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Hypocrisy and hope

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At the time of writing, we were counting down the final hours until the election. For the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), polling day marks the culmination of its flagship #MakeUsCount election awareness and education project, with a Board-led multifaith observer team, as on all previous occasions since 2009, assisting the Independent Electoral Commission in monitoring the voting and ensuring that everything is fair and above board. How things transpired on the day will feature in next week’s column.

The weeks leading up to the election were undeniably difficult ones for South African Jewry. Our community in the post-apartheid era has always felt accepted and a welcome component of the greater population, and our participation in the country’s democratic culture was never in question. This time, however, we saw the ruling party on several occasions excluding Jewish community representatives from its pre-election interfaith platforms. As National Director Wendy Kahn pointed out in her recent article, the African National Congress’s tagline, “Let’s do more together”, while designed to give the impression of promoting national unity, hides the reality that for the first time, South African Jewry wasn’t invited to give a prayer at the ANC’s final Siyaquoba election rally, as we had done at every such event since 1994.

Added to this was President Cyril Ramaphosa invoking at the rally the notorious chant “From the river to the sea”, today widely recognised as a call for the annihilation of the state of Israel. It further appears that the president chose to omit from his speech a call for the release of the hostages in Gaza, in spite of the fact that even the International Court of Justice that his own government has frequently approached has again insisted on this in its most recent ruling. In our responses to the media, we stressed that this simply reconfirmed our understanding that the government isn’t looking for a peaceful solution to the conflict, but rather to cause discord among fellow South Africans against the Jewish community.

Regardless of how it’s spun, calls for the eradication of the world’s only Jewish state mean incitement to exterminate its Jewish population. Last week, the SAJBD joined its counterparts around the world in making a submission to Meta, the tech giant behind social media, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence products, explaining why the slogan indeed amounts to a call for genocide. The chanting of this slogan by a head of a government that recurrently tries to express its commitment to a two-state solution is, to say the least, thoroughly hypocritical.

However difficult it is to be confronted by the current government’s stance, far from concluding the situation to be hopeless, the opposite is the case. Foremost in our minds should be that the Freedom Charter’s opening declaration, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”, isn’t just a statement of principle but legal fact. Our status as full, equal citizens of a democratic state continues, and neither the present government nor any other party has the power to change that. As we stand poised on the threshold of a new, and hopefully better, political era, we will, as we have always done, continue to play our part as engaged, connected, and identifying South African citizens and find ways to make it the kind of just, secure, prosperous, and inclusive society that we know it can be, for ourselves and our fellow citizens.

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

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