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Voices

Fighting fires after the ceasefire

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Together with the rest of the Jewish world, we welcomed with relief the cessation last Friday, 21 May, of the latest deadly round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The conflict lasted 11 days, and resulted in the heaviest bombardment of Israeli cities since 2014, but fortunately it didn’t necessitate a full ground invasion of Gaza. At the time of writing, the ceasefire appears to be holding.

Diaspora Jewry has learned to brace itself for retaliatory attacks whenever there is a major eruption of violence on the Middle East front. Indeed, over this past fortnight, there have been a rash of incidents around the world, many of them involving serious acts of violence and/or vandalism.

Openly targeting Jews outside Israel, even when (as was the case here) there can be no doubt as to who was guilty of actually instigating the conflict, has become the modus operandi of radical Islamist groups and their ideological fellow travellers everywhere. As shown by a sharp spike in antisemitic incidents over the past several days, South Africa hasn’t been unaffected by these dangerous trends. However, in terms of both numbers and gravity, the impact of these attacks on our community has, fortunately, been less serious than that experienced by our counterparts in North America and Western Europe.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is in the process of following up on the incidents reported to it. In addition to considering how best to bring perpetrators to book, this has involved providing support for community members who have experienced abuse in various settings, including in non-Jewish schools, universities, and in the business environment. Working with our international partners, we have also assisted in addressing the multiple instances of online hate that is especially prevalent at times like this.

On the political front, the Board has engaged with political leadership and diplomats at the highest level to address issues that have arisen, as well as consulting and liaising with our global counterparts. We have also devoted much effort to making a difference in the media arena, ensuring that while still grossly biased, the coverage of events hasn’t been all one-way traffic. I commend those members of the Board and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), both lay and professional, who have come forward to present Israel’s case in spite of the profoundly hostile environment in which they have to operate.

We also continue to engage on a political level, challenging the gross one-sided statements that have been issued in the past weeks.

In response to a protest march against Beyachad on Sunday, the Board, SAZF, and Community Security Organisation (CSO) organised a counter-demonstration at the same venue. While necessarily limited in size because of COVID-19 concerns, this gathering provided an important opportunity for Israel supporters from within and without the community. We will continue to do everything we can to protect our community and ensure that our right to identify with and support Israel continues to be upheld in spite of the efforts of those seeking to intimidate, silence, and sideline anyone who opposes their radical anti-Israel ideology and in so doing, shamelessly flout the fundamental democratic principles upon which our society is based.

We request that community members continue to appraise us of any incidents they experience or otherwise become aware of by emailing the SAJBD on sajbd@sajbd.org or by contacting the CSO control room on 086 18 000 18 or by WhatsApp 066 101 8360.

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

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