The Jewish Report Editorial

Differ on strategies, but not on goals

  • Vanessa
For the first time in our history, South African Jewish communal organisations have publicly criticised the Israeli government for denying South Africa’s Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande a visa to visit the Palestinian territories.
by VANESSA VALKIN | May 06, 2015

“This is most regrettable,” the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation said in a joint statement, noting their “concern” over Israel’s decision. Nzimande was scheduled to leave on April 25 for discussions with his Palestinian counterpart, Minister Khawla Shaksheer and to attend the opening of an African Studies Centre at a local university north of Ramallah. 

Nzimande was even angrier with the refusal and called it a “declaration of diplomatic aggression on our government”. He also called on all South African tertiary institutions with academic links to Israel to cut ties. 

The incident has evoked strong opinions on public platforms and in international media as well as creating tensions within the Jewish community and outside of it. 

It has also raised some difficult questions that we cannot help but ask. Should the Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation have been publicly critical of Israel? Should they have got involved in a consular issue at all? 

Should Israel have refused a visa to a Cabinet minister who was not visiting Palestine on security issues but on educational matters? Is the accusation swirling that Israel acted like South Africa might have during the apartheid era, a fair one?

Whatever shape our critical views take, one thing is clear: both Israel and our communal organisations gave considerable thought to their decisions and acted in (what they deemed were) the best interests of the parties they represent. 

Although the Board and the Fed feel an immense loyalty to Israel and are usually protective of it on almost any issue, they believed that Israel had made the wrong decision and issued a call for the two governments to opt for a course of constructive engagement and build bridges. 

Faced with groups like the SA Communist Party, Cosatu and BDS South Africa calling on the ANC national executive to ban travel to Israel for government officials, demanding the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and calling for the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions to prosecute South Africans serving in Israel’s army, can we expect our leadership not to get alarmed? 

The organisations truly felt they needed to stand up and call for the parties to resolve their differences as an act of protection for South African Jewry.

Israel also had sound reasons for deciding not to grant an entry visa to Nzimande. Over the last few years, Israel’s representatives in South Africa have attempted to create greater co-operation and dialogue with government here and have pushed for ANC Cabinet members to make official visits to Israel, but have not had the reception they had hoped for. 

Last year when Israel obediently granted visas to Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau and Deputy Minister Obed Bapela to come through Israel to visit neighbouring countries, both of them refused to meet with Israeli officials when they were asked. 

Can we blame Israel for, this time, deciding to make a point? Can we expect Israel to meekly play the role of “business class lounge” for ANC officials en route to Israel’s detractors without giving Israel an opportunity for engagement? 

What is reassuring is that neither the South African government nor Israel have made public statements on the issue. The two governments have bigger problems to consider than a consular spat like Nzimande’s visa refusal or a futile BDS-led coalition calling for boycotts of Israeli universities. Perhaps we need to see this as part of a circus to undermine Israel and create division in our community.

Let’s not give these voices the satisfaction they are seeking. Both Israel and the local Jewish community are fighting for the integrity of Israel and the Jewish world in the Diaspora. We may differ slightly on the strategy, but not on the goals themselves.


                                                              – Vanessa Valkin, Editor


  1. 3 Choni 06 May
    "What is reassuring is that neither the S.A. Government nor Israel have made public statements about this issue"
    Wise words Ms. Editor. Therefore I would add that this editorial was quite unnecessary.
  2. 2 Alan Abrahams 07 May
    It is clear that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation only made this statement because they were threatened. It is of critical importance to the SA Jewish community to know who made this threat, and what the nature of the threat was.
  3. 1 Choni 07 May
    Alan, I think you are wrong. It is more and more clear that our lay leaders prefer identifying themselves as S.African Jews with little or no concern for the Land of Israel. They obviously do not consider themselves to be in exile, which is certainly not a good thing for them or their children.


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