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Wendy Kahn writes on the group’s bullying protest outside of the SAJBD Gauteng’s twenty years of democracy conference Celebrating SA democracy free of Intimidation In the early days of our young democracy, South Africans embraced the image of the rainbow – the beautiful spectrum of colours that would stand together celebrating the diversity of their fledgling nation.

We were so proud of our young democracy, one that celebrated differences, and respected them. Every South African’s right to his or her own beliefs, values and affiliations were a cornerstone of the new nation. We pledged ourselves to the principles of freedom of speech providing every South African with the right to express themselves without fear or prejudice.

The Bill of Rights in our internationally acclaimed constitution enshrined “the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of dignity, equality and freedom”. It furthermore guaranteed Freedom of religion, belief and opinion in section 15, Freedom of Expression in section 16 and Freedom of association in section 18.

Yet these pivotal principles of our democracy were forgotten yesterday when a protest orchestrated by BDS SA descended on the SA Jewish Board of Deputies Gauteng Conference.

Gauteng Jewry was due to gather on Sunday for its biennial conference with the theme celebrating South Africa’s 20 years of Freedom. The Jewish community along with our fellow South African citizens rejoices in the miracle of our nation, and its members likewise wanted to remember the struggle for our young democracy, to commemorate its achievements and focus on the future.

However BDS SA and the factions within the ANCYL chose to cynically protest this gathering of Jewish South Africans, as well as smearing the Jewish community with insults. Based on their disagreeing with our community’s connection to Israel, they decided to demonstrate against our celebration of this important 20 year milestone. This is something altogether new in our country. Since when do we try and intimidate fellow South African citizens from participating in their country’s heritage? Who gives anyone the right to determine who can and cannot rejoice in the principles of democracy?

The foundations of this country are built on respect and tolerance. These were certainly not in evidence yesterday. Tweeted Braam Hanekom, “The ANC should waste not time speaking to the @sajbd they are racist, Zionist, Islamophobic, supporters of murdering Palestinian children”. Suggested Lwazi Samya, “Maybe the ANCYL should mobilise against the Jewish Board of Deputies”. Zunaid Seedat tells us to, “vat jou goede en voetsek!” while Nazeer Guman comments, “Zionism threatens true freedom in SA: Ban it!!!” These kind of inflammatory and provocative emails run diametrically counter to what our democratic society is all about.

So far as the Middle East issue is concerned, the SAJBD has frequently stated its stance on the Palestinian and Israeli situation, calling for a negotiated settlement resulting in two countries for two nations living side by side with secure borders. This is in line with our government’s stance which was reiterated frequently through the recent war.

I don’t ask BDS SA to hold by these views, knowing that their belief is that Israel should not exist at all. But what I do ask is that they have enough respect for their fellow South African citizens to not allow the conflict in the Middle East to jeopardize the relations between fellow South Africans. I ask that the dignity and respect enshrined in our constitution be upheld and that the dreadful intimidation that we have seen in the past weeks, culminating in Sunday events, be curbed.

During a concert by an Israeli artist on Wits Campus last year BDS protesters chanted dubula e juda – ‘Shoot the Jew’. BDS SA Coordinator Mohammed Desai justified the singing in an interview, “Just like you would say kill the Boer at funeral during the eighties it wasn’t about killing white people, it was used as a way of identifying with the apartheid regime”. According to Desai, “The whole idea anti-Semitism is blown out of proportion”.

Unfortunately we are now regularly seeing anti-Israel sentiment crossing the line into overtly anti-Jewish rhetoric. Over the past 2 months we have seen antisemitism statistics rise in SA from 52 for the entire 2013 to 116 for the 7 weeks over the Gaza war. Jewish South Africans were targeted intimidated and threatened by those holding different views about that conflict.

While we recognise the right to protest about international conflict like this one, when this deteriorates into hate speech and intimidation this crosses the line.

MEC Lusufi, in his very warm address at the conference, acknowledged that “the Jewish community enjoy a special place in the struggle for democracy and freedom”. He also spoke of the need for peace and reconciliation in order to build on these achievements and overcome the country’s problems. How unfortunate it was that the protesters outside could not hear this pivotal message. Had they done so, they may have realized that threatening their fellow South Africans and forbidding them a place in our democracy is not conducive to building a healthy society.

South Africa is a country for all. It is a country where diversity is celebrated and alternate views respected. The SA Jewish Board of Deputies will continue to celebrate our democracy as proud and involved South African citizens. We will not be intimidated by those who do not represent the values of our constitution and our Bill of Rights, but seek instead to silence and sideline those who do not share their views.

 

Wendy Kahn is the National Director of the SAJBD

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Members of the Jewish and Japanese communities, diplomats, business leaders and Holocaust survivors packed into the Abe Abrahamson Auditorium at Beyachad last Wednesday to remember Chiune Sugihara, the heroic Japanese diplomat who exceeded his authority to issue 6000 life-saving visas to Jewish refugees during World War II. The event took place under the combined auspices of the SAJBD Gauteng Council, Embassy of Japan and Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre. Amongst those famously saved from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis by Sugihara were most of the members of the Mir Yeshiva, which was able to relocate to Shanghai for the duration of the war. Four of those present at the function were Johannesburg descendants of those survivors, Rabbis Yossy Goldman and Weinberg and Rebbetzins Rochel Ehrman and Chaya Sternstein.

In her message of welcome and introduction SAJBD Diplomatic Liaison Aviva Moses, who headed up the initiative, stressed the enduring example Chiune Sugihara had set by his heroic actions. In ‘a period of utter desperation’, he had stood out and shone through the fundamental humanity he displayed, and in today’s turbulent times, it was a lesson the world at large needed more than ever to take to heart.

“No matter what continent we live on, our world is in turmoil. We are bombarded on a daily basis with news of torment, terror, death and destruction. And there has never been a time when is has been more important for every individual to rediscover his or her humanity, because without this intrinsic component of our being, what are we?” she said.

The keynote address was given by Hugh Raichlin, a well-known and popular speaker on Jewish life in countries throughout the world and who recently added Japan to the growing list of places he has lectured on. In addition to speaking (with accompanying audio-visual material) on the life and achievements of Sugihara, Raichlin gave an overview of the Jewish connection to Japan since the 1860s combined with entertaining insights into the nature of Japanese society today. As depicted by him, Sugihara emerged as a genuinely saintly man who to the end refused to take any special credit for what he had done. Raichlin also stressed the unfailing support provided by Sugihara’s wife, Yukiko, and the crucial involvement of the family of the young Solly Ganor. Excerpts from a video interview with the latter especially arranged for the occasion were also screened.

Rabbi Goldman and Rabbi Weinberg spoke about their own fathers, both of whom were provided with visas by Sugihara. Rabbi Weinberg said that his father, the only one of eleven siblings who survived the Holocaust, would relate his story to his family on the first night of Chanukah every year. This had instilled in his children an awareness of how important it was to remember and be grateful to their benefactors. Similarly, Rabbi Goldman’s father was the only survivor of his family in Poland. On his behalf, as well as that of his descendants – amongst them nearly eighty great-grandchildren, Rabbi

“I thank you for the gift of life, for the gift of the generations. G-d bless Mr Sugihara’s precious soul” he said.

Messages were also given by Japanese Ambassador Yutaka Yoshizawa, SAJBD Chairman and Holocaust educator Mary Kluk and Tali Nates, Director of the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre. Ambassador Yoshiwaza noted that in Japanese culture, it was at this time of the year that the spirits of one’s ancestors were believed to return, and therefore it was a time when those who had passed away were traditionally remembered. This included remembering both the two million Japanese who had died during World War II together with acknowledging the death and suffering Japan had inflicted against others during those years. Against this background, he said, the legacy of Sugihara shone even brighter.

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Click on the link to view David Sacks’ opinion piece SAJDB pdf_01

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Following an antisemitic incident concerning a group of American Jewish business and communal leaders at the AU Commission Summit in Equatorial Guinea, the SAJBD liaised with Malcolm Hoenlein for a full briefing on the occurrence.

The SAJBD issued a statement regarding the incident and wrote to the Chairperson of the AU Commission Dr Dlamini Zuma to protest the treatment of the Jewish group asking for a full investigation.  She responded on Friday that the issue was raised at the post Summit meeting, an investigation is under way and she will communicate the findings.

A letter was sent to President Zuma requesting clarification as to whether the SA delegation had been at all involved and at a DIRCO briefing last week, Clayson Monyela assured our Chairman Mary Kluk that he had personally spoken to each of the delegation and none of them had been involved in any way.

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Press Release

26 May 2014

On Saturday afternoon, an unidentified gunman went on a murderous shooting rampage in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, killing four people. There can be little doubt that the museum was targeted specifically because it was a Jewish institution, and that the attack was an antisemitically motivated hate crime. The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) […]

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ABOVE BOARD 9 MAY 2014

20 May 2014

Five months ago, under the heading ‘Make Us Count’, the Board embarked on a serious of initiatives aimed at encouraging the Jewish community to become involved and in general get into the spirit of the upcoming national elections. It began with a drive to encourage first-time voters, as well as those living overseas, to ensure […]

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YOM HASHOAH 2014

2 May 2014

Earlier this week, the annual Yom Hashoah ceremonies took place under the auspices of the SAJBD in all the main Jewish population centres. The ceremonies in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth took place on Sunday and in Cape Town and Durban the following day. The keynote speaker in Johannesburg and Durban was Eva Schloss, a […]

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Jewish community leadership meets with DA and ACDP

2 May 2014

With the country’s 5th elections since the democratic transition less than a fortnight away, the Gauteng Jewish leadership had the opportunity last week of hearing from two of the parties likely to between them attract the bulk of the Jewish vote. On Thursday evening Jack Bloom, leader of the DA in the Gauteng Legislature, headed […]

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JEWISH AFFAIRS PESACH 2014 EDITION

10 April 2014

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FURORE OVER POTCHEFSTROOM STUDENTS NAZI SALUTE

12 March 2014

A scandal over a first-year initiation ceremony featuring apparent ‘Sieg Heil’ gestures by participants has cast the spotlight on the persistent culture of Nazi chic at North-West University (formerly, University of Potchefstroom). Last week, the Beeld newspaper published a video clip showing female first-year students concluding a song of welcome to the head of their […]

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