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Voices

Pernicious playing of anti-Israel card

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Last week, the SowetanLIVE reported on workshops for pupils conducted by the Durban Holocaust & Genocide Centre (DHGC) in Howick. In the article, those interviewed expressed concern about the inflammatory language that characterises much of the xenophobic rhetoric in South Africa today in which African refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers are blamed for the country’s problems. Such “othering” language and scapegoating, they pointed out, was reminiscent of how the Nazis went about vilifying Jews and other minorities they wished to persecute in the period leading up to World War II, and this prepared the ground for the unspeakable atrocities they were later to commit.

The article led to an intemperate attack on the DHGC in one of the weekend papers in which more than half of the response was devoted to vilifying Israel, even though this had nothing whatsoever to do with the subject under discussion. In doing so, the writer clearly intimated that in order to express a view on human-rights issues pertaining to their country, Jews must first sign on to the radical anti-Israel agenda. It amounted to cynically playing the anti-Israel card to smear and delegitimise a Jewish communal organisation, and that’s not something we can accept.

In our response, we stated that aside from presuming to impose conditions on our community’s fundamental right of freedom of expression, it fed into the classic antisemitic canard that Jews are not truly South African but should rather be regarded as part of a global and foreign Jewish entity. We further pointed out that holding a Jewish organisation accountable for what other Jews on another continent were allegedly guilty of was racist and discriminatory, reinforcing toxic notions of collective guilt in which people are judged and condemned not on the basis of who they are, but as members of an impugned group.

‘Mensches in the Trenches’ Israel launch

Last week, I was part of a Jewish leadership delegation to Israel. This will be the subject of next week’s column, but one of the highlights was the launch in Ra’anana, under the joint auspices of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and Telfed, of our book Mensches in the Trenches on Jewish anti-apartheid activists.

I had the opportunity to interview Paul and Nicholas Goldreich about their father, Arthur, a celebrated figure in the annals of the freedom struggle. They gave us many fascinating insights about growing up on Liliesleaf Farm, the legendary headquarters of the underground armed wing of the African National Congress, Umkhonto we Sizwe, in Rivonia. I also spoke to Rabbi David Benjamin, who shared his memories of his father, Rabbi Meyer (Sonny) Benjamin, and his opposition to apartheid while serving as a rabbi in Cape Town.

In my opening remarks, I emphasised how the book, far from being a heavy read, was moving, heart-warming, and even funny on occasion – a tribute to author Jonathan Ancer. It tells very human stories about big and small kindnesses performed by members of our community on behalf of the oppressed, and the price they paid for this. The amazing courage they showed was what really stood out for me, and made the book inspirational reading. I strongly encourage everyone to read it for themselves.

• Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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