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Israeli parties take care not to say anything stupid

In 1981, Prime Minister Menachem Begin was standing for re-election. He had come to power in a surprise victory in 1977 over the Labour Party, but this time the polls were showing that he was going to lose to that party.





At a Labour party rally just before that election, well-known film and television personality, and the rally’s host, Dudu Topaz, made a derogatory remark about the sephardim or Mizrachi Jews, calling them chach chachim (a derogatory Hebrew term for low-life people or rough necks).

At a subsequent Likud rally, Begin made one of his finest speeches in a long political career. He praised the sephardim as “Jews, soldiers, brothers, and fighters”, and won the election. One stupid statement about the sephardim, and it cost Labour the election.

Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party must be trying not to make the same mistake. Just more than a week before the election, you would expect Gantz and others in the quartet of leaders, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, to be crisscrossing the country holding rallies, but there are no reports of this happening.

I believe the reason for this is that Blue and White does not have much to offer voters. Contradictory statements have come from the left and right of the party, especially regarding settlements. The left-wing wants the settlements dismantled, and the right-wing wants them strengthened. Details of policy is scarce. The party seems to exist solely for the purpose of getting rid of Bibi Netanyahu.

What of Likud? It seems obsessed with discrediting Gantz. It is a great pity that it has adopted this line. Since the last election, the government has had some great achievements. The economy is strong, and Netanyahu has had much success on the diplomatic front. Likud should push this record strongly, and draw voters’ attention to the fact that Blue and White doesn’t have any policies that will improve life in Israel.

Labour, now a sad shadow of the party it once was, is having a full go at Blue and White and Likud in trying to push its record in opposition. However, the voters don’t seem to be buying it. The party seems to have partially recovered from its initial disastrous showing in the polls, but some polls show that that it might not even cross the threshold into the Knesset. Now, the polls are expecting Labour to get eight to nine seats. In the past week, a mostly unheard of party is reflecting enough votes to pass the Knesset threshold with 3.25% of the votes. That party is Zehut, headed by an ex-Likudnik Moshe Feiglin. Feiglin describes his party as right-wing libertarian – and right-wing he certainly is.

As a former member of the Knesset, he was removed by Netanyahu from the Likud slate a couple of elections ago as being too extreme. Feiglin says his views about Arabs are similar to that of far right-wing Otzma Yehudit, a party which left-wing parties tried to ban from running in the election.

However, he claims that his social programme is very liberal, including legalising the use of cannabis. In the past election, a party called Green Leaf that also promoted the use of cannabis received about 47 000 votes.

With the worldwide move to make cannabis legal, Feiglin might find 150 000 votes to put Zehut into the Knesset. It shows how politics indeed makes strange bedfellows. I imagine that Feiglin’s Zehut will mostly draw support from liberal-minded people who l can’t imagine would dream of supporting a far-right party.

The other major news this week was that the Supreme Court banned Michael Ben Ari of the Otzma Yehudit party, now incorporated into the United Right Party, from running for Knesset. It’s the first time that the Supreme Court has banned a person from running for Knesset. It’s a foolish move in that right-wing voters will come out and support the United Right Parties.

With just more than a week to elections, all eyes will be focused on seeing which of the minor parties make it into the Knesset.

•     Aubrey Katzef is a Cape Town attorney who has a CA, BProc, and an Honours degree in Jewish Studies. He is a dedicated Zionist, and has been involved in Jewish communal affairs and various communal bodies his whole life, including the Jacob Gitlin Library in Cape Town. Aubrey has been an Israeli election pundit for many years, and his predictions are seldom off the mark.

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Challah – bread of Jewish men’s affliction



There are many reasons why it isn’t easy to be a Jewish male. Expectation of performance begins at eight days, and hardly eases up until we shuffle off the mortal coil, well ahead of our time, exhausted from the effort and stress of it all.

The expectations are seemingly without end. We need to make our parents proud, we need to provide for our families, to be good husbands and better fathers, and we need to have run at least one marathon in a far-flung city by the time we are 45.

We need to be able to sing in front of the community at our Barmitzvahs, just when we are at our most awkward and when our voices are the most unreliable. We need to be able to intone anything at any given time.

And then, on the one night of the week when we can relax, we are required to cut the challah with the precision of a surgeon, the speed of Usain Bolt, and we need to do so while everyone watches in hungry expectation.

Following the kiddush prayer and the ritualistic washing of hands, there is a period of silence. With no speaking until the eating of the challah, it’s one of the most underrated aspects of being a Jewish male. It’s a moment that represents almost every aspect of “Jewish maleness”, and it happens week after week after week. Why?

Because no matter what, it will be done wrong. The slices will be too thick. Or thin. Or the wrong challah would have been selected. Too much, too little salt will have been added. And the challah serving plate will have been passed in the wrong direction. Eyes will be rolled, lips pursed, and heads will be slowly shaken. From side. To side. To side.

A Jewish male it would seem, cannot please a Jewish woman.

I have asked around. A friend’s wife told me that she can’t stand the way he cuts the challah, and prefers to do it herself. “He just can’t get it right. It’s got so bad that I hardly even let him carve the meat.”

She even went as far as to buy an electric carving knife, which she used before he got home from work on a Friday so that he didn’t need to. It might be worth mentioning that when he’s not “butchering” the challah, he’s a well-respected surgeon. At least he made his parents proud.

And there are those who are too precise for their own good. My father-in-law is one such case. Each piece of challah is measured to perfection. Sliced the way through, and then checked in case any remnants of attachment to the piece before remains, before moving on to slice number two. And so on.

Generally, we like to start Shabbat on Wednesday when visiting, as it takes about that long before we get to eat. All while we sit in silence.

The slicing of challah is the most underrated aspect of being a Jewish male. It carries with it all the expectation along with all the disappointment of generations of men who have failed before them.

It’s a moment that’s shared in all households across the Jewish world week after week. It bonds Jewish women to the past, and will link them to their great granddaughters, who will one day share knowing looks with their sisters as they watch their husband “butcher” the challah, just as their father did.

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Rebuilding hope and rewarding service



This week, we have been hard at work finalising the upcoming South African Jewish Board of Deputies national conference, to take place on Sunday, 17 October, from 16:00 to 18:00.

The theme of the conference is “Hope and Recovery”, and as the title indicates, the focus will be on rebuilding following the testing and often traumatic events of the past two years. To share the challenges as well as the path of hope and recovery in areas of crucial concern, we have a panel of experts comprising Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana, Eskom Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter, and Advocate Wim Trengove. We are further privileged to host Ambassador Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, and Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai, both of whom will be speaking.

The Board’s national conferences are also an opportunity to honour community members who have made a particularly noteworthy contribution to society, whether to the country as a whole or South African Jewry specifically. Since 1999, we have recognised those who have advanced the cause of human rights and democracy. The scope of the award, now called the Rabbi Cyril and Ann Harris Humanitarian Award, includes those involved in social outreach and upliftment work.

This year, it will be presented to Natie and Francis Kirsh and family in recognition of the unfailingly generous support they have provided to our community and our country over many years, but particularly during the COVID-19 period.

For those who have excelled in communal service, we will be presenting the Eric Samson Mendel Kaplan Award. Two presentations are made, one to a lay leader and the other to a professional. In the “lay” category, the recipients are Professor Barry Schoub and Dr Richard Friedland, two leading medical experts who during the COVID-19 pandemic, have shown extraordinary commitment and played such a pivotal role in guiding our community. In the “professional” category, we will honour Vivienne Anstey, the exemplar of a thoroughly professional, innovative Jewish public servant for more than 30 years, and Uriel Rosen, Hatzolah’s operations manager and the originator of its Wellness Monitoring Programme that has been so transformative in helping those suffering from COVID-19.

Please join us for what promises to be a fascinating conversation about how to move forward and rebuild. To register, go to

#MakeUsCount events

Along with preparing for conference, the Board has been running its #MakeUsCount pre-election awareness campaign. During the past week, our Gauteng, Cape Town, and Durban branches have hosted lively and well attended “Great Debates” between representatives of the main competing parties. At the time of writing, Gauteng is preparing for a second event, a webinar with leading political journalist Stephen Grootes in conversation with political and election experts and analysts Wayne Sussman, Nompumelelo Runji, and Dr Ralph Mathekga. I look forward to updating you about further #MakeUsCount events in the days leading up to the municipal elections on 1 November.

This being my last Above Board before my term as National Chair comes to an end, I take this opportunity of recording how great an honour it has been to serve our community for the past four years and wishing my successor everything of the best.

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

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Board calls for practical implementation of hate-crime legislation



This week, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) submitted written comments on the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill after its release for public comment by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. We have requested an opportunity for the SAJBD to give an oral submission on the Bill in due course. As a steering committee member representing the Board on the Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG), our representative, Alana Baranov, was also involved in the drafting of the HCWG submission on the Bill.

The genesis of this important piece of legislation goes back to 2016, when the first draft of the Bill was released. The Board, at its own behest and through the HCWG, has been involved in the process from the outset, including making previous submissions. While we have raised certain legal-technical concerns over aspects of the Bill, in general we have welcomed it as being aimed at giving practical effect to the prevention of racism and discrimination and providing for the prosecution and prevention of hate crimes and hate speech.

The SAJBD’s submission on the Bill focused on the specific concerns of the Jewish community regarding antisemitism. It further stressed that the Act must be so framed as to make its practical implementation possible, and to this end, recommended expanding the reach and effectiveness of current legislation and mechanisms for dealing with incidents of hate, such as the South African Human Rights Commission and Equality Courts. These institutions have been of critical value to the Board in addressing numerous antisemitic incidents that have arisen over the past two decades, including those involving senior office bearers in government and trade unions. It’s therefore vital that they are adequately empowered and resourced.

JSC drops ball a second time at Concourt interviews

Earlier this year, the way in which two Jewish candidates for Constitutional Court positions were treated during their interviews by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) generated much justified outrage. As previously recounted in this column, both were subjected to a barrage of irrelevant and inappropriate questions pertaining to their Jewish identity, association with the SAJBD, and views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Other candidates were also subjected to inappropriate treatment. In response, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution launched a successful challenge to that process in the High Court, resulting in the JSC being directed to re-interview the candidates.

Unfortunately, the second round of interviews, conducted earlier this week, amounted to “Groundhog Day” for the Jewish community. Following their stinging rebuke at the hands of civil society and the courts, one would have expected the JSC to steer clear this time round of offensive questions concerning a candidate’s Jewish affiliations, yet once again, a Jewish candidate was so targeted, specifically for his previous association with the SAJBD. The characterisation by one of the commissioners of the SAJBD as a “pro-Zionist body that is bullying their people and organisations who are objecting to the Israeli establishment in the Palestine region” was especially out of line. This was specifically referred to in our media release issued this week, and will be one of the key issues we will address with the JSC.

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

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