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March for our sisters

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At the time of going to print, I have just returned from New York, where I attended the Anti-Defamation League Conference and spoke on a panel with Jewish leaders from Brazil and Finland on the challenges our respective communities are confronting post-7 October. This and the other engagements I had while in the United States, including with the American Jewish Committee, will be the subject of my next column. This week, I would like to report back on our march to Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on 8 March, on behalf of the victims of gender-based violence in Gaza, as well as the memorandum to President Cyril Ramaphosa that we handed over afterwards at the Union Buildings.

South African Jewish Board of Deputies National Director Wendy Kahn was the originator and driving force behind these two initiatives. During her recent visit to Israel as an invited member of a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, she was given in-depth briefings on the full extent of the horrors inflicted on Israeli women, both on 7 October and subsequently against those held hostage in the Hamas terror tunnels. She returned to South Africa with, in her words, “a renewed determination to foster an awareness of the horrifying plight of our hostages”. Last Friday morning, 8 March, Wendy was among hundreds of Jewish women who set out from Empire Road in Braamfontein and converged at the Constitutional Court precinct.

She reports how inspiring it was to see so many women of our community coming out in force to speak out for their sisters who cannot speak for themselves. Another key purpose of the march was to protest against our government’s inexcusable failure either to condemn the heinous rapes perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October or to do anything to stop the continued sexual violence against those Hamas is holding hostage. Even in the wake of an unequivocal report by Pramila Patten, the United Nations (UN) special representative on sexual violence in conflict, which found that “sexual violence, including rape, sexualised torture, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment occurred against some women and children during their time in captivity”, that silence has continued.

Following the march in Braamfontein, a delegation from the Board set out for the Union Buildings in Pretoria to deliver a memorandum to Ramaphosa. The third item in our memorandum was a quote from the above UN report, which calls on governments to “use all means to exert pressure on Hamas to release the hostages to end not only their captivity but also the sexual abuse being committed against them”. Our government, which has traditionally placed such great stock in the authority of the UN, has evidently decided to make an exception when it comes to Israel. Yet it’s precisely because of the close and cordial relations it has with Hamas that South Africa is in a position to make a real difference in resolving the hostage crisis.

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

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