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Maurice’s e-mail tête à tête with Haaretz’ editor

Maurice Ostroff has been having a tête à tête with Haaretz editor Ehud Ein-gil all week. Ostroff, an expat SA Zionist and prolific writer, lives in Herzliya & is a keen follower of SAJR Online’s editor Ant Katz. He thought the SA Jewish community would enjoy following this (ongoing?) web war. We agreed – SA Jewry will find some elements of each man’s arguments compelling – and Maurice’s tenaciousness fun too.

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Israel

ANT KATZ

The complete e-mail argy-bargy publoished below speaks for itself and requires no further comment from us.

Haaretz violates rules of good journalism again

Sent by: Maurice Ostroff, Herzliya, Israel on Monday 9 December 2013 @ 12h13

To: Ehud Ein-gil, senior editor, Haaretz, cc: Israel Press Council

Subject: Haaretz violates the rules of good journalism again

Recently Haaretz and Gideon Levy were reprimanded by the Israel Press Council for violating the ethics code that mandates fact-checking, objectivity and loyalty to the truth and that bars any mention of a person’s country of origin, ethnicity or social class if it isn’t relevant to the subject under discussion. It also said Haaretz’s editors had not made sure the facts were checked and that they were not careful enough about what the paper published

Your December 8 article under the sub-title “Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have no right to eulogize Nelson Mandela” similarly contravenes the basics of good journalism. For example while you correctly quote Nelson Mandela as having said  “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” you omitted his very important qualification acknowledging Israel’s legitimate security concerns: “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.”

Careless with facts, Levy erroneously slams Shimon Peres for allegedly having hosted South Africa’s prime ministers and says this disqualifies him from admiring Mandela. As far I can recall only two apartheid prime ministers visited Israel and Peres hosted neither. Ben Gurion was PM when D.F. Malan visited in 1953 and Rabin was PM when B.J. Vorster visited in 1976. Malan also visited Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and Netherlands and Vorster was welcomed in Portugal, Spain, France, W. Germany Paraguay, Uruguay and Switzerland. P.W. Botha was welcomed in Britain as late as 1984. Between 1980 and 1988 he visited most European countries including the Vatican.

Singling out Israel is not only malevolent, it is absurd. Levy’s argument implies that none of the leaders of countries that hosted South African prime ministers in the days of apartheid are entitled to admire Mandela.

Levy FALSELY alleges that Israel was “virtually the only country that collaborated with that evil regime.” It is disgraceful that he recklessly propagates this damaging canard in violation of clause 5 of the Israel Press rules that states unambiguously “Prior to the publication of any item, the newspaper and the journalist shall check the accuracy thereof with the most reliable source and with the caution appropriate to the circumstances of the case.”

The fact is that dozens of countries traded and collaborated with the apartheid regime. In 1986, while apartheid was suffering worldwide opprobrium, South Africa’s main trading partners were,  USA $3.4 billion, Japan  $2.9 billion, Germany  $2.8 billion, and UK $2.6 billion. By comparison, Israel’s puny $0.2 billion total trade with South Africa amounted to less than 1% of South Africa’s total trade. In addition the apartheid regime was propped up by Arab oil and financing by major European banks

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan opposed sanctions against South Africa in the 1980’s. Thatcher visited SA and was hosted by Botha who said he was highly impressed by her. The US considered the ANC a terrorist group and Mandela’s name remained on the U.S. terrorism watch list until 2008.

In the circumstances and in view of the harmful political implications, it is highly irresponsible to propagate the canard (i.e. the false deliberately misleading story) that Israel was the only country that collaborated with South Africa and a retraction is called for.

 

You’re not bound by ethics code, fact-checking


Sent by: Ehud Ein-Gil, senior editor, Haaretz

To: Maurice Ostroff on Monday 9 December 2013 @ 18h51

Dear Mr Maurice Ostroff,

Thank you your detailed letter. Unfortunately, you have misfired.

Shimon Peres was Minister of Defence when the South African premier visited, and actively participated in hosting him. Please see the attached photograph from Haaretz front page of April 10, 1976. It shows PM Rabin and Peres with the South African PM.

So what if other countries entertained Mr Vorster, who had been detained during WWII for his pro-German sympathies and anti-Allies activity, and remained a racist and one of the architects of apartheid.

Israel did have special relations and cooperation with the apartheid regime, an alliance that was not based on trade but on military, strategic and political (and according to foreign sources, including South African ones, also nuclear) mutual interests.

I see that you did not wait more than three hours for our reply before publishing your unfounded criticism and accusations, but sure, you are not a journalist and therefore are not bound by the ethics code that mandates fact-checking before publishing.

 

I stand by the facts I stated, I respectfully disagree


Sent by: Maurice Ostroff, 10 December 19h17

To: Ehud Ein-Gil

Thank you for your prompt and considered response. I appreciate it.

If by “misfired” you mean that the facts I stated are incorrect, I respectfully disagree.

You can’t be serious in using the logical fallacy of guilt by association, inferring that a photo of Peres with Rabin and Vorster justifies Levy’s declaration that Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have no right to eulogize Nelson Mandela.

Yes, Peres was Minister of Defence when Rabin hosted Vorster, but how do you connect the dots in reaching the conclusion that because Peres met with Vorster and Rabin he has no right to express admiration of Mandela? Does this conclusion apply only to Peres or also to Rabin and all who accompanied him when he was with Vorster? And more interestingly does it apply to the Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Elia Freij who welcomed Vorster and showed him the manger in which infant Jesus lay?

If you apply the reasoning that Peres is tainted by indirectly hosting Vorster, then Levy would be more directly tainted by his association with Arafat. In an April 28, 2009 Haaretz article Gideon Levy tells how he dined with Arafat who is regarded by many as the father of modern terrorism, involving Black September with its hijackings and violence in Jordan, hundreds of terror acts including the 1972 murder of Israeli athletes in Munich, the 1985 hijacking of the Achilles Lauro and throwing overboard of wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer as well as Arafat’s siphoning of hundreds of millions of dollars from the Palestinian people.

You ask “so what if other countries entertained Mr Vorster?” Do I really need to explain that if a balanced standard were applied, then by Levy’s reasoning none of the leaders of the many democracies that hosted Malan, Vorster and Botha would have a right to eulogize Mandela; a classic example of reduction ad absurdum? It is this recurring, propaganda-like insinuation of a sinister meaning only to events in Israel that are considered unremarkable when occurring in other countries that is objectionable.

You say Israel did have special relations and cooperation with the apartheid regime.Yes Israel, like other democracies had relations with apartheid South Africa but I gave you figures showing clearly that Levy’s statement that Israel was virtually THE ONLY country that collaborated with the apartheid regime is patently false and I challenge you to prove otherwise.

By the way, I did not publish my letter to you in the media as I have been awaiting your response so that it could be published together with mine. I did however send copies to my mailing list and it appears that someone passed it on to an online publication which published it without my knowledge.

“We’re not in the business of censoring opinions”


Sent by: Ehud Ein-Gil, senior editor, Haaretz

To: Maurice Ostroff on Wednesday 11 December 2013 @ 10h07

Thank you for your response.

I have refuted your claims that Levy’s article contained factual errors.

Now your claims concentrate on opinions. These are Levy’s opinions, and he has the right to express them.

We are not in the business of censoring opinions.

By the way, there was a period when Israel was the only country that refused to respect the UN sanctions on South Africa, as even a defender of Israel’s policy confirms SEE HERE.

As for Israel’s special cooperation with South Africa, and its economic importance for Israel, SEE HERE.

Sending a text to a mailing list is nowadays the equivalent of publishing it, as you should have known, and if you did not – now you certainly do.

 

“I repeat my challenge to you…”


Sent by: Maurice Ostroff, 11 December

To: Ehud Ein-Gil

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately it doesn’t address the gist of my email to you. For example, it ignores my request for an explanation of how Peres’ accompanying Rabin and Vorster justifies Levy’s declaration; “Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have no right to eulogize Nelson Mandela” and my question whether you apply the same reasoning to the others who hosted Vorster that I named.

The article by Avi Shilon to which you refer supports my argument. He wrote that describing Israel as a friend of the apartheid regime is flawed and simplistic.

Shilon does not support Levy’s claim that Israel is virtually THE ONLY country that collaborated with the apartheid regime. He says it was the only WESTERN country that in 1986 did not take part in sanctions and even this is incorrect. Factually, when economic sanctions were imposed in 1986 Germany and Britain merely made recommendations and imposed no binding sanctions. Switzerland rejected sanctions and Margaret Thatcher actively opposed sanctions as did Ronald Reagan.

The non-profit Khulumani Support Group filed claims against dozens of major international companies in 2002 for having aided and abetted Apartheid. They include Barclays, Citibank and Deutsche Bank and oil companies Total, BP, Engen and Shell, among others who violated the embargoes (none from Israel). Also car manufacturers such as Daimler, who supplied armoured vehicles, knowing they would be used in repressive activities in the townships and arms manufacturers. Apartheid’s four main credit lenders were the US, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. German net capital export to South Africa between 1985 and 1993 amounted to $2.13 billion. SIPRI reports that the largest suppliers of arms to South Africa were France, UK, USA, West Germany.

Allow me to emphasize that I advocate honest criticism of Israel. I am proud of Israel’s free press and I believe that criticism of government is not only healthy but essential for democracy. However, while I don’t expect objectivity, press freedom must always be subject to accuracy, fairness and accountability. The disproportionate singling out of Israel and  insinuation of sinister meanings to events in Israel that are considered unremarkable when occurring in other countries, violates the basics of ethical reporting.

In view of the above I REPEAT MY CHALLENGE to you to prove that Levy’s statement that Israel was virtually the only country that collaborated with the apartheid regime is accurate. I am not, as you suggest, concerned with Levy’s opinions. He clearly stated this as a fact, not an opinion. He wrote “Why was Israel virtually the only country that collaborated with that evil regime.”

Virtually is defined by Merriam-Webster as almost entirely or for all practical purposes.

Your replies will be published together with my emails.

 
Stay tuned, users, we’re sure Maurice will update us if the action continues…

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Bennie Katzman

    Dec 19, 2013 at 8:13 am

    ‘I have it on good authority that the last time Ha’aretz agreed with the govt. of the day was during the British Mandate period !!’

  2. Joshua Grigst

    Dec 19, 2013 at 9:32 am

    ‘You can say that again! Go for it Morris – theyre a bunch of lilly-livered agreeniks with no minds of their own’

  3. Joshua Grigst

    Dec 19, 2013 at 9:33 am

    ‘You can say that again! Go for it Morris – theyre a bunch of lilly-livered agreeniks with no minds of their own’

  4. Mike Fisher

    Dec 19, 2013 at 9:56 am

    ‘Ha’aretz’s incessant abuse of freedom of the press sometimes borders on treason in instances when they blatantly lie and fabricate \”facts\” to serve their own tiresome political agenda. From being once a reasonably respectable newspaper, they have, through their efforts to appeal to a small ultra-left minority, become largely irrelevant  – through delighting in serving up ammunition to our enemies who themselves are experts at fabricating stories. Ha’aretz is part and parcel of the Palliwood problem. Kol hakavod, Maurice. ‘

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Israel

SA seethes as Israel scores diplomatic coup in AU

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The South African government this week lashed out at the recent decision by the African Union (AU) to grant Israel observer status.

After nearly 20 years of persistent diplomatic efforts, Israel last week attained observer status at the AU. The development was welcomed by Israel, who has long held that the Jewish state has much to offer Africa.

However, predictably, it has been shunned by the government and local pro-Palestinian groups.

In a statement on 28 July, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), said it was “appalled” at the decision calling it “unjust” and “unwarranted”.

It said that in the context of the recent flare-up of violence in the Middle East, the decision was “inexplicable”, and accused the AU Commission of taking the decision unilaterally without consulting its members.

DIRCO said it would ask the chairperson of the commission to provide a briefing to all member states, which it hoped would be further discussed.

“South Africa firmly believes that as long as Israel isn’t willing to negotiate a peace plan without preconditions, it shouldn’t have observer status,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, the SA BDS coalition slammed the government for its silence on the matter, and for not immediately criticising the move like it has done in the past. The organisation urged the government, as well as other AU member states, to reject Israel’s claim to accreditation.

“We are extremely disappointed that our government didn’t immediately publicly reject the Israeli claim and announce that it would lodge an objection to the AU chair,” it said.

The SA BDS coalition accused Israel of “falsely claiming” that its assistance to African states in fields such as agriculture, technology, and economic development was philanthropic.

“In reality, this is simply opportunistic leverage,” it said, adding that Israel’s objective was to “muscle recipient states” to support it at the United Nations (UN) and other international fora.

One local pro-Palestinian media organisation tweeted “Remove the Zionist cancer from the AU”.

South Africa, along with several other African nations, has long opposed Israel’s desire to gain observer status at the 55-member continental organisation. While chairing the AU Commission from 2012 to 2017, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma strongly objected to Israel’s rapprochement with the organisation.

In November last year on the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, DIRCO Deputy Minister Alvin Botes accused Israel of “vociferously” lobbying African states to support its bid, saying that it was “more important than ever” to ensure that this didn’t happen.

Said Botes, “There is a growing and justifiable sense that certain African and Arab nations no longer see the liberation of Palestine as a common objective.”

He said Israel, with the support of America, was driving a wedge between these nations. “If Israel continues to score political victories while facing little resistance, it could eventually dominate Africa,” Botes said.

Algeria on Sunday condemned the decision of the AU to grant Israel observer status.

Israel previously held observer status at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but has long been thwarted in its attempts to get it back after the OAU was disbanded in 2002 and replaced by the AU.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prioritised Israel’s relations with Africa during the latter half of his 12 years in office, including with several Muslim-majority countries on the continent.

Besides seeking new markets for Israeli expertise in fields like agriculture, high-tech, and security, Netanyahu was keen to improve African nations’ voting record on Israel-related matters in international fora such as the UN Security Council.

Aleligne Admasu, the Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia, Burundi, and Chad, on 22 July presented his credentials to Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the AU Commission, at the bloc’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hailed it as a “day of celebration for Israel-Africa relations”, noting that Israel currently has relations with 46 African countries.

The move will enable stronger co-operation between the two parties on various aspects, including the fight against coronavirus and the prevention “of the spread of extremist terrorism” on the African continent, the statement said.

In a separate statement, Faki Mahamat stressed the AU’s position over the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reiterating the bloc’s stance that a two-state solution was “necessary for peaceful co-existence”.

Steven Gruzd, the head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs said it was a pragmatic decision by the AU rather than an ideological one, as “Israel has a lot to offer Africa”.

“South Africa will feel a little out-manoeuvred on this one, given that during Dlamini-Zuma’s tenure as AU commissioner, the proposal was blocked presumably by Arab states in the North of Africa as well as countries like South Africa.

“This seems to be a diplomatic coup for the Israelis. It has been quite a long time coming, and even though symbolic in many ways, it’s an entry into a forum where their interests are being discussed, and it will provide a platform for a deeper engagement with the continent.”

Since 2016, Netanyahu has been to Africa five times, displaying Israel’s keen interest in growing relations with African states, Gruzd said.

“Also, as part of the Abraham Accords process, we’ve seen normalisation with Morocco and Sudan, both Muslim-majority states. So, Israel’s forays into Africa is paying dividends, and I think it will be very pleased about this. South Africa is a strong supporter of the Palestinians, and I guess will see this as a defeat, but it’s not like pressure on Israel is going to be reduced by South Africa.”

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), welcomed the development, saying it was hopeful that AU members would work more closely with Israel on issues such as fighting the coronavirus, improving regional security, and implementing water, agricultural, and healthcare technology solutions.

“We are also further encouraged that the AU status may assist other African countries to do the same,” Polovin said.

“The SAZF believes that greater intercontinental co-operation with Israel is a sign that the South African government should follow suit in building and improving its relations with Israel. Furthering the partnership with Israel would bring increased positive benefits and impacts for all South Africans, and would help address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality.”

Israel re-established relations with Guinea in 2016 and Chad in 2019. In October 2020, Israel also signed a normalisation agreement with Sudan.

In July 2016, Netanyahu became the first Israeli premier in decades to travel to the continent when he visited Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. There has been ongoing collaboration and engagement ever since with a number of African countries.

Meanwhile, the first direct commercial flights between Israel and Morocco landed in Marrakesh on Sunday, 25 July, more than seven months after the countries normalised diplomatic relations in a United States-brokered deal. This is another example of Israel and Africa moving closer together.

Passengers from Tel Aviv arrived on an Israir flight early on Sunday afternoon, and were met with dates, cakes, and mint tea at a welcoming ceremony organised in their honour. A second flight, by Israeli national carrier El Al, landed in Marrakesh later in the day. Both airlines are planning several flights per week to Marrakesh and Casablanca.

Morocco was one of four regional states to agree to normalise ties with Israel last year, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan.

The normalisation deals between Arab states and Israel have been deemed a “betrayal” by the Palestinians, who believe the process should follow resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Israel

Aliyah interest spikes after unrest

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The director of the Israel Centre South Africa, Liat Amar Arran, says the organisation received “100 enquiries” into aliyah over the past three weeks, and that “at least 50 files were opened” – the first step in the aliyah process.

Comparing these figures to the 30 to 40 enquiries the organisation normally gets every month, Amar Arran says although she’s happy South African Jews see Israel as an option, we shouldn’t make aliyah in a panic.

“Making aliyah in an emergency means the person isn’t ready and hasn’t had time to do their research. It means they’re running away, and it’s very hard to settle when you are running away from something. Aliyah is a process.” Amar Arran emphasises that while Israel will always be there for South African Jews, it’s unlikely it would ever evacuate the community unless lives were truly at stake.

She says the Israeli government was updated during the unrest, but didn’t see it as an evacuation-type situation. Her team and the Israeli government have faith that the Jewish community will stay and succeed in South Africa for decades to come. “Israel will be there to strengthen, support, and assist,” she says.

She points out that Israel isn’t a solution to the complex challenges that people might be facing in South Africa. “If you are struggling financially, Israel isn’t going to save you. Yes, it gives some support and assistance, but aliyah doesn’t mean all your problems are going to be solved. You will probably carry the same problems with you. We want to see olim succeed, not collapse. You may get some assistance in the beginning, but eventually, you need to live your life there. We don’t want you to look back and say, ‘Why did I make this decision?’”

If you want to have the option of aliyah in a time of emergency, “then open a file now, and work on it [getting documents]. Don’t wait. You want to be ready on your side. Then you know that you have the documents, even if you might never use them. That’s your insurance.”

She emphasises that the Israel Centre doesn’t have the capacity to “hold people’s hand”, and that it’s each individual’s responsibility to gather their documents and do their research. While she and her team offer guidance, advice, and support, each person has to take their own steps.

She refers to the joke of a man in a town that’s flooding, and people keep offering him help – in a car, a boat, and a helicopter, but he refuses to go with them because he’s “waiting”. Eventually, he drowns and goes to heaven, where he asks G-d, “Why didn’t you come save me?” And G-d answers, “I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter!”

Essentially, she’s saying that you can take practical steps like opening an aliyah file if you want to have an option during times of crisis. You can also watch the informative video explaining the aliyah process that the Israel Centre recently released online. There will also be an aliyah Q&A webinar on 5 August, and the Israel Centre hosts these webinars often for prospective olim.

Though the organisation has been stretched to capacity in recent weeks, Amar Arran doesn’t expect the high level of interest to continue unless there’s more unrest. In addition, she says there is always more aliyah interest during harder lockdowns, when people are at home, less busy, and thinking about the future.

Meanwhile, olim who are making aliyah this week say the process takes time. “Getting all my South African documents [to make aliyah] was the biggest challenge, especially during COVID-19,” says Tammy Wainer. “At times it felt like I was climbing up a mountain with no end in sight! Once I had all my South African documents, it was smooth sailing.”

To others considering aliyah, she says: “Aliyah is a very big decision. Do your research, and weigh the pros and cons. Israel will be there waiting with open arms, but ultimately, it will be up to you to make a new life for yourself.”

The recent unrest in South Africa didn’t have an impact on her decision, but “it made it easier for me to say goodbye. I won’t miss going to bed at night feeling anxious at the sound of gun shots. But at the same time, it makes me worried about the loved ones I leave behind. Just because we are leaving South Africa, doesn’t mean we are turning our back on South Africa. The fire of South Africa lives in all of us, and I will continue to be proudly South African and proud of our incredible Jewish community from afar.”

Tamar Lutrin is in Grade 10, and making aliyah with her family. “Making aliyah during COVID-19 was both beneficial and hard. It was easier to leave because we weren’t spending every second with the people we love, but at the same time, we couldn’t say proper goodbyes.” To others considering making the move, she says, “Don’t prolong it, go as soon as you can. It’s hard to break down a life here without building up a new one there.”

The recent unrest “made it easier to leave”, Lutrin says. “My family and I were never leaving South Africa because we hated it, we love South Africa and the community, but it did make the grass look greener on the other side.”

Says Sandra (Sandi) Shapiro, “After the current unrest in South Africa, I can say that I’m fortunate to be one of the lucky ones to be able to leave South Africa in such uncertain times. I leave behind family and friends, and I worry for them all. I can only pray that Hashem will protect all of South Africa, and that peace, harmony, and tranquillity will prevail.”

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Israel

Commonwealth Jewish Council calls for release of ‘Nigeria three’

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All Rudy Rochman wanted to do was to shine a light on unknown, disconnected, and re-emerging Jewish communities around the world, but something went horribly wrong.

The charismatic 27-year-old Israeli activist, who has more than 97 000 followers on Instagram, was working on a new documentary series titled, We Were Never Lost, which focused on these “lost tribes”. At the beginning of July, he and his team travelled to Nigeria to film their first episode.

However, Rochman, filmmaker Andrew Noam Leibman, and French-Israeli journalist Edouard David Benaym were arrested by Nigerian security services when the three presented a Torah scroll to a local community. They remain in custody, haven’t been charged, and haven’t been given legal representation. Organisations and individuals around the world are working desperately to get them released.

“Our first season is set in Africa, and we are filming our first episode on the Jews of Nigeria,” Rochman’s team wrote on Facebook on 8 July. “There are many Jews in Nigeria, Igbos included, and we are here only to help local practising and observing Jewish communities, to provide them with resources, and to document their lives, experiences, and aspirations. We don’t take any position on political movements as we aren’t here as politicians nor as a part of any government delegation.”

But the next day, they were arrested, supposedly for supporting “separatist activists”. Commonwealth Jewish Council (CJC) Chief Executive Clive Lawton is one of the many people working behind the scenes. Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from his home in the United Kingdom, he says he is alarmed that the men have been held in detention for more than a week without being charged. “That would indicate it’s only an investigation, but they still have no legal representation, and how can such an investigation take more than a week?”

He says the CJC has written to the Nigerian high commissioner to the Commonwealth, His Excellency Sarafa Tunji Isola, urging him to pressure his government to release them soon. “They are being detained on the flimsiest of pretexts. I’m sure the Nigerian government wouldn’t want to cultivate an image that foreign visitors can be snatched up on spurious accusations,” says Lawton.

He has also written to the secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations, Baroness Patricia Scotland. “In this family of nations, the quality of relationships and expectations of decency carry a lot of weight. It’s shocking that Nigeria might continue to hobnob with other heads of governments while treating foreigners like this. It should be seen as shameful. Yes, they might need to investigate something, but that doesn’t take 10 days. This isn’t just an investigation. It’s intimidation. Acting without due process is against Commonwealth principles,” he says.

He hopes that the less formal relationships between Commonwealth countries will make an impact. “At the very least, they should be released to go home. But more desirable would be that they be allowed to return to their cultural activity of making a documentary.”

Lawton says his organisation seeks to build relationships between Jews from around the world. More than 40 countries, including South Africa, are members.

Although the media reported that “three Israelis” were arrested, it’s unclear if all three have Israeli citizenship.

Lawton says Rochman and Leibman entered Nigeria on their American passports, and Benaym on his French passport. “We knew that they planned to make this documentary and were in the first stages of filming. They went to south-east Nigeria to visit a community. Like anyone making such a visit, they wanted to bring artefacts or objects to present to them. In this instance, they very generously brought a Sefer Torah.”

Two weeks ago, Rochman wrote on Instagram about how his team had “just acquired a beautiful Torah that survived the Holocaust and is believed to have come from an old community in Ukraine about 200 years ago”.

“The scribal experts our team spoke to stated that the ktav [writing] had since gone extinct, and they couldn’t believe their eyes when we sent them pictures of the scroll.

“We will be bringing the Torah and gifting it to the youth movement of Igbo Jewish communities of Nigeria for them to have access to our nation’s holy text.”

“It would seem that some separatist activists wrote Facebook messages along the lines of ‘welcoming this act of solidarity’”, Lawton says. “But in fact the filmmakers categorically stated that they had no interest in political issues and were there for a cultural reason – to make a film.

“They arrived on a Thursday, and visited a synagogue,” he says. “That was when Nigerian security services entered the synagogue and arrested them, taking them to the capital, Abuja. On the Friday, the men’s embassies were alerted, and sought to get involved. Chabad in Abuja has managed to organise provision of kosher food for them, which the security services agreed to allow. They also agreed for Benaym to be transported to the French embassy for medical attention, as long as he was returned to detention, and that is what was done. Israel has no ‘formal locus’ to help as they didn’t enter on Israeli passports, but it has sought to engage government and services.”

He believes that they are being held in some kind of “detention circumstances”, but cannot say what these conditions are like, if they are separated, or if they are being held with others. But he says that the fact that the French embassy was willing to return Benaym suggests it was “probably not extreme”.

A member of the Igbo community, speaking to the SA Jewish Report on condition of anonymity, says, “Our information is that Rudy and co. came here to do a documentary on the connection of the Igbo people to Biblical Israelites. Many Igbos are reviving the practices of their ancestors and returning to Judaism. This is what Rudy and his team wanted to do – to hear our story as told by our people. But sadly, some local people hijacked the original intention of Rudy and began to make political capital out of it. The team was bringing a Sefer Torah to be donated to our community. We were very happy that many Israelis would get to know about our Israelite heritage and know that we are brethren.

“Our people are very saddened by the arrest, but we don’t want to heighten tension by making utterances as the matter is being handled. We keep praying for their safety. We believe they will be released because their visit was for religious reasons. We don’t believe they came here to undermine the security of Nigeria. In our synagogues, we don’t entertain separatist activities. We are very sad about their plight. We see it as someone getting into unforeseen trouble while in search of a long lost brother.”

The most recent update on the We Were Never Lost Instagram page is that, “Rudy, Noam, and David are still in custody, but are ok. Their spirits remain high. Three embassies are working diligently towards a resolution. No other action is necessary from the community at this stage, but thank you all for the care and support.”

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