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Voices

Babyn Yar bombing has particular resonance

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Over the past week, we have all watched in dismay and horror at the events unfolding in Ukraine. The destruction, suffering, and loss of life has been heart-breaking. While loss of life is by far the greatest tragedy of this invasion, the bombing of Babyn Yar has particular resonance for Jews. This is sacred ground. Babyn Yar was the site of one of the largest mass shootings during the Holocaust, and the desecration of these mass graves serve to remind the world once again that we have to heed the lessons of the past.

It remains to be seen whether the international community will be able to respond effectively to this crisis. What we can say at this stage is that our own country is unlikely to contribute anything useful to the process. The African National Congress and its alliance partners are planning a march to Pretoria on Thursday 3 March – not to seek peace as Europe burns, but to the Israeli embassy. This obsessive focus on Israel at the expense of so much else is concerning for all South Africans.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has communicated with the Jewish community in Ukraine to express our community’s support at this difficult time. Those wishing to assist can make a donation to the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which is providing humanitarian relief on the ground. We have worked with the JDC for many years, and can attest to its experience and effectiveness in dealing with these types of crises. For details, see our Facebook page.

Chapter closed with Masuku apology

It took an investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission, three major court cases, and innumerable meetings and communication between the parties, but this week, Bongani Masuku and the Congress of South African Trade Unions finally provided an unequivocal apology to the Jewish community for antisemitic hate speech by Masuku more than a decade ago. The relevant part of their letter reads, “Mr Masuku and Cosatu hereby tender their unconditional apology to the Jewish community, and regret the harm caused.” In our statement, we confirmed that we were satisfied with and accepted the apology, and expressed the hope that henceforth, our two organisations, even when we disagreed, would engage with one other in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect. Indeed, this is all that we ask when it comes to how we interact with our fellow South Africans and they with us.

The global Jewish stage

While all eyes were on the growing crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, National Director Wendy Kahn was attending the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations mission in Israel. The programme included meetings with the prime minister, president, and senior cabinet ministers. Among the topics discussed were global Jewish security, the Iranian threat, and the Abraham Accords. It was the first opportunity post-COVID-19 to re-engage in person with such organisations as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, World Jewish Congress, and many more. The sound working relationships we have with global Jewry have been invaluable to us in terms of fulfilling our core mandate, while also enabling our community to play a meaningful part in furthering the Jewish cause on the international stage. At this very worrying and uncertain time, these relationships have never been more important.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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