WHERE WAS NETANYAHU?
The larger question in the minds of SA Jewish leaders was not answered satisfactorily: Why was it not Netanyahu talking to them in this room, why didn’t he come to represent Israel?
When a delegation of six Israeli parliamentarians came to South Africa to attend Wednesday’s Mandela memorial at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg, one who provoked intense interest was 32-year old Penina Tamanu-Shata of Yesh Atid, the first Ethiopian woman MK in the Knesset. Previously deputy speaker of the Knesset, she is well known to some South Africans because of help to the Israel Now tours organised by Reeva Forman. “I was also born in Africa,” she said with pride. In Israel she became a lawyer, assisting distressed children. She worked as a journalist and was involved in hasbara. She said people must understand that Israel is about more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It is also about Operation Moses (which brought Ethiopian Jews to Israel), the immigration of Russian Jews to Israel, Operation Solomon, and so on. Mandela said that people are not born hating. He taught that human beings are human beings no matter their race or religion.”
The MKs addressed some thirty members of Johannesburg’s Jewish community at Beyachad on Wednesday evening. Many expressed disappointment that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not arrived to join the other world leaders. He had cited the trip’s high cost as the reason for cancelling at the last minute, but it probably also had to do with politics. The Israel-South Africa relationship is a troubled one, and there is hostility towards Israel in parts of the SA population and political circles, who label it an apartheid society because of its treatment of the Palestinians.
The MKs’ identities presented a fascinating picture of Israel’s diversity. Each spoke briefly about himself or herself. Hilik Bar, the Labour Party secretary-general, had previously visited South Africa in 2002 with Shimon Peres for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development with the objective of preventing it being highjacked by anti-Israel groups, who wanted to exploit it to show Israel was violating proper environmental policies. “At one point Mandela arrived. When he entered the room everyone stood up – he was like a god.” Bar referred to the conflict with the Palestinians: “I want to separate from them – it is the only way to a solution. There should be two states.”
It was inspiring, said Gila Gamliel of Likud, to see people dancing and singing for Mandela, rather than being engulfed in tears. “I will take this experience back with me to Israel”, she said emotionally.
Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz had visited South Africa as a journalist during apartheid. “Everyone thought at the time that there would be major bloodshed. Yet now I come to a peaceful South Africa for this tribute to Mandela. It is a form of closure. I also take home the experience of South Africans singing in celebration of Mandela’s life. Mandela will always be with us.”
American-born Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid, told how he got involved in politics in his home town of Bet Shemesh because of tensions between Jews of different lifestyles. He posed the question of how to find the balance between a democratic and a Jewish state. “In all the heartache of Mandela’s death,” he said, “today at the memorial I saw peoples’ spirits raised.”
Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein grew up in Russia and was a “prisoner of conscience” in the Soviet Union. He has been an MK for 17 years, during which time he has travelled to South Africa to meet every President of the country. He said it was a “great privilege” to chair the Knesset, a place of diverse debate with people like the delegation’s MKs. “I hope one day in Israel we will see leadership like we have seen in South Africa.” It won’t be easy to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, “but it wasn’t easy in South Africa either. Aside from the people on the fringes in both populations, the majority of people on both sides want peace.”
Edelstein had helped SA Jewry over the years in many ways, said SA Zionist Federation chairman Avrom Krengel. For example, when El Al was considering stopping flights to South Africa, which would have been a blow to its morale, Edelstein was instrumental in preventing it.
Community members left the room impressed by the MKs. Some gathered around to talk. But the larger question in their minds was not answered satisfactorily: Why was it not Netanyahu talking to them in this room, why didn’t he come to represent Israel? And why had he caused such a public relations disaster for Israel by precipitously cancelling the trip at the last minute?
Panic never got us anywhere
Isn’t it amazing how we can plan things to perfection and then, in one fell swoop, it all falls apart. And we had nothing whatsoever to do with it, and no recourse.
This is what happened over the past week. We all had our holidays planned to a tee. We had end-of-year parties organised. Magnificent weddings and Barmitzvahs were on the cards. We had youth movement camps confirmed – trommels packed and ready. And even Rage, something many of us were worried about, was going ahead. So many things to look forward to.
And then, Omicron reared its ugly head, and our scientists told the world about it. So, the world turned on South Africa, and the rest is history. Though the latter is true, we cannot dispute the ever-worrying fact of COVID-19 numbers increasing very quickly.
Never before has the saying, “Man makes plans and G-d laughs” been so evidently true. However, I don’t believe He is laughing when observant Jews are forced by Israel to fly home on Shabbos because the regulations changed while they were on their way there. Some of these people were doing a mitzvah in going to Israel to support the family of South African Eli Kay, who was murdered in a terrorist attack the week before.
I also don’t believe that anyone is laughing when we are cut off from Israel – or the world.
I love Israel but as I have said so many times, it’s not perfect. But for the Jewish State to force Jewish people – observant or not – to fly on Shabbos in unacceptable. If there is one country that should know the implications of that for those people, it’s Israel.
I have to say, I’m proud of our rabbinic leadership for standing up to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and vocalising their anger. I’m also pleased to see our chief rabbi calling the Israeli government to task for preventing Jews from going to Israel at any point.
This group wasn’t the only one whose international travel plans were shredded. In fact, the numbers of people who have been left in the lurch are only starting to surface. People were going for the birth of grandchildren, going to get married, going or coming for once-in-a-lifetime events, and making a long-awaited visit to their elderly parents, possibly for the last time.
All these plans have been scuppered. I guess if we knew that there was a fact-based reason – that we would contaminate or kill people with the virus – perhaps I can understand. But, for the most part, it was a knee-jerk reaction against South Africa and this continent.
However, though our anger and frustration can be taken out on governments around the world, the truth is that it might be misplaced. You see, at the end of the day, this is about this dreaded coronavirus that keeps mutating and coming back to hit us again and again.
The panic that was spread by overseas governments in shutting us off was, exactly that, panic. There was at the time no data-based information behind it except that it was a new, unusual variant.
At this point in time, we know that the numbers in Gauteng and the Western Cape are going up rapidly, but it hasn’t yet been seen in hospitals. Perhaps that will follow, or perhaps not. We don’t know.
What I’m hoping to hear is that our vaccines will keep us healthy – or limit the impact of the virus on us. And I believe that to be the case. So far, the people I know who have contracted COVID-19 recently and were vaccinated have suffered what appears to be much like flu.
I believe that if that’s the case, we can learn to live with this virus, as President Cyril Ramaphosa said. But I’m not a scientist, nor can I see into the future.
What I do know is that panic never got us anywhere except into trouble. It’s so much wiser to take the precautions we need to safeguard ourselves within reason.
Should you be cancelling your holiday? Well, are you going to be surrounded by unmasked and potentially COVID-19-positive people all day? If so, perhaps your holiday plans aren’t so smart. But if you’re going to hang out in your small bubble of people, spending most of your time outdoors, sanitising, washing hands regularly, wearing masks, and all the other protocols, I don’t believe that you should cancel. I believe we cannot cancel our lives.
Our economy needs you to go on holiday and, after this year, so do we all.
We have to live with caution, but we still have to live. The best way to do this is to follow the protocols and vaccinate. Vaccination – as I have said so many times – has to be the key to finding a balanced way of living with protocols, but still living.
We dare not ignore the numbers rising, and we have to take every precaution within reason. Perhaps I’ll regret saying this, but there are two types of health involved in this pandemic. They are physical and mental health. Our mental health also needs to be nurtured, as is clear in the story on page 5.
And to be cut off from other people again could have devastating effects. Let’s use our G-d-given sechel and not deny the existence of this virus. Let’s not blame others, let’s follow protocols, and within those parameters, go ahead with plans for our holidays.
Chag sameach for the rest of Chanukah! Here’s hoping for another Chanukah miracle!
SA govt’s deathly silence so telling
There are some people out there who believe the Jewish community is paranoid and sees antisemitism in everything. There was a time when even I thought we were a tad too sensitive, but I certainly don’t anymore.
It could be that in my position as editor of this newspaper, I see a lot more than I ever wanted to of people who really don’t like us.
I also see way too many of those same people claiming that they are human rights activists and that it’s not about us, as Jews, but a certain tiny country in the Middle East that’s smaller than the Kruger National Park. However, it just so happens that that particular country is the Jewish State and, according to the Bible, it is the land G-d gave to us. This was reiterated by the United Nations in 1948.
The point is, it’s difficult to separate hatred for a Jewish State and hatred for Jews. It is as it is.
On Sunday morning, there was a terrorist attack metres from the Kotel, our most holy place in the world. A young man, who happened to be a South African oleh, was happily heading to the Kotel where he works as a tour guide. He didn’t go there as a soldier. He didn’t go there with any negative intentions. It was a normal work day for him, and he loved what he did for a living and the city and country he chose to live in.
He was an observant Jew who was passionate about life.
This young man, Eli Kay, was brutally gunned down by a terrorist who tried to kill as many people as he could at one time. This terrorist is believed to have made plans for his wife beforehand, ensuring that the Israeli police couldn’t arrest or harass her after he committed this terrible deed.
He didn’t know Eli, nor did he care who he was or what he was doing there. He just wanted to kill Jews, and so he did. The others who were shot survived, but Eli – who was planning his engagement – didn’t.
Now, though certain media in this country put inverted commas around “terrorist attack” as it is in question when writing about Eli’s murder, this could be nothing other than a terrorist attack. Eli wasn’t shot for his money or anything that he was carrying. He and the terrorist didn’t know each other, nor did they communicate. The terrorist simply opened fire at Jews, and Eli was in his line of fire.
But you see, if you question whether it’s a terrorist attack, you underplay the horror of what happened. And, in doing so, you make it sound like we are exaggerating, or accusing an innocent person of doing something terrible.
In fact, there are media and anti-Israel lobby groups who claimed that Eli was a soldier and that there had been an exchange of fire. This is an out and out lie. Yes, Eli had served in the Israeli army, but was no longer a soldier. He was just a young man doing his job as a tour guide. I’m sure this chosen career couldn’t have been so easy in the past two years, considering the impact of COVID-19. And he was probably so chuffed to have work after a dry spell during the worst of the pandemic.
Again, by calling him a soldier rather than a tour guide or an average civilian, it implies that he was at war or ready for battle, which again, is a lie. He wasn’t anything of the sort, just a really great guy going off to work in a place he loved.
Other media called Eli a “settler”, which is also a loaded term, implying that he was living on land that was forcibly taken from Palestinians. Again, this is a total lie. He lived in Modi’in – between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – with his family.
Why oh why is it necessary to fake the truth? Why must the truth be skewed to undermine what happened to a South African man who grew up right here in Johannesburg? What on earth did he do to anyone that makes them want to undermine the horrific way he died? Help me here! I don’t get it.
Unless it’s simply about the fact that this young man was a proud Jew and a Zionist, and that, to certain people, is unacceptable.
Perhaps that’s why our own government has up to now said absolutely nothing about Eli’s death at the hands of a terrorist.
Isn’t it amazing how our country’s leaders are so quick off the mark to commiserate with all sorts of people who may have been hurt, maimed, or attacked around the world.
However, in this case, Eli was born here and grew up here. He was educated here. He has family here, and a community who loved him dearly. He even spoke with a South African accent.
But the deathly silence from our government is so telling and so ugly!
What are our leaders thinking that they cannot even send a message to the Kay family? Why has nobody gone to visit the family? What’s wrong with our leaders that they can treat their own fellow South Africans in this way?
My disappointment is immeasurable.
Our community is part of South Africa. We are South Africans. We have our own religion, which we are fully entitled to practice according to the South African Constitution, but we are participating citizens. In fact, our participation in this country is far more than just noticeable.
These same people who want to see Eli as someone bad know that he wasn’t. They want to justify how they feel about us.
You see, this can’t be about a terrible Israel that has done something to the poor Palestinians. It can’t. It was about young Jewish man who was mowed down in the prime of his life by a terrorist who simply wanted to kill our kind.
The reality is this incident cannot be seen as anything other than that, unless fake information is added to create a political football to be used against us.
It makes me mad and sad that our government hasn’t done the right thing. It makes me sad that they haven’t deigned to pay their respects to this South African family and made a statement condemning what was done to a young South African man. When is our government going to see the truth about the situation? What will it take, if not the death of one of our own?
Chag sameach and Shabbat Shalom.
A trumped up national crisis
Apparently we have a major crisis in South Africa – or so it would seem.
A 24-year-old beauty queen – who recently became Miss South Africa – is scheduled to compete in an international pageant in Israel. Can you believe this is a crisis?
I, too, am wondering what all the fuss is about. What difference does it make to most South Africans? Why is it in every news bulletin and newspaper? Why are journalists trying to find some skulduggery in this? Why, when we have a country that has a severe electricity crisis and this week, a water crisis, are we focusing on a beauty queen going to a pageant? Seriously!
And if you thought it was strange that the mainstream media have latched onto it, how about the fact that the government has taken sides and is doing what it can to force this young woman not to go. It’s totally absurd.
To the point that a government minister has made what appears to be a veiled threat to this young woman. He “suggested” as a national minister that if she didn’t withdraw it could prove to be disastrous for her future and public standing as a young black woman. Really!
Is it a crime to participate in an international beauty pageant? For goodness sake, this woman has put her all into becoming Miss South Africa, and now all she wants is to compete internationally. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a handful of women in the world. How dare he and the rest of the Israel-haters make her the scapegoat for their political shenanigans!
This same minister, Nathi Mthethwa, was oh so quiet during lockdown when the theatres were closed and actors, singers, and everyone in the entertainment world and aligned careers were literally left to starve. He did nothing to help them when he could.
Yet he has no problem in bullying a young woman who has done nothing wrong and simply wants to compete in a once-in-a-lifetime pageant.
I do find it interesting that Naledi Pandor, our minister of international relations and cooperation, hasn’t got involved in this. Minister Pandor, who most of us know is the more effective and intellectually superior minister, has chosen not to put her political footprint on something that shouldn’t be politicised. In fact, her department has made it clear that it won’t touch this, and will certainly not follow this ugly situation by downgrading the South African embassy in Israel or cutting ties with the Jewish State.
At least someone has sechel (common sense). Why do I have the sense that Pandor is embarrassed by this fracas – or is that just me projecting? I mean, I am embarrassed by this. Around the world, people are reading about it. What must they think?
And while I don’t generally give a fig about what people in other countries think about us, I can’t help but wonder how they perceive a government minister publicly taking sides against a young woman participating in an international beauty pageant while ignoring what he should be doing. Meanwhile, the country has a water and electricity crisis, and we are still reeling from corruption, among other serious issues.
But this poor young woman has been thrown onto centre stage in a performance she doesn’t want to be a part of simply because the pageant is taking place in a holiday town in Israel. Because of this, she and the Miss SA organisers are being punished for wanting to participate. Am I missing something?
Had the pageant taken place in Afghanistan or Iran, where there are serious human-rights problems, would anyone be pushing her not to go? Not in South Africa, that’s for sure.
I don’t for one moment say that Israel doesn’t have its problems, it does. It does have a situation that it needs to deal with, but what country doesn’t? We sure have our fair share within these borders.
Perhaps that dreaded cartoon that Daily Maverick put out this week is an indicator of what this is really about. The cartoonist took the situation and turned it into an antisemitic incident. Sure, Daily Maverick took it down from its site after people complained, but it had already sent it out to all its readers and supporters (many of whom are Jewish).
What astounds me is that it didn’t pick up that it was antisemitic and for that reason was totally unacceptable until the complaints came in. Even then, the real issue wasn’t dealt with when it was pulled off the page, and no explanation was given.
This kind of ugly rhetoric and bullying around attending a pageant is just unacceptable.
This morning (17 November) when I was listening to 702 in my car, I heard that the Miss SA organiser has a public-relations company, which has as one of its clients the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The announcer with seemingly much glee in his voice, said the JNF was a “Zionist organisation”. It doesn’t take much to join the dots, he said.
So, let me get this straight. If a PR company has 40 clients, each one would have an influence over the other? Is that what he’s claiming? That because the JNF – which most of us know plants trees, develops the land, and save lives around Israel – may be a client, it would then have some influence over Miss SA and the pageant in Israel. Sorry, I can’t see the connection and frankly, it’s insulting to the Miss SA organiser and its PR company.
There’s no skulduggery, just pure and simply bullying orchestrated by the anti-Israel lobby, for whom bullying is a favourite tactic.
These Israel-haters speak about human right, but what of the human rights of this woman to choose what she wants to do and what feels right to her. She doesn’t have to be a politician, but she certainly should have a right to make up her own mind without being bullied and threatened.
I stand by her making her own mind up without the muddiness of the bullying from the Minister Mthtewa and the anti-Israel lobby. It would give me great pleasure to see her win Miss Universe.
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