This past week, the world has witnessed two separate but appalling attacks on civilians by terrorists.  The first was in Sydney, when a gunman held people hostage in a coffee house.  The second was in Pakistan, where Taliban gunmen rampaged through a school leaving at least 148 people, mainly children, dead.  On our continent, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab are a constant threat to destabilising the region.  These abhorrent actions are appropriately and universally condemned.  The only way in which to counter terrorism is to understand what it is and label it accordingly.

Thus, the decision by the General Court of the European Union to remove Hamas from the European Union list of terrorist organisations is outrageous and short-sighted.  Currently Hamas, who calls for the destruction of Israel as its goal, and its actions to justify this, is clearly a terrorist organisation.

The SA Jewish Board of Deputies is committed to a two-state solution in the Middle East where Israeli and Palestinians can live within secure borders.  The EU decision to remove Hamas from their terrorist list is counter to finding peace in the region.

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The Chanukah 2014 issue of Jewish Affairs has now appeared. You can access it (as well as previous issues from 2008 onwards) online at http://www.jewishsa.co.za/category/media/jewish-affairs/ or click on this link Jewish Affairs – Chanukah 2014 to view it.

Two ‘anniversary themes’ make up a large part of this issue. The first marks the centenary of the start of World War I, and looks at the impact of the conflict on world Jewry, and specifically on the community in South Africa. The essay on South Africa was compiled by notes written by the late Gus Saron for his history of the community, which was left incomplete on his passing. Dr Anthony Grenville provides an international perspective and Naomi Musiker and Stephen Gray focus on the wartime careers of two English Jews with a South African connection, Jack Rich and war poet Isaac Rosenberg.

The second anniversary is the seventieth year since the deportation to Auschwitz of the Jewish community of Rhodes (Rhodos), a reminder of how severely the Holocaust decimated Sephardi as well as Ashkenazi Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. Essays and perspectives on the Jews of Rhodes, including on the commemorative visit of survivors and their families earlier this year, are provided by the late Violette Fintz, Maurice Turiel, Isaac Habib and Zmira Cohen.

The remainder of the issue features perspectives on a range of issues, viz. the Jewish sympathies of the Russian composer Shostakovitch (Cecil Bloom), the ideological war against Israel (Shelley Glaser), a related perspective by Kenneth Penkin on the controversial Deir Yassin ‘massacre’, an interesting riff on ‘life before birth’ by Bernard Levinson and the editor’s look at Jewish POWs in World War II, including further memories of successful escapee Stanley Smollan.

There are reviews (by Ralph Zulman and Gary Selikow) on Suzanne Belling’s recently published book on Cyril Karabus and his unjust detention in the UAE and on Martin Gilbert history of Jews under Muslim rule. Obituaries pay tribute to three distinguished community members who had a strong connection to Jewish Affairs, Mervyn Smith, Ronnie Mink and Rabbi Norman Bernhard. Poetry and an interesting letter responding to a previous Gwynne Schrire article complete the issue.

We hope you enjoy this latest Jewish Affairs issue, and that you will pass it on to anyone who might likewise be interested.

On behalf of the Editorial Board, I wish everyone Chanukah Sameach and a restful end-of-year break.

David Saks

Editor

 

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The SAJBD and SAZF have come under fire from some members of our community, both for meeting with Mahmoud Abbas and for the statement it issued afterwards welcoming his stated commitment to a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘Naïve’ and ‘ill thought-out’ have been amongst the milder criticisms received; those less inclined to be kind have used words like ‘disloyal’, ‘treacherous’ and ‘despicable’. Clearly, there is a need to explain more fully how the meeting with the Palestinian delegation came about, and why it took the standpoint it did in its subsequent press release.

The meeting itself came about as a result of an invitation extended to the Board by President Zuma. This followed on the meeting we had had with him and members of his Cabinet in September. On that occasion the President, in addition to categorically restating his zero-tolerance for any form of antisemitism, reiterated his support for a two state solution, and pledged his government’s support in helping to take the peace process forward. This undertaking, it must be stressed, came about despite the extensive pressure under which Mr Zuma has come from both within and outside the ruling party to break off ties with Israel altogether.

It also needs to be stressed that prior to our accepting the invitation, the matter was thoroughly discussed with and approved by senior ministers in the Israeli government. The latter were also thoroughly briefed about what took place afterwards.

In light of this background, we felt comfortable in accepting the invitation to meet with the Abbas delegation. Our position has consistently been to engage in dialogue, and hence we welcomed the opportunity to hear at first-hand what Mahmoud Abbas had to say regarding how the Israel-Palestine question should be resolved. We also believed that the mere fact he once again went on record as supporting the “two-state” formula was something positive in and of itself. It needs to be remembered that for those who believe that Israel should not be allowed to exist at all, a final status two-state solution that by definition recognises its legitimacy is anathema. Such lobbies exist in South Africa as well, and it is these who are most vociferous in pushing for a comprehensive boycott against Israel.

A failure to make progress on the negotiations front is exactly what such hard-line anti-Israel groupings desire, since it gives impetus to their calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel as a way of forcing it to accede to the Palestinians’ demands.  Refusing on principle to deal with Mahmoud Abbas is thus counter-productive, playing as it does right into the hands of those who seek to turn Israel into a pariah state as per the old South African regime.

That our government is nevertheless continuing to engage with both parties in the conflict and support the broader “two-state” vision is thus a setback for these lobbies. It is therefore in the interests of our community to encourage such engagement. Obviously, that means that we need to be consistent. We cannot call for dialogue and peaceful negotiations towards a two-state solution if we ourselves decline to get involved when called upon to do so.

Had the main factions contesting South Africa’s future not embarked on a process of face-to-face negotiations, then it is unlikely, to say the least, that South Africans would ever have been able to resolve the conflict between them and embark on a peaceful new future together.

The situations in pre-democracy South Africa and the one facing Israel are obviously very different, but the ‘Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War’ principle remains true in both cases. Sometimes, negotiations fail to prevent war or halt an already existing conflict, but the effort always needs to be made. Israel has always understood this, which is why it has always kept the door open to negotiations no matter how bleak the prospects for success might look. It did so during the recent war in Gaza, despite the continual bad faith shown by Hamas, and continues to do with Mahmoud Abbas and his government. What is certain, as Israelis know, is that abandoning negotiations amounts to giving up all hope for achieving peace and condemning themselves and their children to perpetual conflict with their neighbours. And it is not the Jewish way to give up on hope. Speaking to your enemies is not a sign of weakness, but it’s opposite. Damning and shutting out the other side is easy; it requires boldness and firm resolve to talk to them and try, no matter how difficult or even risky it might be, to find common ground.

There is another point to consider. Whatever concerns one might have about Mahmoud Abbas and his government, the alternatives – Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, IS and other such movements – are self-evidently a great deal worse. For that reason alone, Israel cannot afford not to maintain lines of communication, and what is true for Israel is as true for the Jewish world at large. The South African Jewish leadership, when presented with an opportunity to engage with the Abbas delegation chose to do so rather than turning down the opportunity. Our counterparts in other Diaspora countries have likewise chosen this path.

A negotiated, two- state solution necessarily precludes either party acting unilaterally, leaving such crucial final status issues as borders and security arrangements still unresolved. Recent moves by the Palestinian Authority to seek recognition from the international community clearly fall into this category, and if he is serious about reaching the kind of sustainable settlement with Israel that he spoke about, Mahmoud Abbas will need to abandon this strategy and recommit himself to the negotiations process. That he has at least gone once more on record reaffirming his commitment to a negotiated settlement is, in our view, a positive thing in itself, not least because it undermines those around the world who seek to delegitimise Israel altogether.

To achieve a peaceful final status agreement will require courage and a willingness to take risks on both sides. Thus far, the Fatah movement has been unwilling to take such risks, and so it may prove in the future. If any such breakthrough is to occur, however, negotiations have to continue, whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. In seeking a lasting peace agreement, the obstacles are formidable and the future deeply uncertain. Nevertheless, we have an obligation, to ourselves and to future generations, to at least try.

 

Mary Kluk                                                            Avrom Krengel

National Chairman                                           Chairman

SA Jewish Board of Deputies                          SA Zionist Federation

 

To listen to Zev Krengel’s interview on ENCA,  on the meeting click here.

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SAJBD meets with President Abbas.

by SAJBD on 27 November 2014

in General

Yesterday, the senior leadership of the South African Jewish community, comprising representatives of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and SA Zionist Federation, met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and President Zuma at the Presidential Guest House in Pretoria. The Jewish delegation was much reassured by President Abbas’ confirmation that he and his government are committed to achieving peaceful co-existence with Israel based on the Two-State model.

The discussion focused on President Abbas’ views on what form a final peace settlement between Israel and Palestine should take and what needs to be done to achieve this.

This, he said, means pursuing a negotiated solution aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel based on the 1967 borders, where necessary with land swaps.  All issues need to be negotiated with Israel to end the conflict.

The South African Jewish leadership welcomes the confirmation by President Abbas that he and his government remain committed to a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict with Israel and to working with the Israeli government towards attaining that goal. It further supports all efforts by the South African government aimed at bringing the respective parties together and taking the process forward.

The Jewish leadership reiterated that as South Africans they understood the importance of direct, face to face negotiations between the parties in order to achieve a lasting peace settlement.

 

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The BDS Theatre of the Absurd

20 November 2014

The actors are the same. The script is the same. The rhetoric is the same. In this ongoing Theatre of the Absurd, BDS is ready to stage every possible propaganda stunt in order to manipulate public perceptions. The latest production in the ongoing BDS propaganda circus was yesterday’s so-called “Woolworths Shareholders Press Conference”.  Few realised that […]

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National Director, Wendy Kahn, Attends the World Jewish Congress’s National Community Directors Forum

20 November 2014

Earlier this week I attended the World Jewish Congress’s National Community Directors Forum.  My counterparts from 45 countries met in Prague to share our experiences and work together to find solutions to the challenges we all face. I joined executive directors from countries such as Spain, Turkey, Georgia, Costa Rica, Germany, Ukraine, Ireland, Hungary, the […]

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SAJBD attends “Women in Business” breakfast hosted by African Union Foundation

18 November 2014

Last week, SAJBD National Chairman Mary Kluk and National Director Wendy Kahn were amongst a select group of invitees who attended the African Union Foundation “Women in Business” breakfast at Investec. The purpose of the event was for African Union Commission Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to introduce to South African women leaders her ‘Agenda 2063’ […]

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SAJBD comments on the terrorist attack at a Jerusalem Synagogue

18 November 2014

The SA Jewish Board of Deputies is shocked by the barbaric terrorist attack against worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue this morning. We extend our heartfelt condolences to those whose friends and loved ones were so brutally murdered, and pray for a complete and speedy recovery for those who were injured. This atrocity was the latest, […]

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 Passing of Communal Giant, Mervyn Smith

17 November 2014

Tributes from around the world have been pouring in for Mervyn Smith, a senior South African Jewish communal leader who went on to play an increasingly important role in the arena of international Jewish politics. Smith, who was 77, passed away in Cape Town over the weekend after a long illness. The funeral took place […]

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Mitzvah Day at Leeuwkop Prison

13 November 2014

The word Mitzvah is a commandment to do a good deed – it’s a kindling of the soul and what better place to refresh your soul, learn and inspire others than at place so many people forget – prison.  International Mitzvah Day is held every year with the Union of Jewish Women and this year […]

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