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Hell’s Kitchen

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The loss of innocent lives has been especially heartbreaking during the seemingly endless war against Hamas in Gaza, and the deaths of the World Central Kitchen volunteers this week was unbearably painful and tragic. Providing humanitarian aid in a war zone is an enormously brave and critically important function. We also remember how in addition to helping Palestinian civilians caught up in combat areas, these people provided meals to the hundreds of thousands of Israelis vulnerable and displaced by the conflict. My deepest condolences go to their families and loved ones on their terrible loss. The hostages must be returned now to bring an end to this war and prevent further such tragedies.

Regardless of which side they may be on, the death of innocents in wartime is something that all humane people deeply regret. The perennial challenge of the civilised world is to do everything possible to prevent such conflicts from occurring in the first place, and failing that, to at least minimise as much as possible the harm to which non-combatants are exposed to. What we have seen, however, is that all too often, such tragedies have instead been consistently exploited in order to engage in atrocity mongering against Israel and its supporters around the world. Instead of seeking peaceful solutions aimed at ending the suffering they purport to deplore, such lobbies look to extract maximum political capital out of it for the purposes of demonising, defaming, and isolating the Jewish state.

The media is one of the main battlegrounds in which these issues are being continually fought over. Over the past nearly six months, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, working closely with our colleagues from the South African Zionist Federation and others, has been almost continually in the trenches responding to the myriad distorted and unbalanced attacks on Israel that have all but saturated mainstream and social media. However toxic the environment, it’s a challenge that we have no intention of backing away from. This is especially true when, as is very often the case, anti-Israel rhetoric crosses over into out-and-out antisemitism.

Since 7 October, the Board has, among other things, given hundreds of interviews; published scores of opinion pieces; issued dozens of statements; and strenuously engaged with editors, journalists, and other opinion makers to ensure that our community’s voice is heard. Most recently, Communications Head Charisse Zeifert led a fact-finding visit to Israel by a group of local journalists. Charisse has successfully headed up many such visits over the years, but never before under such exceptionally difficult circumstances. Participants were taken on guided trips to the war-ravaged south of Israel, and up north to the Lebanese border to learn at first hand what’s happening on the ground.

Our responses have not, of course, been limited to the media. Sometimes, it has been necessary to react to specific attacks against our community that truly cross the line. One such incident occurred earlier this week, when as part of what purported to be an “art project”, a student at the University of Cape Town defaced a Holocaust memorial plaque, scratching out the words “Auschwitz-Birkenau” and writing the word “Israel” on top of “Nazis”. The Board worked with the South African Union of Jewish Students in issuing an appropriate response to this outrage, which by invoking the atrocities of the Holocaust in this context went beyond simply falsifying history for ideological purposes to a deliberate attempt to cause maximum hurt and offence to Jewish people. We continue to follow up with the university to ascertain what took place, and why it was allowed to happen.

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

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