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Israel is the world’s “Innovation Nation”

Addressing the WEF last month, Israeli PM Netanyahu chose to characterize Israel as “The Innovation Nation.” What is behind Israel’s prosperity, asked Bibi. “The ability to add that value through innovation. And the question is: why is it? What is it that we have, aside from good macro-economic policies, aside from market reforms, what is it that makes Israel this nexus of high technology?

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ANT KATZ

The following is the speech given by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the World Economic Forum at Davos:

“Many of you have been to Israel or are already in Israel. I don’t mean as tourists, but as investors, and if you’re not, I hope that by the end of my talk, you will be. Israel is often called the Start-Up Nation. I call it the Innovation Nation. The future belongs to those who innovate. Those who don’t innovate, whether in companies or in countries, will fall behind. Innovation is the only way to consistently add value to your products and services in an increasingly competitive global economy.

 “And Israel is a global centre for innovation, and by that I mean two things. It’s a centre not only for science and technology, but for the indispensable ingredient of entrepreneurship. It’s the man or woman who has an idea sometimes a child almost, young men and women who have an idea. And that idea takes science and technology and turns it into a workable plan that can actually profit and grow. So Israel is the epicentre of world innovation right now.

“But before I tell you about it, I have to briefly digress because you mentioned the fact that I was here in ’97. I digress on something that you cannot innovate on. You must have an economy that follows the rules of economic gravity. They are no different in Israel or in Nepal or in Columbia or anywhere else. And unless you keep to fundamental rules, the platform that you seek to have to have all these thousands of start-up companies take off. They won’t take off they’ll crash and sink with your economy.

Not easy to maintain a sound macro-economic policy

“So to have an economy that is run soundly, you have to observe certain principles. The first one is very simple, but I say that to those of you who are in the audience who run states. The most important rule, number one is: don’t spend over time more than you bring in. You can’t afford it. And the second is, of course to maintain a sound macro-economic policy. I say that because we have done it in Israel and we are doing it now. To do that is not easy.

Davos - Netanyahu1“A short time after I was here, in 2003, I became the Finance Minister. The economy was shrinking. Inflation was growing at 7 percent a year. Our unemployment was at 11 percent. One of our major banks was in danger of collapse. It would have taken our entire banking system with it, and you know what that does. We’ve already learned what that does. So, when I took over as Finance Minister, I sought to give an explanation to the Israeli public of what it is that we have to do. And what we had to do then was what we have to do and are continuing to do now.”

RIGHT: BIBI ON THE
PODIUM AT DAVOS

“I described my first day in the Israeli army, in the paratroopers. The commander put us all in line and he said, “Now, you’re going to take special race,” and he pointed to me, the first man on the line. He said, “Look to the man on your right and put him on your shoulders”. I did.

“He was a pretty big guy, about my size. The next guy, he said, was the smallest man in the platoon. He said, “Put the guy to your right on your shoulders”. And he got the biggest guy in the platoon. And the third soldier, who was a big guy, received a small person; and so on. And then the commander blew the whistle and I could barely take a few steps. The little guy who was carrying the biggest guy in the platoon collapsed. And the third guy shot forward like a rocket and took the race.

“I said in the international economy I said then, I say now in the global economy, all national economies are pairs of a public sector sitting on the shoulders of a private sector, who has to carry the race,” said Bibi.

Israel’s has the ability to add value through innovation

“In our case, ten years ago in Israel, the guy at the top, the fat guy, the fat man became too fat and we had to put him on a diet. Hard to do; we had to cut government spending. We had to give a lot of oxygen to the thin man at the bottom, which meant cutting taxes; and we did. And then we had to remove all the barriers to the competition, ditch a fence, a wall, so that the thin man could run forward and compete. What we did then, we must do now; and we are. We just passed a bill in the government to fight cartels and monopolies, and I think that this is most interesting, the most important condition. It’s a prerequisite for innovation, requiring no innovation, but requiring a lot of political will and a lot of clarity. So conceptually, it’s very easy to do. Politically it’s very difficult, but necessary.

“And since then, we’ve grown at roughly 4.6 percent a year with the decade that has followed. We’ve brought down our debt to GDP ratio from over 100 percent to about 67 percent, where it is now. We’ve brought down our inflation and we’ve brought down our unemployment. It’s now about six percent. So we have that macro-economic platform, and any of you thinking of coming to Israel, you’re coming to a well-managed country.

“We have our problems, as does everyone, but we manage it.

“Now, innovation: It’s not enough to have some macro-economic policy. You know, nobody ever got rich by balancing their cheque books. You just avoid bankruptcy. But it doesn’t make you prosperous. What I’ve just described doesn’t make you rich.

“But Israel is becoming prosperous because of something else, and that is the ability to add that value through innovation. And the question is: why is it? What is it that we have, aside from good macro-economic policies, aside from market reforms, what is it that makes Israel this nexus of high technology? Because we have, as I said, thousands of start-up companies. And people have tried to crack the code of Israel. You have endless delegations coming to us from many countries and they are trying to figure out: can we do what you do?

“We don’t mind we try to share with everyone, as I’m trying to do here. But I want to tell you why I think it would be very useful for you and us to make partnerships. There is something special that we have in Israel. Everybody has their own specialization. Everybody has their own advantages. Here’s our advantage: the concentration of exceptionally gifted hi-tech start-up companies in Israel, I believe is a function of five things.

“Always treasured education and knowledge”

“First, a curse that has been turned into a blessing: our defence needs. We have had to have a very robust defence, so we take the best and the brightest of our young people in the military, and we put them in our various operations and then three years later, they come out. This is a perpetual machine that produces knowledge workers and knowledge entrepreneurs who are very, very gifted. This is reason number one, and I think that this produces a human resource that is unique.

“The second is research. We have excellent research institutions and universities. You know some of them of course, the Technion, the Weizmann Institute and our other exceptional universities. They produce an inordinate share of Nobel Prize winners for Israel and I think that tells you a lot of what it is. We also spend 5% of our GDP on R&D. I think it’s the a bit less than 5%, but it’s still the highest number of any country. Third, I think there’s a special culture.

“The Jewish people have always treasured education and knowledge. In ancient times we were effectively the only literate people that I know of, because every father teach his son, not his daughter but his son how to read the Bible. And that brought us through the Middle Ages and into modern time with literary capacity. That was unusual. When the walls of the ghetto broke down with the French Revolution, that discipline burst out into many, many areas: into physics and mathematics, into chemistry and so on.

“There was a culture there. So, from the Talmud to Einstein, the Jewish people were always asking questions, truth was never finite. It never ended. There was an iterative process from Jewish communities around the world trying to find out what is the right thing, what is the true thing? And that questioning mind, I think, is something that is in our culture and I think adds very much to our capacities.”

“We had to innovate to survive”

The fourth, said Bibi, is size: “We’re very small. I mean, really small, like the size of New Jersey or Wales. And so everything is close by and everyone is close to everyone else. Everybody competes with each other and collaborates with each other. There is an ongoing vibrant cross fertilization. So technology that is used for missiles can be put in a camera in a pill that goes into a digestive system to find out how healthy you are and where you are not healthy. The technology that is used to track data flow is used to track water flows and so on.

“And the fifth reason I think is because we have no choice. I don’t think any people in the world has been given the situation of the Jewish people, and to survive, we had to innovate. We didn’t have abundant natural resources. We were outnumbered; we were facing constant threats. Our neighbours even imposed upon us an economic boycott.

“Some world powers imposed upon us a weapons boycott. We had to innovate to survive. The birth of modern Israel, remember, was an innovation. The rebirth of the Hebrew language was an innovation. The rebirth of agriculture in our land, something we hadn’t done for 2,000 years, was an innovation. It changed our capacities in a very, very short time and we became a key player in the world community.

“This penchant of these five factors that converged together has created a unique situation where is this innovation nation, and we produce more conceptual products per-capita than any other country on Earth. I think most of you, possibly all of you, know this. So the question is: what can Israel give you?

Out of the box insights that give the competitive edge

“I think in a nutshell, we can be your science and technology incubator. And I think for all of you, for any business and for any country, the ability to create, to have R&D centres or R&D investments or product development investments that allow you to seize the future, to be constantly on the cutting edge is a competitive requirement for all of us. I think that low tech is disappearing. Hi-tech seeps into every crack, into every corner, changing the face of our world.

“I’ve just come from an illuminating luncheon with some of the leading IT executives and companies in the world, and it’s very clear that there is an abundant opportunity here, tremendous opportunity the internet of things and the internet of everything. Everything is moving very, very rapidly. Everything is becoming digital. And Israel is active in just about every field, just about every field. I can’t say every field, but in just about every field that I heard discussed in Davos and that I hear that you are discussing, Israel is there.

“I recently met the head of an international company that has R&D operations around the world. His company presented a problem to all their offices. He said to me that only in Israel was he told that he wasn’t asking the right question. By the way, I get that every five minutes as Prime Minister, but these are very valuable insights. These are out of the box insights that make the difference; they give you the competitive edge.

“So I think that for countries and companies alike, the ability to come and partake in this Israeli incubator in your specific field is something that will enhance your competitive advantage. I have no doubt about that, and many of you, as I said, are doing it, and as I learn from talking to you yesterday and today, you’re thinking of expanding it and competing for those minds and those talents.

“We’re digitizing Israel”

“But there are two areas that I want to draw your attention to in the vast scheme of things this is changing and it’s changing beyond belief everywhere in health, in science and technology. We’re digitizing Israel we’re doing a Digital Israel, running fast fibre throughout the country, and we can see the possibilities are endless, both in healthcare and in delivering classes and delivering quality of life that is unheard of, in closing social gaps between those who have and have not. Everybody must have. Everybody must have the ability to be there and we’re talking about, for example, the Arab youth of Israel or the Orthodox getting them to this new world I think is important. It closes the gaps and it could happen as well in our region as a whole. But there are two areas that are specifically addressed in Israel that I draw your attention to.

Davos - Israeli and Iranian planes HOME

World media went wild at this pic on the Davos runway. Read: ISRAEL, IRAN GET TAILS TOGETHER AT DAVOS

“The first is sustainability, sustainable development and Israel leads in questions water, food, renewable energy and many others. I’ll give you an example on water. We need water and there’s not enough water in the world, or it’s not distributed in the right way and sometimes even if it’s there, it’s not clean. Our population has increased tenfold and our rainfall is half of what it was when Israel was founded. But we don’t have a water problem.

“Why? Because we lead the world in re-using water. We’re the number one recycler of water, a little less than 80%. The next country is 25%. Whose cows produce the most milk? Don’t guess: it’s Israel. It’s a computerized cow. Every “moo” is computerized and we increased the productivity. And this is something that can be available to populations across the world. We do make it available. In food, in dairy products, in water, in energy when you think about sustainability, think Israel.

“And there’s another area that I specifically talked about an hour ago, which I think is important. All the limitless possibilities that you see on the internet are being challenged by one thing and that is the question of cyber security, or if you will, cyber insecurity and the question of the invasion of our privacy. Is the age of privacy over? The major engine of global economic growth is the internet. The internet has to be protected. You would not leave your bank account open or money on the table or your door open, but effectively unless we have that protection, everybody is exposed. There are no rules of the game and we enter chaos. So Israel leads in the question cyber protection without which the internet economy cannot move forward.

“We believe that the hundreds of companies that have been established in Israel in the last few years hundreds in cyber security can be your partners. We know that the major cyber firms are already in Israel and they are discovering how true that is, but I think that every country and every company today has a vested interest to have the protection of privacy and cyber security. These are not always identical. There’s often conflict between the two, but it is something that we in Israel think that we can contribute to. I think that you should also know that we are making, as a government a massive investment in this area. We intend to be in the top three I think we are in the top three in the question of cyber security and cyber protection. We believe that we should safeguard the individual. We think that individuals around the world, millions and millions of people, billions of people, should know that their accounts are inviolable, that their money is safe, that their privacy is assured. This is the world you want to see and Israel can help make that world a realization.

“Come in and join us”

“So I encourage you to come in and join us with this, and I think this will be good not only for you and not only for us, but also for peace. The investment in the growth of the Israeli economy is good for our society and it’s also good for our neighbours, whether they realize it or not. I believe that in the peace negotiations, advancing the economic peace alongside the political peace one does not replace the other, but it could facilitate the other. I think this is a tremendous contribution to peace. I think it’s a way to also close gaps within Israel and between Israel and its neighbours. That may not be evident yet between us and our neighbours, but I think it will be evident in the future.

Davos - Netanyahu HOME“So I think this is an investment in peace, an investment in the economic peace assists the development of political peace. It could be of great benefit to all our neighbours, but especially to the Palestinians because we’ve had some beginnings of cooperation, including in the hi-tech field, between Israeli entrepreneurs and Palestinian entrepreneurs. I believe it could also be a force that would move the entire region forward, but of course the region, as you know, has other problems which we will discuss. Israel has so much to offer the Middle East, to correct a great misperception. Israel is not what’s wrong with the Middle East; Israel is what’s right in the Middle East, and I think our relationship with our neighbours doesn’t have to be a zero sum game; there could be great gain for all.

“So my message to you is very simple: the future belongs to those who innovate. Israel is a great seller of innovation. This is an invitation to the innovation nation. Israel is open for business; it’s open for your business. Please come and join us! Thank you.

Related read on sajr.co.za:
ISRAEL & IRAN GET TAILS TOGETHER AT DAVOS

 

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“Let my people in” – chief rabbi takes on travel ban

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South Africa’s chief rabbi, Dr Warren Goldstein, has taken on the Israeli government over its sudden blanket travel ban in light of the new variant discovered by South African scientists.

He has been interviewed in Hebrew across multiple national radio stations, TV stations, print media, and online media in Israel.

In a plea to Israeli leaders, he said that shutting the door on world Jewry was a mistake for a number of reasons.

Many South African Jews were turned back in transit between 25 and 26 November, and others are desperately trying to get there because of important family commitments. But the chief rabbi emphasises that “Israel is home to all Jews, especially in times of crisis, and a total closure signals a separation between Israeli and diaspora Jews. The new variant doesn’t distinguish between Jews who have Israeli citizenship and other Jews.”

To him, there are two issues at stake. “The first is the relationship between Israel and the South African Jewish community. Our relationship with Israel is very much part of our value system, and we are a very Zionist community. This is expressed in many different ways, for example, our aliyah numbers, which proportionately are really strong. It’s also expressed in the high percentage of our community who have visited Israel, the fact that so many of our youth study in Israel, and especially in how so many of us have family in Israel. The connection goes very deep.”

To be blocked from entering Israel is therefore “a real blow to the South African Jewish community – spiritually and emotionally”. This latest blanket ban comes after almost two years of very intermittent access to Israel, and the new extreme levels of restriction were a tipping point for him.

“I felt I needed to make my voice heard in Israeli society. This is why I went to the Hebrew media, so that this plea would be heard by society and decision makers. I wanted to send a message on behalf of our whole community.”

He says he has seen the pain of these restrictions reflected in many ways. For example, specific incidents, like a father not being able to attend his son’s Barmitzvah, and a general sense of loss and distance.

The other reason he has spoken out is “for the sake of Israel itself, and for all Jews. Is Israel an ordinary state, or a Jewish state?” he asks rhetorically. “This is a direct plea to the Israeli government and goes to the heart of Israel’s identity. Israel is the only Jewish state, and we are deeply connected to it. In light of that unbreakable bond, if the state says some Jews can’t enter, it’s drawing a divide between the state of Israel and communities across the diaspora. That partnership between diaspora Jewry and the state of Israel is crucial, and if you break that bond, it will hurt Israel and world Jewry.”

He isn’t asking Israel to jeopardise the health of its citizens. Rather, he’s asking that the same criteria be applied to Israeli citizens returning to Israel and Jews needing to visit. Israeli citizens who want to return are allowed to do so if they are fully vaccinated, do a PCR test, and go into quarantine.

“If you combine these three strict requirements, the Israeli authorities have deemed that the risk becomes negligible. If they are good enough for Israeli citizens, any Jew in the world should be allowed to enter on the same basis.”

Goldstein is speaking up now in particular because “vaccines have completely transformed the risk profile. We can see this in the current wave in South Africa.” He has written about it before, but not as extensively as now. “I’ve learnt that one needs to use multiple platforms and address Israeli society directly.”

He says the message has found “tremendous resonance with journalists. I haven’t spoken to one Israeli interviewer who wasn’t sympathetic. They have challenged me, and I have clarified that I’m not asking for more than what’s granted to Israeli citizens. There has been a lot of support and interest.”

He says the incident in which South African Jews were forced away from Israel on Friday 26 November and made to fly on Shabbat was “an absolute disgrace and totally unacceptable for any state, but for a Jewish state, was unthinkable and beyond the pale. This is especially considering the circumstances of two of these Jews going to comfort the Kay family, whose son gave his life for the state of Israel. At the very least, the Israeli government must apologise for this conduct and promise its citizens and Jews around the world that such a thing will never happen again.”

Finally, he says “vaccination is everything. It’s a blessing. Thank G-d for it. Take it with both hands: it is a big mitzvah to protect yourself and others.”

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World mourns Eli Kay, son of SA Jewry

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At the beginning of November, the Kay family celebrated the happiest of simchas in Israel – the wedding of Avi and Devorah Kay’s eldest son. Three weeks later, they again gathered in the Jewish homeland, but this time for the darkest of tragedies: the funeral of the Kays’ second eldest son, Eliyahu (Eli), who was murdered by a Hamas terrorist in Jerusalem on Sunday, 21 November 2021.

A South African oleh who was building a beautiful life in Israel, 25-year-old Kay was shot dead by a Palestinian gunman in Old City, near the Kotel. Four others were hurt. Horrific images of blood being washed from the Jerusalem stones were seen online after the attack.

The Jewish world is now mourning the senseless loss of a soul who embodied the best of the South African Jewish community and its commitment to Judaism and Israel. Indeed, that deep love of his faith, history, and identity was what brought Kay to the Kotel on Sunday. He was living his purpose but was killed for being a Jew.

An ardent Zionist, he made aliyah from South Africa without his family in 2016. His parents and siblings later joined him, with his parents leaving South Africa last December amidst tough COVID-19 restrictions. They settled in Modi’in. Avi’s parents, Cliffy and Jessie, remain in Johannesburg, while Devorah’s parents Rabbi Shlomo and Rebbetzin Lynndy Levin of South Hampstead Synagogue, live in London. The tragedy of grandparents burying a grandchild is unfathomable.

The family are pillars of the Johannesburg Jewish community, and played a vital role in building Torah Academy over generations. Both parents, as well as their four children, were alumni of the school. In its statement, the school pointed out that Kay was killed while holding his tefillin and a Likutei Sichos [The ‘Collected Talks’ containing the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe] – devoted until the very end to his Judaism.

He accomplished much in his short life. After arriving in Israel, he studied at a Chabad yeshiva in Kiryat Gat in the south of Israel, and then enlisted in the army. “He was a squad commander in the paratroopers, which is a big deal for a lone soldier in my view,” says Ron Feingold, who served with him. “He volunteered for the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and then excelled enough to lead people in it. I will never forget our conversations about the duty that we felt to our people.”

After completing his military service, he volunteered at the Nirim kibbutz for a year in the Eshkol region of Israel. Writing on Facebook, Shira Silkoff recalled meeting him when she arrived on kibbutz.

“The first time I met you [Eli], you were walking in one direction and I was walking the other. I was shy, unsure of how to go about meeting people who already all seemed to be friends. But we spoke for a few minutes, on that kibbutz path, with you holding a tub of slowly melting ice cream. Because that was you. You had time for everyone. No news report can capture your spirit. Your smile. Your passion for life, your ability to hold deep conversations at absurd hours, and absurd conversations at any hour. None of the news reports can capture your enthusiasm, your determination to achieve everything you set out to do.”

Kay then began working at the Kotel as a guide at the Western Wall Plaza. Some reported that he was murdered on his way to pray, others that it was on his way to work. But for Kay, these tasks were intricately connected. At the end of the day, he was there because he loved Israel and the Jewish people. According to The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, Kay “warmly greet[ed] everyone he met, doing his sacred work”.

Hearing the news was one of the most difficult moments for members of the South African Jewish community. “I was broken, gutted,” says Rabbi Levi Avtzon, who taught Kay when he was a teen. “Eli was quite a character: he was feisty and demanded a lot of himself and others. He didn’t have time for nonsense. He was a great guitar player and a natural leader. He was a searcher, looking for the truth. And when he saw the truth, he would go all the way in following it.”

Avtzon says these values came from the incredible upbringing he received from his parents. He describes Avi as “a gentle soul” and “an incredible financial advisor”, who continues to do this work in South Africa even though he now lives in Israel. “Until they left for Israel, Devorah was the life and soul of Torah Academy Girls High – loved by everyone and really dynamic.” The family’s door was always open. For example, they graciously hosted Avtzon’s parents when they visited him after he first moved to South Africa as his flat was too small.

Contemplating what Kay’s future would have looked like had his life not been stolen so senselessly, Avtzon says, “No matter what he would have done, he would have done it well. We need to take pride that this is the kind of mensch that our community raises.”

Kay’s cousin, Eli Landes, wrote on Facebook how he remembered “dancing with you [Eli], laughing with you, learning to play ‘mouth trumpet’ with you, studying with you, making up fake British sentences with you, talking about life with you. In life, you defended us. Guarded us. And now, I have no doubt you stand at G-d’s right hand, continuing to fight for us and protect us.”

Kay’s fiancé, Jen Schiff, said, “I felt it was important to share how much Eli loved this country, and how he came here by himself, and fought for this country. He always treated everyone with love and respect. And I know that when this happened, he didn’t feel alone.”

The outpouring of grief and support came from the very top of Israeli society as well as from around the globe. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid and other Israeli leaders expressed condolences. Minister of diaspora affairs, Nachman Shai, personally wrote to the South African Jewish community, saying, “My heart breaks with yours. [Eli] was a son of both of our communities … Eli represented the best of the Zionist spirit nurtured in Johannesburg.”

Shai represented the Israeli government at the funeral, which took place at Har Menuchot cemetery in Jerusalem. Thousands of people from all walks of life attended in person, and almost 2 600 people (mostly from South Africa) watched on YouTube. There, Shai described him as “the paratrooper, the yeshiva student, warrior … the best of the best”.

Kay “would have been a great husband and father”, said an emotional Rabbi Motti Hadar, the principal of Torah Academy Boys High School, contemplating the brightest of futures cut short. “That is the hugest tragedy. And while his time came too soon, I think there is almost no other way he would have chosen to go than literally sacrificing his life for what he believed in, which was Israel, his Judaism, and living life to the fullest.”

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Miss SA future uncertain as Israel hatred boils

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It’s touch and go whether Miss South Africa will get on a plane to Israel to compete in the Miss Universe pageant next month, after a week of high drama in which the South African government bizarrely withdrew its support for the young university graduate.

The government had the anti-Israel lobby licking its lips at the prospect of her dreams being crushed. This lobby was determined that Lalela Mswane would never compete on an international stage in the coastal town of Eilat.

There are many who want her to go to Israel and represent her country, learn, engage, and prosper and there are those – a bunch of Israel haters – who are pulling out every stop to prevent it.

So far, the 24-year-old KwaZulu-Natal beauty has stood her ground. She is due to meet about 70 of her counterparts from all over the world – including the Arab world – in the Holy Land in a few weeks’ time.

Just how long she, the private Miss South Africa Organisation, and its chief executive, Stephanie Weil, can withstand the heat created by the small but predatory anti-Israel lobby is anyone’s guess.

At the time of going to press the odds were stacked against them in a fast moving developing story that has everyone guessing.

“It’s a rollercoaster ride,” said one insider.

Behind the scenes, a myriad of supporters have rallied around the young beauty queen, desperate to help her as critics stop at nothing to prevent her from representing her country at the Olympic Games of beauty pageants.

“It’s precarious, complicated,” offered another.

There has been more time and space allocated to this issue in the media than FW de Klerk’s death and his funeral arrangements, hung local councils, and coalition talks. Never mind the country’s dire electricity crisis, abysmal unemployment rate, water cuts, and critical crime levels. Social media has been lit with those fiercely in favour and those vehemently against Mswane attending the pageant.

It appears from thousands of social-media posts that many more are in favour of her fulfilling her dreams and wish her well than not.

The drama started with a statement issued on Sunday, 15 November, by the department of sports, art, and culture announcing that it would no longer support the pageant because of Miss SA organiser’s “intransigence and disregard” of advice against sending Miss SA to Israel, which it said would have a negative impact on her reputation and future.

The ministry, headed by Nathi Mthethwa, has come under fire for its lack of compassion for struggling artists during COVID-19 and the minister’s general ineffectiveness together with his department’s mismanagement of funds.

The African National Congress (ANC) made its views clear by backing and welcoming the government’s decision to withdraw support for Mswane.

The Democratic Alliance’s deputy shadow minister of sports, art, and culture, Veronica van Dyk, told the SA Jewish Report, “Miss SA is a private company, and as such must deal with the government as it sees fit. We don’t intend to be drawn into a fight between the two. A beauty pageant should never be politicised, and this is exactly what the ANC is trying to achieve. We should be weary not to fall into their trap.”

Department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, said this week that in spite of all of the anti-Israel rhetoric, South Africa had “no intention of suspending any diplomatic relationships with Israel”.

He told The Citizen, and later repeated to the SA Jewish Report that Mthethwa’s announcement reflected the government’s stance on the matter falling under his portfolio, “but didn’t indicate any intentions of cutting ties with Israel”.

“We have diplomatic relations with both Israel and Palestine. What has happened with Miss South Africa cannot be anywhere close to cutting diplomatic ties. We can’t do that because if we do that, it means we can’t engage with Israel so are excluding ourselves from being part of the solution to the conflict, because if you cut ties with a country, it doesn’t have to engage with you,” said Monyela.

However Miss SA’s future hangs in the balance, as negotiations behind the scenes continue ad nauseam.

Zev Krengel, the national vice-president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, lambasted the anti-Israel lobby for its bullying and intimidatory tactics, and said Miss SA was being used as a political scapegoat.

“Miss SA is a young woman, she is an easy target,” he said.

South Africa, he said, participated in various team sports, namely baseball, tennis, and soccer, against Israel, and where was the outrage?

Speculation has it that the signing of the Abraham Accords could eventually lead to Israel co-hosting the 2030 FIFA World Cup with its Arab neighbours.

“Do you see South Africa pulling Bafana Bafana out? No, this is pure bullying of a young woman, it’s outrageous,” he said.

He said he was bitterly disappointed in the government for withdrawing its support of Miss SA saying it was “on the wrong side of history, and while the rest of the world opens up and benefits from relations with Israel, including several Arab nations, South Africa is determined to remain on the sidelines of progress”.

People from all over have weighed in on the controversy.

The former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, tweeted, “Wait, wait! Governments offer no support for this non-governmental contest. And the SA government made no decision whatsoever. A single ministry stated a viewpoint. Where is the story here other than the hateful noise the anti-Israel lobby is peddling?”

Author Khaya Dlanga took to Instagram saying that the government had “crossed the line” by withdrawing its support for Mswane, and had thrown her under the bus.

“They have put a young woman in an impossible position,” he said. “This government hasn’t imposed sanctions against Israel or travel restrictions. Instead, it’s grandstanding on the shoulders of a young girl. Why throw her under the bus when it hasn’t made meaningful commitments? Let her go.”

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) said it was “appalled” that the government was “self-sabotaging” the country’s hopes and chances of participating and shining in Miss Universe just because it happened to take place in Israel.

“Our country is simply signalling its isolationism and irrelevance on the world stage,” it said.

The government had been silent on serious human-rights abuses occurring in many other countries where South Africa participates in sports and contests but “self-righteously reserves its opprobrium for the world’s only Jewish state”, the SAZF said.

“If our country were interested in bringing peace to the Middle East or carrying any moral weight in playing a mediatory role between Israel and the Palestinians, we have now ensured that our one-sidedness and unilateralism will prevent us from doing so,” the organisation said.

Meanwhile, the Miss South Africa Organisation broke its social-media silence this week with an Instagram post about Miss SA 2020, Shudufhadzo Musida’s, participation at Miss World in Puerto Rico on 16 December.

While Miss SA seemingly had the world at her feet just weeks ago, it remains to be seen if she will participate in Miss Universe.

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