Just before Rosh Hashanah the Board was engaged in the latest round of its extended battle against Radio 786 when the Constitutional Court considered the latter’s application to strike down certain provisions of the Independent Communications Authority of SA legislation relating to complaint and adjudication. The aim of the application was to overturn ICASA’s ruling upholding the Board’s complaint against Radio 786 for antisemitic broadcasting.
The Board, as fourth respondent, strenuously argued against the application. Judgment has been reserved and we wait the outcome with interest. I warmly ommend the Board’s legal team, and in particular Mervyn Smith and Ivan Levy, for the outstanding work they continue to do in this important matter, on which hang many crucial issues concerning freedom of expression and the continued illegality of hate speech in South Africa.
At the time of writing, we are very much looking forward to the visit of Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, who will be the keynote speaker at the Cape Council conference in October. He will also be addressing the Jewish community in Johannesburg and meeting with the Board’s professional staff to advise and train them in understanding how the United Nations functions.
It has become increasingly vital for us to learn more about the UN — the rules by which it functions and how the lobbying process works — especially given that our country currently occupies a seat on the Security Council. South Africa’s voting record at the UN has been a matter of no little controversy, particularly when it comes to Israel-related issues, and if the Board is to lobby effectively to change this, we need to be more proactive in this area.
Our Communications Department, established towards the end of 2004 to promote a positive image of the Jewish community and to educate the greater society regarding Jewish history, religion, customs and achievements, continues to go from strength to strength. Under the able direction of Charisse Zeifert, it regularly obtains favourable coverage in all forms of media on a wide variety of subjects.
The latest successful project was arranging for a panel of local Jewish experts to appear on the show ‘African Views’ on SABC Africa, the topic of the discussion being ‘Jews in Africa’. In the public relations sphere, we received a very favourable response to our Rosh Hashanah outreach campaign, in which we sent a gift and copy of the Board’s new book on Jewish outreach and upliftment work on behalf of the needy in South Africa to over fifty members of government and media and civil society leaders.
The initiative had the dual purpose of cementing the good relations we have built up with important leaders and opinion makers, together with promoting a greater understanding of the Jewish community and its heritage in a way to which South Africans can relate.
Finally, I must report that the Board also recently facilitated a meeting between President Mbeki and Shoah Foundation executive director Professor Douglas Greenberg in New York. I was privileged to attend the meeting, the purpose of which was to further discuss how the Shoah Foundation’s experience in collecting oral history could be used to assist in similarly documenting the experiences of those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.