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Diversity in their support of Israel




Attendance at the annual South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) conference has grown from a small group of 50 in 2011, to over 1 000 people at the separate venues in Johannesburg, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal.

The hall in Braamfontein in Johannesburg on Sunday, was filled with leaders who had travelled from all over the country and continent to hear more and further educate themselves on how to lead the fight against the delegitimisation of Israel. It was also about learning how to “tap in” and connect to the Holy Land.

Ben Swartz, SAFI founder and national chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, opened the 5th Annual Conference with a strong message about using this platform to learn, and then to take action.

“Friends are not silent. Silence is complicity,” he emphasised. SAFI is an initiative of the SA Zionist Federation and its mission is to change attitudes towards Israel and Jews everywhere by opposing dishonest and hate-filled opinions.

Bishop Timothy Cholu, who led a delegation from Zambia, said: “We want to show Zambian solidarity as part of the South African Friends of Israel and as part of the wide African continent movements in support of Israel.”

Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk, reiterated that the link between Israel and the world was getting stronger. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently visited African countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. “We are gaining friends in numbers,” Lenk said.

The conference schedule was filled with renowned speakers and panellists, addressing a variety of topics, including the UN attitude towards Israel, the ability for South Africa to benefit from relationships with Israel and understanding the power of local media with regard to spreading the truth about Israel and rejecting fake news.

Dr Alexander Chisango, the keynote speaker from Zimbabwe, addressed the topic of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and the status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. 

“People call to wipe Israel off the map, but if you remove Israel from the world map, you have removed the Bible. We cannot stand apart from the Jews on this issue because this is an attack on Christianity as well,” he said to loud and sustained standing applause.

The crowd was wowed by a musical performance by Dr Tumi, famous South African gospel star, getting the crowd ready for the next keynote address from Chloe Valdary. At just 23, Valdary delivered a riveting speech on Zionism and the Jewish liberation movement in the context of Israel and the Jewish homeland. Her work in the advocacy field is focused on creating digital content to reach out and connect with millennials.

The afternoon panel discussion focused on media and news and was facilitated by author and radio presenter Howard Feldman. Craig Dershowitz, manager of the organisation Artists4Israel, explained how the landscape for advocacy should not be focused on the 10 per cent anti-Israel supporters, but rather on engaging the 80 per cent of people who are indifferent.

His organisation works with more than 100 internationally renowned graffiti and tattoo artists, reaching millions of followers on social media.

“Social media has given the average person a platform to create news,” Howard Sackstein, chairman of the board of the SA Jewish Report, said. He explained how this has both a positive and negative effect on the way this generation takes in information.

The last speaker was a Moses Mayo, editor of the Inner City Gazette. He said “the truth about Israel will not be told by the mainstream media and needs to happen at grassroots level with local communities getting involved”.

As the conference drew to a close, it was clear that the enthusiasm of the delegates to “go out there and take action” was in abundance. One of the delegates, from a community in Polokwane, said that he has plans to start showing his community videos on Israeli agricultural technology and he was hoping to visit Israel himself this year to commemorate 50 years of the re-unification of Jerusalem. 

At the highly successful conference, the positive engagement across the different attending communities continued to pour in, sharing their gratitude, thanks and support for both South Africa and Israel.

National Director of the SAZF, Nicci Raz, said: “We are thrilled and humbled by the support and growth of SAFI. We feel that the success of SAFI is vital to our community’s safety and support. We have already seen a huge surge in positive action across Africa.”

This conference, which is hosted nationwide, allows for seeds to be planted, relationships to be built and action to be taken.

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