Op-eds

2019 in retrospect

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Modern life moves at a bewilderingly fast pace. No sooner has one come to the end of one project than it is time to embark on the next, leaving little time to reflect on what has been accomplished. The year’s final “Above Board” column is thus always an opportune time to reflect on the highlights of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ (SAJBD’s) activities during the previous 12 months.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Dec 12, 2019

To help our community participate in this year’s elections, we again ran a multifaceted election education and awareness campaign. Dubbed #MakeUsCount, this included multiparty election debates, a Freedom Seder, public meetings with party representatives, and voter registration drives. It culminated with an SAJBD-headed interfaith and multinational observer team assisting the Independent Electoral Commission at hundreds of polling stations across seven provinces.

In August, we hosted a delegation from Women Wage Peace, an Israeli non-governmental organisation (NGO) that brings many thousands of Israeli women from across the spectrum together in the common cause of working for peace. The delegation was brought out in the lead-up to Women’s Day to share the lessons of this inspiring grassroots movement.

Last month, the long-running campaign by anti-Israel lobbyists to get the University of Cape Town to boycott Israeli academic institutions was finally conclusively defeated. For the board and its partners, including the South African Zionist Federation and the South African Union of Jewish Students, it was a satisfying culmination of extensive efforts to oppose this immoral initiative. Another encouraging push-back against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement on campus was the striking success of the counter-campaign against “Israel Apartheid Week”, which effectively eclipsed the distinctly muted activities of the other side. In terms of combating anti-Semitism, in August, the board’s ten year-long case against the Congress of South African Trade Union’s Bongani Masuku culminated in a hearing before the Constitutional Court. We are waiting for the finding in this matter, which will have significant implications for how laws prohibiting hate speech in our country are interpreted and applied.

There was an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to the SAJBD’s 50th biennial national conference, in which a distinguished panel of experts in their field “unpacked” the challenges and enduring strengths of our society. The message was that while undoing the destructive legacy of state capture will take time, progress is taking place, and overall, South Africa is in a much better place than it was two years ago. Also on the communal front, the board was involved in the establishment of the Small Jewish Communities Association to ensure the continuance of services to Jews living in country areas. This week, we had the satisfaction of resolving a difficult dispute between the Bnei Akiva campsite and its neighbours, ensuring that Bnei Akiva’s end-of-year camp activities would continue as before.

I conclude by thanking my SAJBD colleagues and professional staff for all their support and good work, and wish everyone a pleasant, relaxing, and safe December break.

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