Letters to the Editor: South African Zionist Federation Fights for Israel Connection

FILE Photo: Protesters during a BDS demonstration in Marseille, France, June 13, 2015.
GEORGES ROBERT / AFP

South African Zionist Federation fights for Israel-South Africa connection

On the 13th of June, an article by Judy Maltz, titled “These South African Jews hate the occupation,” stated several allegations which were levelled against the South African Zionist Federation without us being given an opportunity to respond. We would like to correct some of these misrepresentations and inaccuracies in the article.

The South African Zionist Federation is the oldest national Jewish communal umbrella organization in the country. The organization originated soon after the official Zionist movement began in the 1890s. South African Jewry has always been exceptionally Zionistic. Our community has donated more toward the creation and development of the State of Israel per capita than any other community in the world. Many South African Jews volunteered and served with distinction in the War of Independence and subsequent efforts to defend Israel. Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem has a sign marking its restoration with the generous support of SA Jewry.

Recently, in the 2019 community survey, data has determined that over 90 percent of South African Jews have positive ties to Israel. As such, the SAZF has always represented the basic democratic, pro-Israel sentiment of the South African Jewish community. The suggestion in the article that the SAZF is somehow right-wing, or takes any other political position, is plain nonsense. As a Federation, we are not left-wing, right-wing or centrist, but represent a diversity of political positions within the tent of Zionism. Any suggestions to the contrary is mischief-making and an attempt to undermine the critical work which we do for Jewry in South Africa.

The SAZF also operates in some of the most hostile, anti-Israel civil society contexts in the world. This means that much of our work goes toward fighting the outright demonization of Israel in the media and on university campuses. This does not mean, as claimed in the article, that we are afraid to criticize the Israeli government if required. A quick overview of our press release history will confirm this.

Furthermore, we embrace the role of being the Rainbow Nation’s connection to the Holy Land, and have thus created an ever-growing support base outside of the local Jewish community, through an initiative of ours known as South African Friends of Israel. SAFI is all about creating a dialogue between different cultures and religions, and uniting over commonalities, rather than dividing over differences. This is also the message that we bring to Israel through our work, citing the importance in the South African experience of dialogue and engagement to resolve conflict.

Ultimately, a strong South Africa-Israel connection is good for South Africans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as Israel. Perhaps in time it may be good for the Palestinians as well. We will continue our work toward this outcome.

Ben Swartz

Chairman

South African Zionist Federation

The New York Times’ decision not to publish cartoons is not only insane but, above all, detrimental to what constitutes the core of our democratic values, namely the right to criticism and even blasphemy. What is a caricature, if not first and foremost an exaggeration – albeit often outraged – of reality! Caricature as recalled by its Italian etymology is first of all a charge. To make a hit, the cartoonist inflates the slightest defect to the excess: a network of wrinkles makes a metaphor of the power that uses and corrupts; a pair of hypertrophied canines, an image of climax. With a surprising economy of means (few words, a simplified drawing), the caricature exaggerates the defects. To highlight, to exaggerate, to exasperate: That is both its nature and its function. Cruel, the caricature? It rushes on all the defects and magnifies them to better denounce them. Is a minister pretty big? He will make him bigger, until he accentuates his double chin. The caricature is always committed, often irreverent, sometimes even unfair and borderline as in the case of António Moreira Antunes’ cartoon published by the New York Times. Borderline, certainly; unfair for many Israelis and Jews, probably; but certainly not anti-Semitic, and nor really anti-Israeli. Why? Simply because this drawing remains confined within the limits of the exercise. What is this caricature about, if not the special relationship between a right-wing Israeli prime minister and a U.S. president more pro-Israeli than possible! There is little doubt that this cartoon can be considered outrageous, even insulting. It is obviously very hostile to the head of the Israeli government but is not anti-Semitic because it does not take up any of the fantastical and well-understood codes of trait anti-Semitism: that of the Jew master of the world and/or the harmful beast to be killed. That this cartoon can be considered outrageous is hardly in doubt. Between the Israeli and the American, it is unclear who – the dog on a leash or the blind man – is the master and who is the obedient one. As rightly pointed out by the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism, any anti-Zionist demonstration should not always be equated with anti-Semitism. In the art of cartooning, certain limits are not to be crossed, it is obvious! That drawings must sometimes be banned from publication is not less so! History reminds us that caricature was a weapon of choice for genocidal killers. But was there still caricature? Can we still speak of “caricature” when the idea is not to enlarge or exaggerate the reality but simply to invent it? A caricature worthy of its name describes and amplifies the real; a racist/anti-Semitic drawing is not interested in reality, it simply invents it. In the racist/anti-Semitic “caricature,” everything is hallucination, perversion, inversion, invention. This is true of the racist caricature of yesterday (from Nazi Germany to Hutu Rwanda), to that of today. To be convinced, it is enough to think of the nauseous drawings published by the Alain Soral’s French neo-fascist website Equality and Reconciliation. Yes, there are limits to freedom of expression, but this does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater – in short, deprive ourselves of an intellectual and artistic exercise that often borders on genius. A press without caricatures would be the announcement of an Orwellian world. The New York Times must review its copy. Reason must prevail over passion and fear.

Joël Kotek

Professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and teacher at Sciences Po Paris

Historian of anti-Semitic caricature

To the editor:

The article on the danger to the N.Y. fur trade of the proposed law outlawing the sale of animal furs (The Marker, June 30) contains one egregious error.

Rabbi Shmuly Yankelowitz is quoted as saying that a shtreimel is just “a custom, not mandated by Jewish law.”

Doesn’t Rabbi Yankelowitz know that our ancestor, Jacob, wore a shtreimel, as explicitly stated in the Torah? Genesis 28:10 states that “And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran,” where he would meet and marry his cousins Lean and Rachel. Now, would Jacob have left Beersheba for Haran without his shtreimel? Obviously, No!

Professor Al Baumgarten

Jerusalem

It is difficult for me to understand and to absorb the fact that the Immigration Authority, together with the prime minister and his “interim” government, along with the refusal of President Rueven Rivlin to intervene, are going ahead with their plans to send the children who were born here and consider themselves to be Israelis, and their mothers, back to the Philippines. Since they all claim to be observant and caring Jews, have they read this part of the Bible?

“And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not do him wrong. The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Why do we insist on treating others the way in which Jews have been treated throughout the centuries, and have fought for their freedom and independence? Why can’t we understand and respect the rights of others - all others, regardless of race, religion, origins?

The current demonstrations by the Ethiopian residents is another example of the discrimination, racism that has become prevalent in our country. I am ashamed and we all should be too.

We must stop pretending that we are a democracy and recognize that the various governments and so-called leaders of our country have wandered far afield.

Judy Telman

Mevasseret Zion

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