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Minister hopeful about improved relations between Israel and SA

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Israel Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai is hopeful that the relationship between Israel and South Africa will improve soon.

“I’m hopeful that things will get better and even hopeful that the South African government will finally recognise that it made some mistakes vis-à-vis Israel,” he told the participants at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) national conference on 17 October.

“It’s time for the South African ambassador to return to Israel and to renew full diplomatic relations. We do everything we can to improve their relations from our end,” he said, speaking from Israel as a guest of honour at the conference.

Shai is widely remembered as the voice of national calm when serving as a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces when Iraq fired missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

He is a good friend of South Africa, and said he vividly remembers being part of a group of Knesset members who visited South Africa three or four years ago. “Needless to say, we appreciate your community, how much you devoted to Zionism and Israel, and of course to your Jewish life.”

Shai thanked the SAJBD National President Shaun Zagnoev and the SAJBD National Vice-Presidents Mary Kluk and Zev Krengel for their contribution to the South African Jewish community during the recent period.

“All of you have played a very important role, like Moshe,” he said. “If the Jewish people were in the desert without Moshe, where would we have been today?”

Shai noted that Europe had lost eight million Jews in the past 75 years. “On the eve of the World War II, nine and a half million Jews were living in Europe. Now there are just one and a half million. Six million were lost in the Holocaust. The rest just left Europe and went all over the world.”

Shai, who is the founder of the commercial Second Authority for Television and Radio in Israel, said Europe consequently lost a significant portion of its culture. He would like to help Jews return to Europe and foster Jewish life there.

He marvelled at how, first, a Jewish state was formed three years after the end of the Holocaust and, second, how Israel had led the world in combatting COVID-19.

“We were the first to be fully vaccinated,” he said. “To the great credit of this [Israeli] government, we decided neither to quarantine nor close down the entire country any longer. We did this to keep the country moving, not to lose billions of shekels. Now, the economy is still on track, and we are determined to return to normal life, including schools.”

As a parting gesture, he said,” We hope to see you in Israel. We are gradually opening borders and easing restrictions.”

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