Board’s task: to protect community’s civil liberties

  • Mary Kluk chairperson SAJBD - HOME
This week, I was interviewed on SAfm along with a representative of the group Jewish Voices for a Just Peace. In response to a claim that no space is allowed for dissenting views on Israel in our community, I emphasised that, on the contrary, there are various avenues and forums through which community members can express themselves.
by MARY KLUK | Aug 20, 2014

What we need to ensure, rather, is that people are not demeaned and insulted because of the positions they choose to take. Our challenge is to embrace and continue the age-old Jewish tradition of debate where all viewpoints are dealt with on their merits and minority voices are not excluded from the dialogue.   

Tony Ehrenreich, Cosatu’s Western Cape provincial secretary, is an example of someone who regards dissent from the view he holds as a punishable offence. This he has made clear in a number of highly inflammatory post on Facebook, whereby he, inter alia, accused the SAJBD of being “complicit in the murder of the people in Gaza” and that the time had come for it to “feel the wrath of the people of SA with the age-old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye” whenever a woman or child is killed in Gaza.

The Board has since lodged both criminal charges with the police and a formal complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission in response to this overt hate speech and incitement to violence. This is in addition to a number of other such cases we have lodged recently against individuals who have, we believe, threatened and incited hatred against our community.

The activities of the Board are wide ranging, including outreach and bridge-building initiatives and the safeguarding of the Jewish heritage in this country. Its primary mandate, however, is to protect the civil liberties of South African Jewry, and our community can rest assured that to this end, we will continue to leave no stone unturned in dealing appropriately with each and every case of anti-Semitism that comes to our attention. 

At a time of heightened emotion and diametrically opposed viewpoints regarding the Middle East question, it is rare to find someone who can negotiate between the extremes and provide a reasoned, informed voice.

The renowned journalist and author, Benjamin Pogrund, is one such person. He is by no means uncritical of Israel, but when discussing what he sees as its flaws, he does so in a considered, contextualised way.

That inequalities exist in Israeli society is a reality that needs to be addressed but, as Pogrund has consistently argued, these in no way are of such a nature as to justify the “Israel = Apartheid” label. During the apartheid years, at considerable personal risk, he was at the forefront of journalists exposing the inequities of the system, which makes it hard indeed for others to simply dismiss him as a “Zionist apologist”.

He was in South Africa last week to promote his new book Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel. The SAJBD was much involved in organising his itinerary, including working with the publishers in arranging book launches, media interviews and meetings with other journalists and opinion makers.

For those genuinely interested in understanding the complex nature of Israel and its relationship with its neighbours, Benjamin’s measured, balanced approach to these questions will have come as a welcome change to the hyperbolic, heavily politicized rhetoric which all too often passes for critical comment in our media. 


  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00 - 13:00. This Friday, Charisse speaks to Benjamin Pogrund on his new book Drawing Fire and Aviva Moses and a representative from the Japanese embassy on the forthcoming evening paying tribute to Chiune Sugihara, “Righteous Among the Nations”.




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