Press Releases

In his meeting with the leadership of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) last week, President Jacob Zuma reiterated his government’s support for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question, and further saw a role for South Africa to play in bringing this about.

The SAJBD sees itself as partners with Government and the ANC in helping to promote peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people. We therefore feel extremely disappointed by the ANC’s recent call for a boycott against Israel. This will not result in bringing about peace to the region but will only cause polarisation and division within our own society.

In reality the main target of this boycott is South African Jewry.  We have already seen how the importation of the Middle East conflict into this country by anti-Israel agitators has resulted in hostility and intimidation, including threats of violence to our community.

Some of those expressing such views, moreover, have come from the ranks of the ruling party, and even more frequently from its alliance partners. When the world’s only Jewish majority state is singled out for one-sided condemnation and punitive action over and above every other nation in the world, it inevitably fosters a culture of hostility towards Jews in general.

The ANC’s call for a boycott further undermines our Government’s encouraging attempts to play a role in the peace process, something it is pursuing through their Middle East envoys.

This notwithstanding, the SAJBD remains committed to supporting a negotiated, two-state solution to the conflict, and will not be cowed by those, whether within the ANC or elsewhere in this country who wish to deny the Jewish community its right to identify with the Jewish homeland.  We therefore call on the ANC to play a constructive rather than destructive role in helping to realise our common goal of a sustainable peace in the Middle East.

 

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The SAJBD extends its sincerest condolences to the all members of the Bernhard family, the Union of Orthodox Synagogues and the Chabad community on the passing of Rabbi Norman Bernhard, ztl. A man of many gifts and boundless energy, Rabbi Bernhard arrived in South Africa a little under half a century ago and quickly established himself as one of the country’s most dynamic Jewish leaders and spokesmen. As a religious leader, he was amongst the foremost innovators in the field of Jewish education, both at the school and adult level, and contributed significantly to the impressive growth of Judaism both in Johannesburg and elsewhere in the country. As a congregational rabbi, he served for well over three decades as spiritual leader to one of the city’s leading communities, the Oxford Hebrew Congregation. He further held important leadership positions with the UOS structure.

Rabbi Bernhard’s involvement in Jewish communal life went well beyond the religious sphere. In the media field, he was a frequent guest on radio discussion programmes, bringing to bear his trademark wit, eloquence and erudition in explaining Judaism and Jewishness to a wider audience. He also wrote regularly for Jewish and general publications in this regard. Rabbi Bernhard was also one of only a handful of Jewish religious leaders to have spoken out against the injustices of the apartheid system from the pulpit, and maintained a keen interest in encouraging Jews to be involved in the political transition process. Long before it became common practice, he ensured that his community was involved in general social upliftment projects on behalf of the needy in the wider community.

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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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The verdict against ten students guilty of misconduct during a concert at Wits University represents a resounding reaffirmation by Wits of the values of academic freedom, diversity and tolerance. In March last year, a group of demonstrators lead by members of the then Student Representative Council invaded the venue where Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshev was giving a recital and prevented the event from continuing. This behavior was immediately condemned by the University leadership and steps were duly implemented to investigate the incident and call to book those responsible. In addition to taking appropriate action against those who perpetrated the disruption of the Reshef recital, the University also hosted a follow-up concert by a group of internationally renowned Israeli jazz musicians headed by Daniel Zamir. This resoundingly successful event took place on 28 August in the Wits Great Hall, which was packed to capacity for the occasion. All necessary measures were taken by the University to ensure that the concert went ahead without incident, thereby affirming the University’s commitment to creating safe spaces for all on the campus. The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) applauds Wits University for taking a firm and unambiguous stand against those who abuse their right to protest by flouting the principles of academic freedom and unlawfully seeking to silence alternative viewpoints. The outcome of the above hearings sends out a clear message that Wits remains committed to providing a free, open environment in which the values freedom of expression and association are strenuously upheld and where any behavior aimed at preventing others from exercising those rights is not tolerated. The SAJBD is hopeful that the satisfactory outcome to the Reshef affair will usher in a new era of mutual respect, trust and openness on Wits campus, one that provides safe spaces for the expression of diverse opinions and where people of differing viewpoints can learn from rather than try to silence one another.” Issued by Wendy Kahn, National Director, SA Jewish Board of Deputies 0824443675

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JEWISH COMMUNITY MEMORIAL SERVICES FOR NELSON MANDELA

6 December 2013

Dear Community Members We are deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved Nelson Mandela and together with our fellow South Africans we mourn this loss. Please find below the statement that was released to the media earlier this morning: “The Jewish community of South Africa mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, beloved father of […]

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Jewish community mourns the Passing of Nelson Mandela

6 December 2013

The Jewish community of South Africa mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, beloved father of our nation. We join with all the peoples of the world in paying tribute to the life of a true giant of humanity, and in extending our sincerest condolences to the Mandela family. A man of unflinching courage and unswerving […]

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Typhoon Haiyan Relief : Appeal

12 November 2013

  https://secure3.convio.net/jdc/site/Donation2;jsessionid=DA4F61B64A8C707B1488AB5476E946DE.app347a?df_id=2741&2741.donation=form1 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE New York, NY, November 9, 2013 – In the aftermath of the destruction wrought by super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has begun collecting funds for relief efforts. Responding to a quickly rising death toll and catastrophic destruction, JDC staff experts are consulting […]

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letter to community re statements by Minister Nkoana Mashabane and MK Avigdor Lieberman

4 November 2013

STATEMENT FOR JEWISH COMMUNITY The SA Jewish Board of Deputies and SA Zionist Federation have issued a statement expressing surprise and outrage over recently reported comments by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s regarding the South Africa-Israel relationship. According to media reports, Minister Mashabane stated on Friday that her government’s policy is not to engage with […]

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PRESS RELEASE : 4 NOVEMBER 2013

4 November 2013

The South African Jewish community is surprised and disappointed by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s comments regarding South Africa’s relationship with Israel. According to media reports, Minister Mashabane stated on Friday that her government’s policy is not to engage with Israel at the ministerial level until progress has been made in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace […]

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Press Release: “Shoot the Jew” Chant Condemned by SAJBD

2 September 2013

What was supposed to have been a silent demonstration against a concert by an Israeli jazz quartet at Wits University last Wednesday [28 August] turned ugly when some of the protestors chanted dubula e juda – ‘Shoot the Jew’ – outside the venue. The protest was organised by BDS–South Africa, an organisation that campaigns for […]

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Press Release: SAJBD Commends University for Upholding Freedom of Speech

29 August 2013

Last night [28 August], a capacity crowd enjoyed an enthralling recital by the Daniel Zamir Quartet, four world-renowned jazz musicians from Israel, at Wits University. The event, held in the Great Hall under the auspices of the Wits Music Department, was attended by over 1000 people from across the ethnic, racial and religious spectrum. It […]

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Press Statement: Bogus “Racism” Charges Won’t Derail Wits Concert

28 August 2013

As a desperate last-ditch tactic to discredit a concert by an eminent Israeli jazz quartet that is taking place at Wits University on Wednesday, anti-Israel extremists have resorted to levelling scurrilous and thoroughly baseless smears against the Jewish communal leadership. Those making these accusations are the self-same activists whose members were responsible for the disgraceful […]

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