minority in the country.
Several Israeli officials have expressed a popular view among the Israeli political right that “as long as they are killing each other, that’s their problem”. But this violence often spills over into Jewish neighbourhoods, often into nationalistic crimes, as was witnessed in May this year.
At the time, I visited mixed Arab-Israeli cities in the heart of the country that resembled battlegrounds. Car tyres were burning on the streets, shops and homes were barricaded, and many Arab citizens walked around armed. The concern was that those weapons, often stolen from the Israeli military, or smuggled across the border from Jordan, or manufactured in the West Bank, could be turned against the Israeli public. The police were quick to quell the unrest as quickly as it unfolded, leaving many to point out that when the security forces really wanted to deal with the violence, they could.
The new government insists it’s prioritising dealing with the situation. It says it has a detailed plan to improve access and trust in Arab communities that it is ready to put into action after the state budget is passed in November. It calls for recruiting an additional 1 100 police officers, legislative changes to deal more efficiently with economic crime, more use of technology, and an improved witness-protection programme.
The situation has become so bad that in some cases, police are afraid to enter neighbourhoods. The hashtag #ArabLivesMatter has caught on, inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement and among those embracing the hashtag is the country’s public security minister who faced stormy protests outside his home after seven shooting incidents rattled the Arab community in a single week. But although there’s growing public awareness of the problem, it won’t easily disappear. It’s been around for a long time, and will take some time to dissipate.
- Paula Slier is the Middle East bureau chief of RT, the founder and chief executive of Newshound Media International, and the inaugural winner of the Europcar Women in Leadership Award of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.
Telfed under strain from SA aliyah wave
Telfed, the South African Zionist Federation in Israel, has resorted to a fundraiser as its resources come under strain because of the volume of people making aliyah from South Africa.
“We have a situation on our hands. Last month, Telfed welcomed the highest number of South African immigrants to Israel in one month in 44 years [since 1977]. Our resources are under intense strain,” said Telfed Chief Executive Dorron Kline in the fundraiser message.
Kline told the SA Jewish Report, “We are a small team dealing with a large wave of South African aliyah, which we are delighted about. People need a lot more assistance due to corona[virus], and we have limited resources. As our community grows, we have more people to assist. There’s an increase in the number of South African olim applying for Telfed’s financial assistance.”
Telfed provides two types of services: klita (absorption) and social welfare. These include financial assistance and “food cards” for more than 400 needy South African olim every month, social-work counselling, and higher-education bursaries – the organisation receives more than 1 000 applications every year. Klita services include pre and post-aliyah advice from a klita advisor and social worker, employment counselling, subsidised rental apartments, and social events.
In the fundraiser, members of Telfed said there had been a “300% increase in the number of South Africans wanting to move to Israel”. Elaborating on this, Kline says “the 300% relates to the rise in aliyah enquiries that Telfed received over the past 1.5 years. Liat Amar Arran from the South African Israel Centre also spoke about a dramatic increase in opening aliyah files – from 300 to 1 000. In addition, the Kaplan Centre report from 2019 highlighted growing interest in aliyah.”
They also describe a “10% increase in the number of South African immigrants battling to make ends meet in Israel”. Kline explains that “the cost of living in Israel is high, and it’s unreasonable for most to replicate the standard of living that they had in South Africa. Yes, education and healthcare are comparatively inexpensive, but salaries in Israel can be lower. Our South African olim deal with an unfavourable exchange rate, and property prices are significantly higher in Israel. We want those who are making aliyah to have a realistic expectation of what lies ahead.
“Israel is a wonderful country, and the advantages of living here are significant, but it’s expensive,” he says. “As long as people know what to expect, they can prepare accordingly. Sadly, some olim take out loans that they cannot repay or they haven’t saved up for an unexpected expense. Some have fallen ill, and aren’t able to work. Some have left unhealthy marriages, or are dealing with mental-health issues.
“Telfed doesn’t replace the financial assistance provided by the Israeli government and municipality; we augment it,” he says. “We have limited means, so we carefully assess each case before deciding how best to help. In many cases, we will provide financial planning to help ensure that olim won’t fall into the same position again. We try to empower our olim with the skills to be self-sufficient. Sometimes, all they need is a little extra guidance.”
The fundraiser also mentions that there is a 50% increase (70 families) on the waiting list for housing in Telfed community buildings. “Telfed’s subsidised rental housing is available for South African olim who wish to live in either Tel Aviv or Ra’anana,” says Kline. “We give priority to new olim and former lone soldiers. The apartments are appealing because the tenants live in a community of olim with the same background. Tel Aviv and Ra’anana are highly sought-after locations. The olim deal with an English speaking property and maintenance manager. These seem like small advantages, but when one arrives in a new country with limited language skills, it makes settling in so much easier.
“Seventy percent of rental income is used to assist olim with their absorption and to help those in financial need. Thirty percent is used for building maintenance, renovation, and upkeep. The increase in the waiting list is as a result of the rise in the number of aliyah applications and new olim,” he says. “Olim will rent apartments on the open market until the Telfed apartments become available. Olim may live in Telfed subsidised rental housing for up to three years.”
There is an urgent tone to Telfed’s campaign, and it feels like an unprecedented situation. Kline says “all non-profit organisations have felt the impact of the pandemic, and the need for our services has grown. Up until now, we haven’t highlighted the welfare role that Telfed plays. The primary reason for this is because our community is small, and confidentiality is imperative. For decades, we have provided emergency support to those in dire need.
“Telfed received generous funding from the Jewish Agency for many years, but it stopped in the late 1990s, and the need for our services didn’t. We are here to assist olim, but we do need to cover our operating costs. In addition, there is a greater need amongst olim for financial help.”
Kline emphasises that “South Africans should come here because of their love of Israel and not because they are running away. Israel isn’t always an easy place to live. We want South African Jews to move for the right reasons.
“We have a significant number of committees [comprised of dedicated volunteers] and professionals who ensure that we can best assist those who need our assistance and guidance. For more than 70 years, we have had South African trained lawyers, accountants, and businesspeople onboard to ensure good governance and transparency,” Kline says.
“Our next most significant project is constructing a new Telfed subsidised rental housing unit in Tel Aviv. We will build 74 new rental apartments to provide for the dramatic increase in South African aliyah. It is a 100 million shekel (R442.2 million) building project, and we need to raise the funds from generous donors,” Kline says.
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