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Voices

Taking anti-Semitism seriously

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SHAUN ZAGNOEV

This will form the basis of my next column. This week, I would like to focus on National Director Wendy Kahn’s recent participation in two very important international gatherings in Bucharest, Romania, namely the International Meeting of Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Anti-Semitism, and the annual World Jewish Congress National Community Directors’ Forum.

At the special envoys meeting, presentations were made by a range of senior political and communal leaders at the forefront of combating anti-Semitism worldwide. They included Elan Carr, United States special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism; the United Kingdom’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues; and Anna Bokshitskaya, the executive director of the Russian Jewish Congress.

On the one hand, it is reassuring to see how seriously governments across Europe and further afield are taking the threat of anti-Semitism, and the kind of practical measures that are being implemented to protect Jewish communities. On the other, it’s deeply sobering that 75 years after the Holocaust, the hatred against Jews has increased to such an extent it necessitates these responses.

The meeting included an event to mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires. Considered to be the worst terrorist attack against Jews in the post-World War II era, the AMIA atrocity claimed 85 lives, and fundamentally changed the way Jewish communities in the diaspora operate. Today, unfortunately, we have to rely mostly upon ourselves to provide adequate security for our communal events and installations. Indeed, our own Community Security Organisation was formed on the initiative of the SAJBD soon after the AMIA attack.

At the directors’ forum, senior communal professionals from more than fifty countries came together to share experiences and discuss common challenges. Two of the issues discussed at length were the dire situation of the Jewish community in crisis-ridden Venezuela, and the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism within the UK’s Labour Party.

Taking part in forums like this makes one realise that Jewish communities everywhere have their own unique challenges, which we need to bear in mind when dealing with our own. We can also be strengthened by the many sincere and committed non-Jewish opponents of anti-Semitism who are fighting the scourge alongside us. Lord Kevin Shinkwin, who we were honoured to bring out to South Africa earlier this year to speak at Yom Hashoah and at various other human-rights forums, is one of them. Speaking in a debate on anti-Semitism in the House of Lords last week, Shinkwin paid generous tribute to the SAJBD “for the wonderful work that its national director, Wendy Kahn, and her colleagues do to promote the Jewish community and its continuing and significant contribution to South Africa”.

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

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