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Op-eds

A year of activism for community and country

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
This being the final Above Board column for the year, I will, as has become tradition, take the opportunity of reviewing the work of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) during this period. For the country as a whole, there have been many momentous developments, while from the SAJBD’s point of view, it was another exceptionally busy year in which, in spite the occasional set-back, we accomplished a great deal, and recorded many significant successes.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Dec 13, 2018

The year got off to a rocky start in the aftermath of the resolution to downgrade the South African embassy in Israel taken at the ANC’s electoral conference. At this stage, it has not yet been implemented. We were encouraged by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reiteration of government’s support for engagement with both sides, rather than boycotting.

The South Africa-Israel relationship continues to come under persistent attack, however. Part of our push-back against this pernicious trend has been to work with the South African Union of Jewish Students and the South African Zionist Federation to combat the grotesque “Israel Apartheid Week” jamboree on university campuses. Here, we have made encouraging strides in turning this period from being a dreaded hate fest into a celebration of Israeli diversity.

Apart from a brief spike in activity in the middle of the year, anti-Semitism continued to be a relatively low-level problem. In a number of widely-publicised cases, we were able to reach a satisfactory conclusion through a process of restorative justice whereby offending parties apologised publicly, and underwent a course of tolerance-awareness education through the South African Holocaust Foundation.

We also finally saw a satisfactory outcome in our cases against Tony Ehrenreich, former ANC Western Cape Chairperson of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), and former ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman. Both were found guilty of hate speech against the Jewish community by the South African Human Rights Commission. On the negative side, the hate-speech ruling by the Equality Court against Cosatu’s Bongani Masuku was overturned in the Appeal Court in what is believed by many in the legal profession to be a deeply flawed judgement. Papers are currently being prepared for the Constitutional Court.

We represented the community on a range of public and interfaith bodies addressing issues of common concern such as combating racism and related prejudice, and poverty relief.

In terms of broader human-rights activism, the Gauteng Council organised the launch of the Hate Crimes Working Group’s five-year report into hate crimes in South Africa. Similarly, our Cape Council launched its “No Place for Hate” campaign.

Perhaps the most uplifting demonstration of our community’s commitment to South Africa was our Gauteng Council conference on 25 November. There, we were able to send a staunch message of support to Ramaphosa and other members of his government that the Jewish community is behind his efforts to get our country back on track. At the same time, the capacity hall was uplifted by the president’s warm words to the community, and his commitment to uproot corruption wherever it may occur.

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