It’s time for Spier II
The recent visit to South Africa by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his invitation to meet the leadership of the South African Jewish community, has spotlighted both the role that South Africa and the local Jewish community can play in facilitating the resumption of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Despite our many failings as a nation, South Africa remains a beacon of hope for those who believe that even the most complex of political problems can be solved through compromise and negotiation.
It has long been the official position of South African Jewish leadership, that South Africa holds the potential to play a meaningful role in facilitating dialogue between the two sides, if only South Africa moderated its skewed anti-Israel bias. But with no potential role in the offing, there is little incentive for the South African government or the ANC to de-radicalise their anti-Israel rhetoric. Where there are no consequences, there is no incentive to change behaviour.
The meeting between Abbas, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation facilitated by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma, opens the possibilities to allow SA Jewry to trumpet the call for peace and to ensure that we all play a meaningful role, as difficult as it may be, in pushing the parties back to the negotiating table.
At the turn of the millennia, the South African government under President Thabo Mbeki, embarked on an initiative at the Spier wine estate near Stellenbosch. In a statement by the South African representative to the Non-Aligned Movement, our government explained: “The meeting allowed the Israeli and Palestinian delegations to share South Africa’s experience in negotiations, peacemaking and transition to democracy.
“The meeting is part of an ongoing process aimed at creating a favourable environment to restart negotiations and to support the strengthening of the peace coalition in Palestine and Israel, as well as the general dynamic towards peace.”
As part of the initiative, then President Mbeki hosted a two-day conference with the Israeli Likud Party in Pretoria. “We are concerned about the Middle East and very interested in peace,” Mbeki said in welcoming the Likud delegation. “Peace for the Israelis and peace for the Palestinians… If we can contribute something, however small, to end this conflict, we will be very honoured to do so.”
A year later, Mbeki wrote: “As our movement sat at that negotiating table, it understood clearly that we would have to enter into compromises with our erstwhile enemies, deliberately sacrificing the prospect of total victory, to save the many lives…
“Perhaps wrongly, because, like us, they observe the Middle East from afar, our people have supported what we have tried to do to communicate their plea to the Israelis and Palestinians that, together, they should make the sovereign determination that their guns have turned into an enemy of peace, and therefore that the deadly dialogue of gunfire and bombs has to cease…
“They have welcomed what they saluted as a combined search for an equitable peace of the brave, without which neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians could realise their most beautiful, human and normal dreams, which dreaming would enable them together to escape from a shared nightmare.”
The Spier initiative ultimately failed to gain the support of the Israeli government and most South African Jewish leadership who openly distanced themselves from the process. The initiative which had brought together former Israeli Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin and former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, together with Palestinian leaders Saeb Erekat and Zaid Abu Ziad, led nowhere.
One reason for the failure of the initiative was that it brought politicians together at too early a stage. Most successful peace negotiations, such as the Oslo Accords, involve politically influential role-players rather than politicians themselves.
These role-players try to work out mutually acceptable frameworks which they can present back to their political leadership in order to kick-start a process of political negotiations. A second problem with Spier was that it dipped only into the pool of leftist Israelis who held little sway over the politicians who would ultimately make the decision to proceed.
Today, In Jerusalem and Ramallah, peace talks have come to a grinding halt. Abbas has been weakened by the successes of Hamas and Israel is meandering its way towards early elections with the possibility of an extreme right-leaning government. It’s a difficult time for either party to talk.
There are those who believe that no peace is ever possible and that we should commit ourselves to ever increasing cycles of war and violence. There are those of us who remember that in the 1980s it was a common refrain within the local Jewish community that the problems between Israelis and Palestinians would be solved long before the vexing problems of South African apartheid. How wrong they were…
Surely it’s now time for South African Jewry to contemplate taking the initiative with a Spier II process. By involving The Peres Centre for Peace, The Mandela Foundation, The ANC, the SA government and negotiators such as Cryril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer, South African Jewry can contribute immeasurably by trying to get all of the parties to understand each other better and bringing them closer to a resumption of dialogue.
For many, it’s hard to talk peace at a time of war, but for true leaders, it’s time to play our part in helping to move all sides towards our elusive dream of peace.
RIGHT: Sackstein ran the 1999 national elections. “It was rivetting TV-viewing for my mother,” says Howard – seen here at the results board with Madiba
SPOKE IN NY & ATE WITH JEWRY IN BRUSSELS – On 12 December 2013 SAJR Online recounted a delightful story of how a youthful HOWARD SACKSTEIN engineered a dinner for Euro-Jewry with Mandela in Brussels – en route home from addressing the UN. A worthwhile read!
- Howard Sackstein has a BA in International Relations, an LLB and a Masters degree in Political Advocacy & International Conflict Resolution from Brandeis University. He studied international conflict resolution under world-renowned Prof Herb C Kelman at Harvard University and facilitated dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians in the early 1990s. He was a founder of the Jewish anti-apartheid movement, Jews for Social Justice and was executive director of the IEC. He is a director of the SA Jewish Report and chairman of the ABSA Jewish Achiever Awards.
Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi
More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.
Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.
Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.
UJW Sewing School graduates model creations
The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.
They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.
UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.
The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.
Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke
The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.
Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.
The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.
“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.
Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.
Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.
“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).
Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”
Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.
“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”
Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.
“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.
The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”
Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.
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