Amidst all the bad news regarding inroads made by the Boycott Israel lobby, we saw two encouraging developments this week showing that the trend is by no means going in one direction only. The first was a meeting the Board was able to facilitate between Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom and visiting Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Daniel Hershkowitz.
It was gratifying to see this meeting take place so soon after Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim’s recent call for South Africans not even to visit Israel, let alone meet with Israelis at an official level. The second was the issuing of a statement by the Convocation of the University of the Witwatersrand unequivocally distancing itself from the Student Representative Council resolution to boycott Israel. This forthright declaration reveals that at the leadership level proponents of academic boycotts at this prestigious institution remain no more than a fringe element. We hope that the Wits example will be followed by all our academic institutions countrywide.
Gauteng Council Conference grasps the nettle
Last Sunday’s SAJBD Gauteng Council conference focused on two closely related challenges to South African Jewry, namely the rise of global antisemitism and the deterioration of the South Africa-Israel relationship in response to pressure from the anti-Israel lobby. In his keynote address, Dr Denis MacShane gave an enthralling, if sobering, overview of how prevalent antisemitic attitudes, ideologies and behaviour have become, particularly in Europe and some of the practical steps that are being taken to confront that menace. Dr MacShane himself is one of those at the forefront of those non-Jewish leaders worldwide who recognize the seriousness of the problem and are committed in various ways to addressing it. The Board organised a busy programme for him, which included meetings with political and trade union leaders and academics and being interviewed on SAFM. We are deeply grateful to him for the invaluable contribution he made. Apart from the insight and expertise he provided, it was heartening indeed to see how the Jewish people are not alone in these troubling times, but have sincere, principled friends in the greater society who are committed to fighting for their rights.
The second half of the conference took the form of a panel discussion on the current Israel-South Africa relationship. This is an issue that is very much at the forefront of current concerns in the Jewish community and the session made for a constructive give-and-take between speakers and delegates. This is exactly what we aim to achieve through our conferences, but conferences themselves remain just one vehicle through which we communicate with our constituents. We remain committed to maintaining these channels of communication and urge the community, for its own part, to make full use of them.
On Sunday, I will be attending the Cape Council conference. These are deservedly renowned for being lively, inclusive and stimulating events, and judging by its program, this latest one should be no exception. I congratulate Jeff Katz and Li Boiskin, respectively chairmen of our Gauteng and Cape Councils, on their successful terms of office, and also all newly elected council members. I wish you all success in your terms of office and look forward to working with you.
- Listen to Steven Gruzd on Jewish Board Talk on 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00-13:00. Repeats Sundays, 08:00-09:00.
This Above Board column first appeared in the SA Jewish Report on 7 September 2012.