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.
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.
Disregarding all standards of basic decency, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) today chose to send an ugly message to the Jewish community of South Africa. This morning, as a protest against Woolworths for stocking Israeli products, COSAS members in Cape Town deposited a pig’s head in the kosher meat section of a Woolworths food store. A press statement issued by COSAS Western Cape chairperson Siphakamise Ngxowa, inter alia declared that Cosas “will not allow people who will not eat pork to pretend that they are eating clean meat, when it is sold by hands dripping with the blood of Palestinian children”.
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is appalled by this hate-filled demonstration. We have seen “Shoot the Jew” being chanted at public gatherings and explicit threats made to carry out revenge attacks against the Jewish community for events taking place in Israel and Palestine. Now we have been presented with yet another case of anti-Israel activism crossing over into blatant antisemitism.
It is common knowledge that pork is strictly forbidden according to Jewish dietary laws. This is why depositing pigs’ heads at places associated with Jews and their religion has long been a tactic of those wanting to offend and intimidate the Jewish community. In the past, however, such acts were carried out anonymously. By contrast, Cosas has not only done so in full public view, but has gone about widely publicizing this gross act of bigotry. It is further noteworthy that BDS-SA, which is heading up the campaign to boycott Woolworths, not only failed to condemn the incident but have assisted Cosas in publicizing what it had done.
The SAJBD regards this incident as a hate crime and is investigating its options regarding taking the matter further.
Cosas’ actions have nothing to do with human rights activism. They are acts of racial and religious hatred aimed at causing maximum offense to Jewish people. They are also completely at odds with South Africa’s proud tradition of tolerance and decency and have crossed the moral divide.