Don’t let BDS set the agenda, says Freeman
Yvonne Jawitz, immediate past president of WIZO SA, with Michael Freeman Israel’s deputy ambassador to South Africa.
The South African Jewish media gives too much attention and publicity to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS-SA) movement which has urged the imposition of sanctions on Israel, said Israel Deputy Ambassador to South Africa Michael Freeman.
“We let them set the agenda”, said Freeman, speaking at the WIZO Monthly Forum on Tuesday at Beyachad, on “Unlocking the Boycott: Is Israel on the Road to Isolation?”
“I don’t like talking on this topic,” Freeman said, “because I really believe we are giving fuel to BDS.”
He noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently said he did not support BDS and that Israel was the PA’s partner. “In that case, who is BDS speaking for?” Freeman asked.
And if BDS was so concerned about Palestinian rights, why had it not uttered a word about the 20 000 Palestinians murdered in Syria?
He also outlined BDS’ inherent anti-Semitism, including the notorious singing of “Shoot the Jew”, their contention that anti-Semitism was “overstated and not a major issue”, and the call for expulsion of all Jews from the Durban University of Technology (and retraction the next day, saying they meant “all Zionists”).
He pointed out that Zionism and a love for Israel is a fundamental tenet of Judaism, found in prayer, festivals and in religious rituals from weddings to bensching.
Freeman pointed to the backlash over the 16 black South African student leaders who recently visited Israel, and how BDS tried to pay them R40 000 each not to fly to Israel (a claim BDS denies).
“Their biggest nightmare is that activists would want to go to Israel and see for themselves,” he said. “They saw how BDS had been lying to them. Calling Israel an apartheid state is an insult to the real anti-apartheid struggle.”
He also strongly denied any cultural boycott of Israel by South Africa. On the contrary, the Israeli Embassy can barely cope with all the requests for Israeli artists, authors and entertainers to appear at the many South African festivals, including Oppikoppi and Joy of Jazz, he said.
Israel-South Africa trade grew seven per cent last year to over a billion dollars and tourism figures are up. “Although they are great at PR and the media, and have a huge budget, BDS is just not having a significant effect on the ground. We are not seeing any serious impact,” Freeman said.
“BDS thrives on publicity, and we keep giving it to them, especially in the Jewish media! Why give them the space?” he asked. “I am not saying ignore them, but put them on the back foot.
“Yes, they stopped a small recital by pianist Yossi Reshef, but Wits then promoted a concert by the Daniel Zamir Quartet that filled the Great Hall! Who’s really winning?
“My message is: Don’t let BDS set the agenda – they don’t get to decide who we are. We have so many great stories to tell about Israel and its creativity. The more we set the agenda, the more they get alienated, and are exposed as radical, anti-Semitic extremists.”
Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi
More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.
Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.
Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.
UJW Sewing School graduates model creations
The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.
They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.
UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.
The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.
Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke
The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.
Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.
The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.
“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.
Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.
Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.
“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).
Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”
Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.
“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”
Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.
“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.
The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”
Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.
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