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‘We were played,’ says Krengel




Zev Krengel, vice-president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), was the only Jewish representative invited as a guest to the 2017 ANC elective conference, held at Nasrec in December.

He told SA Jewish Report this week that the international relations commission tasked with addressing the controversial downgrade issue was an “orchestrated, staged” affair. He said it had a “predetermined outcome” and culminated in a verbal anti-Israel “bloodbath”, in which South African Jewry were hung out to dry.

“It was a sad day; my lowest point as a community leader,” he lamented. “There were no discussions. There was only one narrative.”

He fingered the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, saying: “The ANC international relations commission was captured and hijacked by a minority force using its relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which goes back years, to further its agenda.

“We were definitely played,” said Krengel. “There was dishonesty in the process. We were misled by the leadership of the ANC international relations committee to believe that our submissions would be heard and debated. We thought there would be thorough, intellectual debate about the possible benefits for the Palestinian people.

“There was no commitment to looking for solutions to help the Palestinians get their state, or how to help them in any way. It was only about isolating and demonising Israel.”

On the day of the controversial decision – Tuesday, December 19 – the ANC policy conference had been rocked by a serious voting dispute over the election outcome of the party’s secretary-general. This overshadowed the euphoria of the previous night, following Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as new leader of the party, and went a long way in upstaging the international relations commission. The day was characterised by numerous delays and pandemonium as delegates debated the outcome of the election.

“The international relations commission was almost like a non-event,” said Krengel, counting only about 150 present (out of 4 700-odd delegates) in one of the side halls set up specially for commissions. He said he battled to find the right hall, as did several others, and it was delayed by hours.

Eventually, Krengel saw the international relations commission chairperson, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, and asked where the commission was being held. “She replied: ‘Why can’t you do something about your prime minister?’ To which I replied: ‘I only have one president.’ I took it she was referring to Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, and I knew then that we were on a hiding to nothing.”

Only a week before the ANC made its decision about Israel, US President Donald Trump unilaterally announced a decision to declare Jerusalem the official capital city of the state of Israel. This decision, Krengel said, was “the last red rag to the bull”.

A host of well known anti-Israel lobbyists and BDS supporters were present. They included Mandla Mandela, the grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, who is outspoken in his pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli views; BDS board chairperson Professor Farid Esack, who was involved in the University of Johannesburg’s academic boycott of Israel; BDS co-founder and director Mohammed Desai, known for justifying the singing of Shoot the Jew; struggle activist Mohammed Dangor, who is a former ambassador to Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia; activist Braam Hanekom; and Bongani Masuku, the international relations spokesperson for labour federation Cosatu who has a hate speech ruling against him for threatening the Jewish community.

Each took to the stage and encouraged an embassy downgrade.

“I went there, believing there would be real intellectual discussion, after which I thought it would go 50/50,” said Krengel. “I never for a minute thought it would be so one-sided. I really thought there would be robust debate with opposing views.

“There was no discussion. It was purely orchestrated to be vindictive and make Jews feel less welcome in South Africa. There was absolutely no discussion on how a downgrade was going to help the Palestinians.”

Krengel said he would have felt differently if the ANC had come to its decision following two to three hours of constructive debate. “That was my disappointment.”

He sat alone while speaker after speaker, sporting non-voting delegate observer status badges, lambasted Israel in what he described was a “hate fest for Jews”.

What struck Krengel as particularly disturbing was the lack of attention given to other major international atrocities, conflicts and human rights violations in Africa and the rest of the world. “These seemed to be side issues,” he said. “The commission barely touched on the problems in Morocco and the Western Sahara; and it briefly touched on Swaziland’s King Mswati III.

“Not a word about the Libyan slave trade, or the civil war in Syria, or the Rohingya persecution in Myanmar, or the coup in Zimbabwe, or the instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Instead, it was clear that every speaker was there purely to make sure the downgrade happened.” 

Only a handful of the 34 speakers in the hall of about 150 people touched on other issues, he said.

The last to speak, former president Kgalema Motlanthe – “the only ANC heavyweight present” – demurely gave some balance by saying that the “Israeli-Palestinian issue is very complicated”. He also asked about policy relating to South Sudan, but it was brushed aside.

Krengel said commission chair Molewa and International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane appeared “happy and comfortable” while all this was unfolding.

“I left saddened and disillusioned by the ANC,” he said.

There was just “one lone voice” in the crowd who called for further investigations, but this wasn’t explored. “If there were any other Israel supporters, they would have been drowned out and intimidated,” he said.

Asked why he didn’t raise his own voice in opposition, he said he wanted to see “how things played out first” and wasn’t sure if he was allowed to have his say. “By the time the sixth speaker came up, I realised it was a bloodbath. I realised there was absolutely no point in speaking. I was the only man wearing a yarmulke, so if they wanted to hear my views, they could have asked. They didn’t. It would have been like going to the Vatican and preaching the Koran.”

After this, the international relations committee presented what they heard to the ANC plenary, which made the final decision to downgrade the embassy to a liaison office “immediately and unconditionally”.

Wendy Kahn, national director of the SAJBD, and Ben Swartz, chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, said the two organisations had spent months engaging with the ANC, government and civil society. The board held a number of high-level symposia on the issue, always inviting government’s participation and forwarding relevant findings.

It is uncertain whether the international relations commission considered any of it.

Meanwhile, Krengel said that although they had “lost this round”, it wasn’t a “train crash, it was more a bruising”. He added that the SAJBD would discuss the way forward in the coming months.


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  1. Stanley Luntz

    Jan 18, 2018 at 11:37 am

    ‘Given the ANC’s predisposition towards the likes of, inter alia,  Muammar Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat, Jean Bertrand Aristede, Omar Al Bashir and Robert Mugabe, plus the ANC’s refusal to admit the Dalai Lama to SA, it’s a perverse compliment that Israel is specifically excluded from the distinguished club of ANC bedfellows. 

    That said, the naked antisemitism of the ANC gives rise to a palpable unease. 

    Incidentally, the "The ANC was steamrolled" sub header suggests the ANC had to be somehow pressured or forced into making the decision it did. Quite the contrary, there is no reason to doubt ANC did what it did entirely willingly and with no force or pressure whatsoever. It certainly did not need "steamrolling".


  2. nat cheiman

    Jan 18, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    ‘Nonsense. They did this with their eyes wide open.

    The same as refusing to get assistance in water desalination & university exchanges.

    The ANC are lead by morons’

  3. Jonni Kagan ( Canada )

    Jan 18, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    ‘South African Jewry has always produced eloquent,articulate and well educated people to represent them.

    I am sorry to say that Mr Krengel does not fit the bill and is out of his depth when confronted with well educated anti Semites and anti Zionists who mostly have Phds and Masters degrees in social sciences and/or the humanities. 

    Sending someone like Mr Krengel to represent you is like going to a gunfight with a pea shooter.He doesn’t come across as articulate nor erudite and presents as uneducated.

    Oh for the days of an Issy Maisels etc etc’

  4. Victor Adendorff

    Jan 19, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    ‘I reply to the comment made by Jonni Kagan Canada in the matter above.

    I need to correct you with regards your personal attack on Mr. Krengel’s intelligence. Since when does a Phd in Social Science give you any credible logic and experience to engage in discussions regarding politics and practical social issues? South Africa has probably the most fake and grossly inferior Phd certificates anywhere found in the world. Mr. Krengel did not choose himself to be the VP of SAJBD, but by voters in the orginasation. Thus, by saying in your quite direct words that he is not intelligent enough for his position, what are you telling about those who voted him into this position? You are wrong with your assumption that a graduate is intelligent, because I know more wise and intelligent ‘commoners’ than graduates. Knowledge you learn from a book, wisdom is learned through common sense. By the way, most super Jewish businessmen and women don’t have a university degree, but volumes and volumes of wisdom and common sense.

    PS: Should you wonder; I have never met Mr. Krengel but your interpretation of a Phd being the benchmark for negotiations, needed to be corrected.

  5. Rafi Plotkin - Thornhill,Toronto

    Jan 25, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    ‘Hi Victor I agree with you that a business person does not need academic qualifications to succeed.But Victor The Board of Deputies is NOT a business and therefore needs leaders with different skill sets from those required to operate a business.

    Yes it does need well educated people to perform the very difficult task of representing its constituents.

    A well educated person with wisdom will always be preferable to those without either skill sets.

    By the way many of the BDS spokespeople have qualifications from overseas countries and are skilled negotiators and very well versed in the history of the middle east.

    To compare The Board of Deputies with a business is off the mark and doesn’t hold water.’

  6. Zac Olpert

    Jan 30, 2018 at 5:44 am

    ‘I agree with Jonni that SA Jewry needs well and suitably qualified persons to represent them,people with both an education and of course wisdom.

    I would agree that such education would be in Jewish and Zionist history amongst other liberal art subjects as well as Law.

    In response to Victor’s comment I would like to correct him by pointing out that the following entrepreneurs all have University degrees : Kerzner,Ackerman,Lord Joffe,Oppenheimer,Shuttleworth,Brian Joffe,Gore,Matsepe,Ramaphosa,Copelyn,Buffet,Steve Wynn ,Sir Mark Weinberg,Natie Kirsh  ……….. the list is endless.

    To be a Deputy of The Jews of SA does NOT require business skills.


    a Jewsih Deputy does not require entrepreneurial skill .

  7. David K

    Feb 18, 2018 at 7:15 am

    ‘This is Zev Krengel’s attempt to cover up for his silence and lack of commitment.

    There was no "hate fest for Jews" in the commission. (I know; I was there, and I’m a Jew.) There was a proposal and people were invited to comment on it. It was  vigorous discussion and people had strong opinions. But no one was prevented from expressing his opinion. The fact that the majority of people had a particular opinion on the matter and expressed it is a reflection of democratic process. The fact that Zev Krengel chose not to speak is a reflection of his cowardice. He is using emotive language and attempting to paint a picture of anti-Semitism simply in order to excuse his cowardice.

    There was an anti-Israeli feeling among many in the commission, but there was no anti-Semitism. Why did Zev sit quietly in a corner and when chairperson Edna Molewa called for other opinions, and looked directly at him, he remained silent? Why did he not take the opportunity to speak? Afraid he might compromise the privileged friendship he enjoys with Cyril Ramaphosa? So, to cover up for himself, he creates a narrative to justify his silence. By the way, Ambassador Dangor, who Zev says was one of those who argued for the resolution, did not even speak in the commission, though he was present. Is this just Zev’s imagination gone wild or his creating alternative facts to cover his back?

    If Zev wants to represent the Jewish community he should do so properly and not blame others for his cowardice. And the SAJBD must learn to engage and debate, not just in private dinners with politicians.’

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