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Chief calls for government led ‘by highest ideals’



Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein wore a small yellow ribbon on his lapel to address the momentous inauguration on Wednesday, 19 June, of President Cyril Ramaphosa as he ushered in a government of national unity (GNU).

In his prayer, the chief rabbi blessed the government of national unity, and not the president per se, asking for the protection of all decent “law-abiding”, “G-d-fearing” people, encouraging investment, growth of the economy, job creation, and the banishment of unemployment.

He went on to “inspire all members of the GNU to live by the calling to great leadership”, to use their power to be of service and to lead by “the highest of ideals” in order to create a “peaceful and prosperous South Africa”.

Goldstein was one of the interfaith leaders invited to bless the president and the ceremonial event marking Ramaphosa’s second term of office.

It was the first time in many months that the chief rabbi was seen publicly addressing politicians and dignitaries. Jewish representatives weren’t invited to give a prayer at the final election rally of the former ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), as they had been at every event since the dawn of democracy.

There have been months of strained relations between members of the Jewish community and the ANC in the wake of the Hamas massacre of 7 October last year. This, following the ANC’s obsessive anti-Israel stance since the massacre, in which 1 200 were murdered and more than 250 hostages taken by Hamas terrorists into Gaza.

Tensions continued to boil when South Africa took Israel to the International Court of Justice accusing it of genocide. This was followed by keffiyeh-clad ANC leaders, including Ramaphosa, being seen welcoming and embracing several Hamas leaders on different occasions. They were also seen chanting the genocidal “From the river to the sea” cry at public gatherings.

The inauguration was also the first time in months that members of the communal leadership were seen at the same gathering as International Affairs and Co-operation Director Naledi Pandor, who was programme director for the proceedings.

“I proudly wore a yellow ribbon to remind myself and all my fellow citizens, including the president and all who were there today, that no civilised nation can rest until evil is defeated and the hostages are freed,” Goldstein told the SA Jewish Report.

The ribbon contrasted sharply with the keffiyeh worn by the leader of the Muslim Judicial Council during his prayer delivered shortly before the chief rabbi.

Goldstein said he “felt conflicted” about how to respond to an invitation from the GNU to deliver a prayer at the inauguration.

“On the one hand, South Africa’s new government of national unity represents the best prospects for the success of our country: economic development, political stability, poverty alleviation, and the upliftment of more than 60 million South Africans.

“On the other, the GNU includes a president and a ruling party which remain unrepentant antagonists of Israel.”

He questioned whether the community should support the government of national unity, saying, “Should we pray for it? Should we be part of helping it succeed?”

“In answering these questions, we can draw on the example of David Ben Gurion,” the chief rabbi said. “In 1939, the British government released an infamous white paper curtailing Jewish immigration to Israel and effectively abandoning Europe’s Jews to extermination. As war broke out, Ben Gurion faced an impossible dilemma – whether to join the British army and support the government whose reprehensible white paper had left Jews to be slaughtered, or to refuse to join the British army and thereby strengthen Nazi Germany.

“Ben Gurion decided to embrace the contradiction, responding to the dilemma with the famous words, ‘We’ll fight with the British against Hitler as if there were no white paper, and we’ll fight the white paper as if there was no war.’

“Like Ben Gurion,” Goldstein said, “we must embrace the contradiction: supporting the GNU’s efforts to uplift the lives of 60 million South Africans while vocally, vehemently opposing the South African government’s stance on Israel.

“And so, holding all these aspirations in my heart – willing the new government to succeed, while staying loyal to our precious values – I went to the Union Buildings to the presidential inauguration, to pray to G-d to bless the government of national unity with success.”

The rabbi’s prayer had many references to Israel, Zion, and Jerusalem, and included the eternal words that G-d instructed Moses to tell the children of Israel when they were about to cross the Jordan River to enter the promised land more than 3 300 years ago. These were, “I call on heaven and earth to give testimony today that I have placed before you life and death, blessing and curse, and you shall choose life in order that you and your children may live, to love the Lord your G-d, to listen to His voice, and to cleave to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days, to dwell upon the land that G-d has promised to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob to give to them.”

Ramaphosa took the oath of office and was sworn in by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, saying, “I make a solemn commitment to be a president for all South Africans.

“In our brilliant diversity, we gather to affirm our solemn conviction that this country belongs to all who live in it, as articulated in the Freedom Charter almost 70 years ago,” he said.

“We must reject every attempt to divide or distract us, to sow doubt or cynicism, or to turn us against one another. Those who seek to stand in our way, those who seek to inflame tensions, will not succeed, because South Africans are resolute.”

His inauguration heralds a government comprising of the ANC, the Democratic Alliance, the Inkatha Freedom Party, Patriotic Alliance, Pan African Congress, and Good. The collective holds 274 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly or 68% of the seats.

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  1. Choni Davidowitz

    June 20, 2024 at 12:30 pm

    Hypocricy! We rightfully stopped prayer(in Shuls)for the government because of it’s obsessive hate of Israel. Rabbi Goldstein, What has changed?

  2. Choni

    June 20, 2024 at 6:48 pm

    No prayers for government until there is exchange of Ambassadors.

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