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Local antisemitism, global response

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There have been a string of verbal attacks and demonstrations harassing, threatening, and villifying Cape Town Jewish institutions and leaders this year. Certain opposition political parties in the province have since decided to get in on the act, the latest such stunt being a demand made by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the Cape Provincial Legislature for Herzlia schools to be “deregistered”. Aside from being defamatory and clearly discriminatory, such calls effectively seek to deprive Jewish South Africans of their constitutional right to freedom of expression and association and, as expected, the EFF motion was firmly rejected in the legislature.

It’s not pleasant to see our democratic institutions being misused to smear and incite hostility towards our community, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. What we’re seeing playing out in South Africa is to a large extent a mirror of what’s happening internationally, where vituperative rhetorical onslaught against the mainstream Jewish community by individuals or political factions with an obsessive anti-Israel bent are a regular occurrence. It underscores the continued importance of communication and co-operation between global Jewish leadership so as to better understand this common threat and determine how best to respond to it.

Last week, South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) National Vice-President Mary Kluk and National Director Wendy Kahn were in London, where they met the leadership and professional staff of the British Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, and the Community Security Trust. They also met at the House of Lords with Kahn’s former counterpart at the British Board of Deputies, Baroness Gillian Merron. These were useful working meetings where ideas and information were shared, strategies discussed, and notes compared on the respective situations in the two countries.

The SAJBD at 120 – history, heritage, and memory

As previously discussed in this column, the Board hasn’t just been a key role player in South African Jewish history over the past 120 years (and counting), but also the primary custodian of that legacy. In a recent visit to the SAJBD archives, I was able to get a hands-on sense of just how much of our community’s story, from the earliest years until our own day, has been faithfully preserved, organised, and made available to the public.

Perhaps the most frequently consulted part of the archives is a comprehensive newspaper cuttings collection. This includes files on Jewish individuals, organisations, and activities going back to the end of the 19th century. For a number of years, efforts have been underway to digitalise these as well as such unique and irreplaceable important parts of the collection as minute books, original manuscripts, documents, pamphlets, correspondence, and photographs. There are further bound volumes of leading journals collected over many years, and a large collection of significant books on South African Jewish themes, world Jewry, Israel, antisemitism and the Holocaust, and biographies. All this has and continues to provide an unrivalled resource for academics, genealogists, authors, and journalists, many of them from abroad. The archives have also safeguarded for posterity documentation relating to Jewish organisations that have since closed and that would otherwise have been irrevocably lost.

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

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