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Which battles and weapons?




Is it cowardice? Or being expedient, or smart? To what extent can one compromise without losing what you stand for? Is he on the way to becoming a “closet Jew”?   

We can imagine similar examples, such as a supermarket chain in the face of anti-Israel protests taking the easy route by removing Israeli products from its shelves in Muslim areas. Cowardice or shrewd business sense? A company which did that would be denounced and probably boycotted by its Jewish clientele.

What should the Jewish response be to anti-Israel protests which morph into anti-Jewish slogans, like some recent demonstrations and the tweets doing the rounds saying things like “Hitler was right” and “Keep calm and kill Jews”?

Last week pro-Palestinian activists announced their intention to ride in a large motorbike convoy through traditional Jewish areas of Johannesburg on Saturday, displaying posters, Palestinian flags and other items.

Upon hearing of this, a small group of pro-Israel Jews gathered defiantly that day in the road along the expected route with large Israeli flags, waiting to confront the convoy. This gave them a great emotional boost: “We can also be street fighters if we need to, to stand up for what we believe!”

Some local Jews passing by in their cars, hooted and gave the thumbs-up sign. However, others walking past berated them for being confrontational and provocative, telling them to take down the flags. This sort of thing, they said, would only create even more of a fuss and focus unwelcome public attention on the strongly pro-Israel Jewish community.

In Paris the LDJ, the Jewish vigilante group which in the past have been largely viewed negatively by French Jews for being confrontational towards anti-Israel and anti-Jewish targets, have become more popular lately through standing up to anti-Jewish protesters, physically tackling them head-on with clubs and chairs when they threatened a synagogue.

What is the right thing to do? Some younger Jews, particularly in Israel, harbour a disdain for European Jews who they claim “went like sheep to the slaughter” during the Holocaust. Today isn’t Germany in the 1930s, Nazis aren’t roaming the streets with clubs, and many democratic channels are available. Should we be more assertive? Should we create groups of physically muscular Jewish “vigilantes” to show their presence at potential flashpoints? 

The age-old dilemma of Jews: to keep their heads down and hope the anti-Jewish tide will pass, or stand up and shout at the top of their voices? Or something in between? Wars today are not only conducted by tanks and guns, but it’s also the fight over public perceptions, particularly in this era of social media where almost anything goes – instantly.

The approach of mainstream representatives of South African Jewry to anti-Jewish incidents, has been to issue public statements, hate speech complaints to the Human Rights Commission, behind-the-scenes appeals to government and so on. And pro-Israel rallies like the one scheduled for Sunday have been planned. Physical confrontation has been assiduously avoided.

President Jacob Zuma has sent a delegation under a former minister of foreign affairs, Aziz Pahad to the Israel-Gaza conflict area to supposedly help broker a peace deal. But this does not negate the fact that in the local context, the government has “nailed its colours to the mast” on the Middle East, coming down strongly against Israel.

Should South African Jews continue to play nice with the government, hoping to influence its stance through back-room diplomacy and dignified argument? Or should it play tough, shout to the rooftops and denounce them with pickets, financial threats and the like?

This dilemma is a severe test for Jewish leadership. Only history will judge whether the choices made today were the correct ones.

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  1. Some One

    Aug 4, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    ‘It’s important not to close any doors, so mainstream representatives need to maintain the relationship they have with govt. But they should not be under the illusion that they’re talking to friends, and they should not foster a belief in the community that the govt is well-disposed to Jews. The govt does not like Jews. It has made that clear time and time again, most recently by refusing to censure its standard bearers who post inciteful messages on social media. So far, thankfully, it has not yet acted against the community. But we need to be aware that that can change at any time.

    There are other organisations, both officially connected to mainstream communal leadership and those scorned by it, who are better equipped for any physical confrontation, should the need arise. All such groups should have the support of the mainstream leadership.

    In summary, one needs a two-pronged approach, and one dare not fall into the trap of thinking that the ANC, the govt or the majority population groups in the country are our friends.’

  2. Choni

    Aug 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    ‘Great words Mr. Sifrin, but all you are doing is defending a 2000 year exile that ended 66 years ago.

    There is only one solution to the dilemma that Diaspora Jews are facing. Persecution of Jews has been happening for 2000 years, and nothing has given Jews security both physically and spiritually in the Diaspora.

    That is until the rebirth of Israel in 1948.

    From a small population of 600000 in 1948 we now have over six and a half million (Jewish) Israelis.

    So instead of analysing the problems and lives Diaspora Jews, why can’t our Jewish leaders, especially the religious ones, see that the only way forward for young Diaspora Jews is to join in the ingathering of our people to the Land of Israel.

    It’s going to happen no matter what, but is it not better to come home in an upright way?’

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