‘Shame on you! Shame on you!’
Criticising the South African government and ruling African National Congress (ANC), a deeply betrayed head of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) cried out last Sunday, 15 October, “Shame on you! Shame on you!”
The words of SAZF National Chairperson Rowan Polovin echoed the profound disappointment and heartache of a well-attended Johannesburg solidarity rally following the heinous Hamas terrorist attack on Israel less than two weeks ago.
“From Haman to Hamas. From the death camps of Hitler to the dark tunnels of Hamas. The relentless drum of history continues to beat the raw, destructive hatred of the Jews,” said Polovin.
Describing the massacre as “a pogrom of biblical proportions”, he said, “The Hamas charter is the modern sequel to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. And like Hitler, it did exactly what it said it would do, given half the chance, to express its genocidal ambitions.
“I say this to those who have been trying to justify these heinous crimes, who rationalise that the slaughtering and abduction of innocent women and children in their homes is a legitimate reaction to some alleged policy of the Jewish state or her government. I say this to President Ramaphosa and the ANC leaders, garnishing Palestinian scarves and as they did, pledging solidarity to the Palestinians who murder Jews: ‘Shame on you!’”
What should have been the SAZF’s 50th national conference and a celebration of 125 years of active citizenry in South Africa was instead a vigil and coming together of a bruised South African Jewish community in the wake of the worst terrorist attack ever in Israel’s history.
Polovin said the ANC government continued to take sides with terrorists, dictators, and despots around the world, and against democracies.
“It doesn’t represent the majority of peace-loving South Africans, who support and sympathise with the holy land,” he said, thanking political parties who chose “values over votes”, churches, civil society groups, and others who unequivocally condemned the unprovoked acts of terror and stood with the community and Israel.
“I want to tell the president and the ANC: you aren’t South Africa,” said Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein. “You don’t own this country. It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the people of this great nation – 60 million South Africans – people of faith, dignity, compassion, morality. We reject the comments of this government. They are not in our name, and not in the name of its citizens.”
The day marked an historical turning point for South African Jewry, forsaken by the ruling party and government following images of death and destruction in the wake of the unprovoked 7 October massacre and an unrelenting barrage of rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip.
Goldstein said the government hadn’t found a tyranny in the world it didn’t support. In light of this, he said, “Your support for the state of Israel would be an embarrassment to us.”
He encouraged the community to be proud and confident, protected by our democracy, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, independent judiciary, and free press, without needing the endorsement of the government or the ANC.
“This is a battle between good and evil, between darkness and light, and the forces of democracy, freedom, and human dignity. Israel must triumph, not only for Israel, but for every human being on this planet.”
The Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Eli Belotsercovsky, said Israel didn’t choose to go to war, it was imposed on the country.
“This war isn’t about revenge or retribution. It’s not retaliation, and not directed at Gaza civilians. It’s a war against terror, a continuation of the war against ISIS [Islamic State],” Belotsercovsky said. “Hamas can easily stop the suffering of the population of Gaza. It can free the hostages, it can stop the missile attacks on Israel, it can punish the perpetrators of the barbaric onslaughts, and invest in peaceful coexistence side by side with Israel. But Hamas isn’t interested in this. It openly and clearly declares that its aim is the destruction of the Jewish state.”
A tearful Rabbi Doron Perez, the head of World Mizrachi, whose son, Daniel, is missing and whose older son, Yonatan, was shot in combat, addressed the crowd from Israel. Both sons were students at Yeshiva College where the gathering took pace. He described the South African Jewish community as “the pearl in the Jewish world” for its Yiddishkeit and connection to Israel.
In a pre-recorded address, Rabbi Leo Dee, whose wife and two daughters were killed by Palestinian terrorists earlier this year, spoke about how the recent attacks had galvanised Jewish solidarity across the world.
Dee, who was meant to be guest speaker at the event, said it was expected that only 60% of reservists called up would show up for active duty but in the end, 100% of reservists showed up and a further 20% arrived without even being asked to. “We’re starting a new world,” he said.
“What has been done to the people of Israel, particularly the children, is evil in its worst form,” said Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie. “Hamas is a terrorist organisation. Hamas is the sister of Al Qaeda, of ISIS.” He said it was “unspeakable” to stand with Hamas, who posted pictures of its savagery online. “I grew up in apartheid, and I can tell you Israel isn’t an apartheid state,” McKenzie said.
Representing Progressive Jewry, Michelle Campbell, an Israeli and the mother of three soldiers, two of whom are serving in the Israel Defense Forces, said, “We Jews have been here before. We have faced those who wanted to kill us, get rid of us, wipe us from the earth. And we’re still here. When Hamas attacked Israel, it didn’t ask who was Reform, who was Orthodox, who was Christian, who was a Jew, who was a Muslim. It didn’t ask who was a foreign worker, a soldier. It didn’t care.”
“Our strength is in working together,” she said. “We will mourn, remember, and then we’ll fight.”