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Good relations, with an Achilles’ heel



We have our national president on our front page today. It’s wonderful to read that President Cyril Ramaphosa and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies sat down for a real heart to heart.

It means a lot to us because it means he recognises that we’re relevant in the scheme of things – integral to this country.

The fact that he has taken time to meet our people is important. This is reason enough to have pride of place in our newspaper and give us confidence in our position in our country.

We shouldn’t really need acknowledgement from Ramaphosa to know our place in a country in which we all participate fully. Just because we’re part of the Jewish community doesn’t make us any less South African. It doesn’t make us any less a part of the people of this country.

However, we have a history that defies this logic, and so Jewish people need the recognition to feel just that bit safer.

It doesn’t take a stretch of our imagination to recall how many Jewish people in Germany pooh-poohed the impending Holocaust, saying they may be Jewish, but they were German first. I don’t need to push this point. It’s part of our historic makeup, and hence our fears.

Having said that, the truth is that South African Jewry are a pretty stable bunch. We don’t have the kind of antisemitism that’s being experienced in Europe and even in the United States. Just this week, the Anti-Defamation League announced that there were a record number of 2 717 antisemitic attacks in the United States in 2021, a 34% increase on the year before.

We in South Africa have a lot to be grateful for, and we show our gratitude all the time by what we do in this country.

I have to say, I wasn’t surprised when our community – even those who have been sorely impacted in KwaZulu-Natal – went all out to help those suffering as a result of the floods (page 3). Nobody stopped to think or wait for someone to ask, they just did what needed to be done. Whether it was rebuilding, feeding, or sending money or water, they got on with rebuilding people’s lives.

I can assure anyone who may feel the need to question it that this isn’t done to prove anything to anyone, just to help those in need.

So, whether or not Ramaphosa recognises it is irrelevant to them and us. It certainly shouldn’t make a difference to our relationship with the government or those in authority in the country.

However, there’s an Achilles’ heel in our relationship with the government – Israel.

We cannot seem to agree on this, no matter what. Can I say – and I’m sure the government would disagree – that this is a warped blind spot on its part?

This weekend, while the war in Ukraine continues, about 2 500 lives have been lost, and the government still has a lame response to it (at best), the South African government – or the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) – once again lambasted Israel.

Yes, we’re aware that this is pressure-cooker time in Israel because it has been Easter, Ramadan, and Pesach – all very important religious holidays for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. This time is specifically important for all in Jerusalem, the heart of all these festivals. It’s not something we can escape or avoid. This was always going to be a potential of a tinder box.

Having said that, am I wrong in thinking it has been fairly peaceful, considering? Yes, I know peaceful means no violence and that isn’t the case. However, there have been no murders, no people being maimed, and so on. Yes, Jewish people have been prevented from going to the Temple Mount. Yes, the numbers of Christians participating in the Holy Fire Ceremony on Saturday, 23 April, were limited and police did use force to prevent violence. And yes, Israeli police did respond to stone throwing and other violence with rubber bullets and teargas on Temple Mount. Yes, there were people injured. Israel took every precaution and may have been heavy handed, but in the light of 14 citizens murdered in terrorist attacks in the past few weeks, what choice did Israel have?

Having said that, what has occurred in the past week appears to be better than most years.

However, while the South African government hasn’t felt that Russia has been heavy handed in killing thousands, it believes what’s happening in Jerusalem is important enough to condemn Israel again.

In Dirco’s media statement on 24 April, it said, “South Africa is appalled by the increased violence and heightened tensions in Jerusalem, particularly at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the restrictions placed on religious sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

“We strongly condemn the attacks against Palestinians, especially at a time of religious importance for all faiths in the region.”

And then, “We appeal to the government of Israel to allow Palestinians their right to worship and gather for prayers in peace. We reaffirm that the holy sites in Jerusalem and the status quo around these sites must be respected.”

It went on in the same vein. Now, when I read this, I wondered whether perhaps it was dated wrong and was from May last year when there was a real problem between Israel and Gaza.

As you can imagine in my job, I keep an eye on Middle East news, but I went online to see all the news channels to check if I had missed something. I hadn’t.

When 14 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks recently, the South African government neglected to mention it. Nobody was lambasted. Nobody was censured for out-and-out murder.

But now, it finds something to condemn Israel for even when it hasn’t really done anything. It seems to be that any reason to condemn Israel even when there isn’t a reason is reason enough.

And then when other countries commit atrocities, like those committed by Russia in Ukraine, instead of standing up about it, our government seems to prefer to lambast Israel.

If it wasn’t so upsetting and outrageous, it would be laughable.

I just wonder what it’s going to take to pull the wool from our government’s eyes in terms of what’s happening in the Middle East. Or will it continue to get its information (or misinformation as it happens to be) from the anti-Israel lobby?

While I wish you all a wonderful Freedom Day and relaxing Workers Day, I do hope this gives our government the time off to look into the truth of this tiny country in the Middle East.

Shabbat Shalom!

Peta Krost


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