Leading global human rights group supports SA Jews
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading international Jewish human rights organisation, has come out in support of local Jewry after the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) called for United Herzlia Schools “to be deregistered, based on the school being pro-Israel” in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament on 15 June.
EFF member of the provincial legislature (MPL), Aishah Cassiem, took her lead from African National Congress (ANC) provincial education spokesperson Muhammad Khalid Sayed, who called on education member of the executive council, David Maynier, to intervene in Herzlia’s Zionist education.
“The Simon Wiesenthal Center is denouncing the call by a South African politician who has called for Herzlia High, a Jewish community school in Cape Town, to be deregistered, said Simon Wiesenthal Center associate dean and the director of Global Social Action Agenda, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, in a statement on 27 June.
“Another bigot who tries to hide her antisemitism under the banner of anti-Zionism,” said Cooper. “What’s next, a demand to purge Jewish prayer books of age-old prayers chanted daily for 2 000 years that emphasises the dream of a people yearning to return to Zion and Jerusalem? Every nation has the right to pursue its dreams and destiny,” Cooper said. “We’re proud that in 2023, about seven million Jews are citizens of the democratic Jewish state of Israel, and all those who are building their future in the ancient homeland of their forefathers.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center confronts antisemitism, hate, and terrorism, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations. The organisation is an accredited non-governmental organisation at the United Nations, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), the Organisation of American States, the Latin American Parliament, and the Council of Europe. Headquartered in Los Angeles, it has offices in New York, Chicago, Miami, Toronto, Paris, Jerusalem, and Buenos Aires.
“We stand in solidarity with Herzlia school and the community on this,” Cooper told the SA Jewish Report from Los Angeles this week. “We want to emphasise that this kind of attack is an attack on every Jewish institution in the world and frankly, on Judaism.”
He said a politician targeting a Jewish school “raises an alarm bell for me as it targets a Jewish community in a new way, a community which is already under extreme pressure from the anti-Zionist government of South Africa.
“In the world we live in today, everything local is global, and everything global is local, so this kind of demand – even though it was done not on a national basis but on a local basis – is also seen as a kind of ‘trial balloon’ whether this kind of pressure will be acceptable in any democracy,” Cooper said. “We’ve now gone from protests against Israeli ‘occupation’ on the West Bank, to boycotts of all Israeli products, to direct expressions of Jew-hatred in many formats.
“There’s even a sophisticated pushback against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism because it has the audacity to actually explain when legitimate criticism against Israel morphs into antisemitism.
“I have great admiration for the South African Jewish community going back many decades,” Cooper said. “I was once a scholar in residence of one of the synagogues in Cape Town. I was also the Jewish spokesman at the ill-fated 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban. More recently, I was brought in by Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein for the Sinai Indaba. It was a wonderful experience. We’re also lucky enough to have many expats living here in Los Angeles, many of whom I count as friends.
“The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a leading Jewish human rights nongovernmental organisation, and I’m in charge of how we interact on issues globally as well as locally,” said Cooper. He feels it’s important to speak out because “we’re all targeted by BDS [the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions group] and the adoption of the extreme Hamas language on many United States campuses. In that sense, we’re all in the same boat, no matter where we may reside in the world.”
He feels that Jewish communities should marshal other local faith leaders to push back.
“In all my visits to South Africa, including for the Durban conference, many people I interacted with, especially in the Christian community, have a love for Zionism. They hold a positive view of the Jewish state, in seeing young Jewish South Africans either going to make aliya or spending significant time in Israel. That’s something they admire, as it’s a beautiful thing to see Jewish people embrace their ancient homeland,” he said.
Regarding the call for Herzlia to be de-registered, he said, “This is potentially a terribly damaging and threatening breach that must be pushed back against. G-d forbid if this kind of activity were to be adopted and expanded in South Africa, I believe that you would have a massive pushback from world Jewry, and that would have very negative effects on South Africa. The bottom line is, we have the greatest respect and admiration for the South African Jewish community and a deep admiration for Rabbi Goldstein. We want to make sure that everyone knows that we stand in solidarity and are prepared to act when needed.”
Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies Chairperson Adrienne Jacobson says, “We’re reassured that the Cape Provincial Legislature unequivocally rejected this malicious attempt to smear and silence our schools. Zionism is an integral part of our heritage and values, and our community has a constitutionally entrenched right to express and identify with those beliefs.”
South African Zionist Federation National Chairperson Rowan Polovin emphasised that “Herzlia remains an exemplary and highly respected Jewish school in South Africa, whose alumni have made enormous contributions to all levels of South African society and have served with distinction in medicine, science, business, academia, and other fields. As a Jewish school with Jewish students and teachers, it’s intrinsically Zionist, with an unbreakable and proud connection to the world’s only Jewish state of Israel. Herzlia, as a Jewish school, values and promotes religious tolerance, non-racialism, understanding, and charity – much like the state of Israel values an inclusive, multicultural society in which the rights of all citizens are protected, respected, and upheld.”